On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued Release No. 34-91492 publishing a Proposed Rule Change by NASDAQ to amend the requirements for listing ADRs on each of NASDAQ’s Global Select AND Global Markets.
American Depository Receipts
“ADRs” are American Depository Receipts. They have a long history in the U.S. capital markets, having been invented by J.P. Morgan in 1927 to facilitate access to the American stock market by Selfridges, an iconic British department store organized and managed by an American expatriate as the second-largest (after Harrod’s) department store in the UK in 1909 (and featured in a BBC TV series of that name about both the store and Mr. Selfridge). ADRs are depository receipts issued by an American bank when the underlying securities are deposited in a foreign depository bank. There are some interesting complexities about ADR’s depending on whether the ADR is a Level 1 ADR, or whether it is a Level 2 Sponsored ADR, which requires filing a separate registration statement with the SEC. And then there are Level 3 ADRs that require the foreign company to not only file a Form F-1 with the SEC but to adhere either to U.S. GAAP accounting standards OR IFRS as published in the IASB. The April 7 NASDAQ Proposal does not directly impact any of these ADR complexities.
Listing requirements are just that: the conditions a company must meet in order to have its securities traded on NASDAQ. NASDAQ has three market tiers: the Global Select Market, the Global Market, and the Capital Market. The Capital Market is the trading tier with the least stringent requirements for listing. The NASDAQ Global Market requires that the companies seeking to list on it must have some international attributes and substantially higher financial and governance features. The NASDAQ has the most rigorous listing requirements and is the tier for leading international companies.
NASDAQ Listing Requirements
Until 2009, NASDAQ required that at least 400,000 ADRs be issued in order to be listed on any of the three NASDAQ tiers, insure that there would be sufficient liquidity and “depth in the market” to support public trading. Then in 2009, as part of a “housekeeping,” NASDAQ moved the listing requirements for ADRs on the Global Market AND the Global Select Market to a new section of NASDAQ listing requirements that had NO minimum number of ADRs in order to be listed on those tiers. Ironically, the least restricted trading tier RETAINED the 400,000 ADR requirement. Recently, someone at NASDAQ noticed the disparity. Fortunately, NO issue with fewer than 400,000 ADRs has been listed on either the Global Select or Global Market tiers in the 12 years since 2009. Now, NASDAQ seeks to reimpose the 400,000 minimum ADR requirement for ALL NASDAQ tiers. As this proposed change to the listing requirements is a simple reinstatement of a condition accidentally omitted in the 2009 “housekeeping,” and as no present listing will be adversely affected, NASDAQ requested, and the SEC granted, a waiver of the normal 30-day period before a change might take effect.
While, as Alexander Pope wrote: “To err is human, to forgive, divine;” to correct may even be better.
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