WASHINGTON: Softening Rules and enticing more companies to go public have always been President Donald Trump’s top priorities for the Wall Street deals lawyer he picked to run the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But Trump’s refusal to reopen the government unless Democratic lawmakers agree to fund a US-Mexico border wall has put a critical component of the pro-business agenda on hold. As log as the partial shutdown persists, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton’s agency can’t approve stock sales.
Bankers and securities lawyers are already complaining about postponed initial public offerings, and an increasing number of companies are saying the shuttered SEC has forced them to delay plans to raise capital. It’s evidence that the shutdown is starting to take a toll on Corporate America, an ominous sign for a president who relishes touting economic growth as evidence his policies are working.
“It’s really starting to bubble to the surface that this could be a major issue,” said Carter Mack, the president and co-founder of JMP Group LLC, which advises companies on stock and bond offerings. “With IPOs, a lot of these companies have projected going out in the first quarter. You only have a window before your financials can go stale.”
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters disputed that the shutdown has affected stock offerings.
“The president has been a strong advocate for, and made significant progress in, improving our capital-formation regulatory regime,” Walters said. “So far, there is no evidence that the shutdown has had a material impact on IPOs.”
In a statement, the SEC said it encouraged companies before the shutdown to ask the regulator to speed up approvals of their plans to sell sell shares. About a dozen registration statements were approved before the government closure took effect, the agency said.
While Trump is known for publicly lambasting and praising officials he’s nominated for jobs, Clayton has largely stayed off the president’s radar. But when Clayton interviewed for the SEC job, Trump made no secret about what he thought the independent agency should focus on: boosting IPOs.
During a meeting more than two years ago at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, the president-elect cited statistics showing that US stock sales had fallen off a cliff, people familiar with their discussion said at the time.
Clayton had come to Trump’s attention because the former Sullivan & Cromwell law partner had written a policy paper for the incoming president’s transition team arguing that smaller companies should be exempt from some rules when they go public.
When Trump nominated Clayton in January 2017 he said he would “play an important role in unleashing the job-creating power of our economy by encouraging investment in American companies.”
IPOs have started to reverse a two-decade decline during Clayton’s tenure, which indicates that changes he’s made have been at least somewhat effective.
Shortly after Clayton took over in May 2017, the SEC started allowing companies to confidentially file documents with the agency so that issues could be ironed out before the public announcement of a stock sale.
Last June, the agency also increased the threshold for companies to be considered small for regulatory purposes, allowing more companies to avoid burdens associated with being public. Under Clayton, the agency has also taken steps to simplify financial disclosures and is looking into possible ways to expand which types of investors can buy certain offerings.
Those plans and any other work on new rules or de-regulation will be halted as long as most SEC employees remain furloughed. If the shutdown lasts a while, high-profile share sales planned for 2019 by Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and others could be affected. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have yet to receive feedback from the SEC on their confidential IPO submissions, according to people familiar with the matter.
David Hirschmann, president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, said the lobbying group has started to hear from companies concerned about delayed IPOs.
A number of businesses had concluded that because of potential market risks, it was better to sell shares sooner rather than later. Now, bankers’ assessments of what companies are worth could be impacted by a sudden downturn while the SEC isn’t open for business, he said.
“Timing is everything, and these are issues that for particular companies come at a critical time,’’ said Hirschmann, whose group called on Congress and the Trump administration to end the shutdown earlier this week. “You need government to work.’’