The Mystery of Public Float (or, Does Everything have to be Gray?)

A question that frequently arises in our workshops is how to compute the “public float” number that is used to determine whether a company is a large accelerated, accelerated or non-accelerated filer. This is an important computation as it determines deadlines, SOX external audit requirements and Smaller Reporting Company status. The SEC also sometimes uses it when they phase in new rules. This number is disclosed on the cover page of Form 10-K, and is more formally called “common equity held by non-affiliates”.

While this might at first seem like a nice, simple, mechanical computation, like so many of the issues we deal with in the SEC world, it can get gray!

The whole process starts with this definition from Exchange Act Rule 12b-2:

Accelerated filer and large accelerated filer—

  • Accelerated filer. The term accelerated filer means an issuer after it first meets the following conditions as of the end of its fiscal year:

(i)The issuer had an aggregate worldwide market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by its non-affiliates of $75 million or more, but less than $700 million, as of the last business day of the issuer’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter;

(ii) The issuer has been subject to the requirements of section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Act (15 U.S.C. 78m or 78o(d)) for a period of at least twelve calendar months;

(iii) The issuer has filed at least one annual report pursuant to section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Act; and

(iv) The issuer is not eligible to use the requirements for smaller reporting companies in part 229 of this chapter for its annual and quarterly reports.

The definition of Large Accelerated filer is exactly the same except the dollar threshold is raised to $700 million. This rule also contains the definition of a smaller reporting company. You can find the complete exchange act rule at:

www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8e0ed509ccc65e983f9eca72ceb26753&node=17:4.0.1.1.1&rgn=div5#se17.4.240_112b_62

The same information comes into play on the cover page of Form 10-K, in these familiar sections from the instructions to the form:

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

[] Large accelerated filer                                                                   [] Accelerated filer

[] Non-accelerated filer                                                                     [] Smaller reporting company
(Do not check if a smaller reporting company)

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes No

State the aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates computed by reference to the price at which the common equity was last sold, or the average bid and asked price of such common equity, as of the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter.

So, what we commonly refer to as “public float” is, in the SEC’s guidance, defined as “aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates”. To properly compute this number, there are two more definitions we need to deal with, both again from Exchange Act Rule 12b-2:

Affiliate. An “affiliate” of, or a person “affiliated” with, a specified person, is a person that directly, or indirectly through one or more intermediaries, controls, or is controlled by, or is under common control with, the person specified.

Control. The term “control” (including the terms “controlling,” “controlled by” and “under common control with”) means the possession, direct or indirect, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of a person, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract, or otherwise.

Now, to the computation! First, we must compute the number of shares “held by non-affiliates”. The logical starting point is total number of shares outstanding. Treasury shares that have not been canceled are clearly held by an “affiliate”, that is the company itself, and are omitted from the calculation. Once the total shares outstanding is computed, the next step is to determine how many of these shares are held by “affiliates”.

Here is where the number can get a bit gray!

The definition of affiliate is clearly subjective. What does it mean, as in the definition above, to be a person who “directly, or indirectly through one or more intermediaries, controls, or is controlled by, or is under common control with, the person specified”?

When the definition of control above, that is control means “the possession, direct or indirect, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of a person, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract, or otherwise”, is factored into this determination, it is even more gray!

The categories of people who will fall into the affiliate category would clearly include all the company’s directors, as they “direct or cause the direction of management and policies” for the company. Additionally, executive officers, those officers with a policy or strategy setting role, are also clearly affiliates.

Major shareholders of the company may not fall as clearly into the definition of an affiliate. Generally, if a person owns enough shares, they have an ability to impact on the board and management. They may be able to “direct or cause the direction of management or policies”. In this day of activist shareholders, that is very clear. But there is no simple bright line for this determination. Judgment must be used. And, in very close cases, since this is in essence a legal determination, it may be appropriate to consult with counsel!

So, to get the shares held by non-affiliates, excluding shares held be directors and executive officers is fairly clear, shares held by major shareholders will require some judgment!

The next question is why do we use the price on the last business day of the most recently completed second fiscal quarter? We will leave that question our next post!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

1 thought on “The Mystery of Public Float (or, Does Everything have to be Gray?)

  1. Thanks George,

    What about shares/securities that can be acquired within 60 days? Here I’m referring to vested/exercisable stock options or restricted stock that will vest within that 60 day window (Reg. S-K Item 403 and Rule 13d-3(d)(1)). Granted those shares are not in the shares outstanding number, but they are securities held by the director or officer and reported in Section 16 filings. In theory, these additional securities still will not be held by “non-affiliates” so I may have just answered by own question. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.