SEC issues warning about investing in reverse merger companies

On June 9, 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an Investor Bulletin about investing in companies that enter U.S. markets through the so-called “reverse mergers.” These mergers allow private companies, including those outside the U.S., to access U.S. investors and markets by merging with an existing public shell company. The SEC and U.S. exchanges recently suspended trading in more than a dozen reverse merger companies, citing a lack of current, accurate information about these companies and their finances.

“Given the potential risks, investors should be very careful when considering investing in the stock of reverse merger companies,” said Lori J. Schock, director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. “As with any investment, investors should thoroughly research the company – including ensuring there is accurate and up-to-date information – before making a decision to invest.”

The SEC’s warning is especially strong regarding Chinese companies, as more than 150 entities have recently put their shares up for grabs to American investors through the backdoor “without any of the vetting from underwriters and investors that companies undergo when they perform a traditional IPO,” as noted by Commissioner Luis Aguilar.

Shareholders already have sued a string of China-based, U.S.-listed companies for fraud, claiming that they lost money when stocks plummeted after the financial scandals. They charge that the companies operated sham businesses, inflated revenue or gave vastly different information to U.S. and Chinese regulators. And they are starting to sue the auditors who signed off on the financial statements. But it will be tough to win these cases in American courts, as Chinese entities often have refused to comply with U.S. court proceedings.

The best hope for investors may be the SEC, which has launched an inquiry into U.S. audit firms with China-based clients. Investors could benefit if the SEC, which can force companies and auditors to cooperate in investigations, sues more auditors or companies.