March 26, 2014 / 8:27 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. over-counter trading tightens reporting, other standards

NEW YORK (Reuters) - OTC Markets, the operator of three U.S. over-the-counter equity markets, is rolling out tighter reporting standards and eligibility requirements for its venture-stage market to crack down on stock scams and bolster transparency, the company said on Wednesday.

OTC Markets will introduce a new minimum 1 cent bid price requirement on May 1 for its OTCQB market and will require the company’s chief executive or chief financial officer to certify that its reporting obligations are current and that disclosures about shareholdings, officers and corporate profile are correct.

The bid requirement, in which stocks must have been quoted for at least 1 cent daily over a 30-day period or be dropped from the market, aims to ferret out companies that fall prey to dilutive stock fraud schemes and promotions, OTC Markets said.

Greater scrutiny of management, directors and shareholders would help reduce fraud in micro-cap stocks, which has been a focus of the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Cromwell Coulson, president and chief executive of OTC Markets.

Even companies that are current in reporting information to the SEC can be problematic, Coulson said. In 2012, the SEC ordered 10-day suspensions of 672 micro-cap and shell securities, just 16 of which were current in their reporting.

Yet the 16 securities accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total dollar volume of all suspended securities in the 90 days prior to their suspension, Coulson said in congressional testimony last year.

OTC Markets also will charge a one-time $2,500 fee for new applicants and an annual $10,000 fee for companies trading on the OTCQB market.

Foreign companies that are listed on a qualified stock exchange and are current in their U.S. reporting obligations will be allowed to trade on OTCQB, OTC Markets’ middle-tier marketplace. In the past, they traded on the lowest “pink” tier.

On Tuesday, the two most actively traded stocks on OTC Markets were French dairy products maker Danone SA and Swiss pharmaceuticals Roche Holding AG.

Trading volume on OTC Markets was 20.1 billion shares on Tuesday, about three times that of all U.S. stock exchanges and other trading venues. But the value traded, $1.4 billion, paled in comparison with the $263.4 billion executed on the other exchanges and venues, data from BATS Global Markets showed.

Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Leslie Adler

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