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2019年12月27日,全国股转公司发布实施首批全面深化新三板改革有关业务规则,其中,《分层管理办法》不仅优化了基础层和创新层的制度,还增设了精选层。而短短7个月后,新三板精选层于今年7月27日正式开市,共有32家公司首批晋层。尽管开市以来公司表现参差不齐,呈现出明显的差异化,但毋庸置疑的是,精选层的设立与开市对于新三板来说具有重要意义。

 “从宏观角度来看,精选层是新三板在践行服务创新创业成长型中小企业的一个重要实践,也是落实我国关于建立多层次资本市场并差异化协同发展改革要求的重大举措。”天元律师事务所杭州分所合伙人沈学让律师指出。
而从微观上来说,沈律师认为对企业和投资人而言,精选层最重要的意义在于明确路径、建立预期。他解释道:“企业在基础层实现规范,在创新层完成培育之后,能够在精选层实现升级发展,通过高效率股票融资和高效率的交易使企业更上一个台阶,发展到一定阶段后也可通过转板上市登陆到沪、深市场,给企业一个更顺畅的发展渠道。”

更高门槛
设立了精选层后,新三板形成了“基础层、创新层、精选层”三个阶梯式的市场结构。而企业如果想要“晋级”精选层,势必也意味着需要跨越更高的门槛。

就企业类型而言,国浩律师(上海)事务所合伙人张兰田律师及其团队中的孙维平律师表示,精选层服务具有一定规模和市场认可度的中小企业,而相比之下,基础层服务的是初创期的小微企业,创新层则服务具有一定体量的小型企业。

此外,沈律师补充道:“精选层设立了一个负面清单,即禁止金融和类金融企业、产能过剩行业或《产业结构调整指导目录》中规定的限制类、淘汰类行业企业进入精选层,而基础层或创新层则没有这方面的明文限制。”

 “高门槛”同样体现在审查力度和企业IPO前的筹备方面。

 “在审查力度和公开发行的筹备要求上,精选层现有挂牌规则及配套制度对公司治理、财务、内控、信息披露等方面的标准已全面向IPO标准看齐,公司需要围绕‘持续经营能力’这一核心问题进行全面把控,并持续做好信息披露工作,以保证公众投资者的合法权益。”张律师和孙律师说道。

沈律师也从几个角度指出了精选层的“精选”之处:首先,在审查程序上,相比于基础层和创新层,企业想要公开发行并进入精选层需要通过更多的程序。

其次,在审查内容上,精选层审查要求也更为严格。“比如,报告期为三年加一期、报告期内前十大客户和供应商的走访和披露、同业竞争和关联交易的审查力度与IPO要求相同、其它方面的合法合规以及财务规范性要求都与IPO相同,”沈律师举例说道。

第三,就企业前期筹备而言,沈律师从市值条件和财务条件的角度列出了四套标准:“标准一:着重遴选已有稳定高效盈利模式的盈利型公司,该标准侧重财务指标,市值起辅助作用;标准二:侧重关注盈利模式清晰,业务快速发展,已初步具有盈利能力的成长型公司;标准三:主要针对具有一定研发能力且研发成果已初步实现业务收入的研发型企业;标准四:主要面向市场高度认可、研发创新能力强的创新型企业,但不对企业收入和盈利等作要求。”

基于此,沈律师认为,中介机构在前期筹备阶段应该做好充分的尽职调查,包括企业是否属于负面清单范畴,市值和财务要求是否达标,财务规范性以及合法合规性是否与IPO要求吻合。

律所积极布局
基于精选层对于新三板和企业所具有的重大意义,其设立之初就受到了广泛关注。律所也积极布局这方面的业务。目前,已有多家律所参与到企业上市新三板精选层的项目中,包括国浩律师事务所已经助力凯添燃气和连城数控成功发行,天元律师事务所也助力流金岁月和三友科技两家企业在精选层挂牌。
 “良好的开端预示着广阔的市场前景,”张律师说道,“作为国浩上海的合伙人,我也将积极参与各类业务培训和业务交流活动,将首批精选层项目的实务经验与事务所同仁分享,争取为更多拟从事精选层项目的国浩团队提供支持和帮助。”

沈律师亦介绍道:“就目前精选层上市方面的业务,我们会结合今年深交所进行的创业板注册制改革来分配资源投入力度。由于精选层的设立和开板,给暂时无法进入科创板或创业板的企业带来了一条新的融资道路,我们也会适时关注这些企业成长和发展,引导企业规范发展,帮助他们顺利在精选层挂牌。”

未来趋势:走向市场化
从去年科创板的推出、近期创业板注册制改革,到现在的新三板精选层开市,不难看出中国资本市场改革已经进入加速阶段。展望未来,张律师认为资本市场改革的核心趋势是市场化。

 “市场化的具体表现形式,既包括建立多层次资本市场以适应差异化需求,也包括逐步推进落地注册制。当然,市场化的最终目标是与国际接轨,促进中国资本市场全方位服务国家战略。改革过程中虽然面临着一些问题,但市场化、国际化的大趋势不会变。”张律师说道。

With NEEQ launching its Select tier, lawyers say companies need to meet higher standards

On Dec. 27 last year, the National Equities Exchange and Quotations (NEEQ) released the first batch of rules on comprehensively deepening NEEQ reform. The Measures for the Management of Market Tiers of the NEEQ is one of those rules. In addition to optimizing the systems for the Base tier and Innovation tier, these Measures add a new market tier, the Select tier. Seven months after the release of the Measures, the NEEQ Select tier has officially kicked off, with a total of 32 stocks approved to be launched on the first day. Although their performances have varied, there is no doubt that the launch of the Select tier has significant meaning to NEEQ.

"From a macro perspective, the Select tier is an important effort of the NEEQ in a move to better serve SMEs that are innovation-oriented, premature in business models, including tech startups; meanwhile it is a major step forward in building a multi-layered capital system that fits the Chinese market, and implementing the reform requirement of carrying out differentiated and coordinated development," says Shen Xuerang, a Hangzhou-based partner at Tian Yuan Law Firm.

From a micro perspective, Shen believes that the NEEQ Select tier clarifies the route and what to expect for enterprises and investors. "After standardizing its operations on the Base tier and accomplishing cultivation on the Innovation tier, a company may seek further development and upgrade on the Select tier, where the company may step onto a higher level by means of higher-efficiency financing and transactions. It can then seek to get listed on Shanghai or Shenzhen stock exchanges, to access even better financing channels," he explains.

HIGHER STANDARDS
With this new mechanism, NEEQ, also known as the New Third Board, now has a three-layer market structure. To advance to the Select tier, companies must meet higher standards.

The Select tier serves SMEs of a certain scale and market recognition, whereas the Base tier serves micro and small startups, and the Innovation tier serves small enterprises satisfying the relevant requirements on business volumes, according to two lawyers from the Shanghai office of Grandall Law firm, partner Zhang Lantian, and Sun Weiping. 

Shen of Tian Yuan adds: "The Select tier sets up a negative list, which prohibits financial entities and quasi-financial entities, enterprises in industries with excess capacity, and enterprises in the restricted and eliminated industries specified in the Guidance Catalogue for Industrial Structure Adjustments from accessing the Select tier, but there is no explicit restriction in this regard in the Base tier and the Innovation tier," 

The higher standards are also reflected in the IPO review and preparation requirements.

"In terms of IPO review and preparation requirements, the existing listing rules and supporting systems of the Select tier are very close to the main board in terms of the requirements on corporate governance, finance, internal control, and information disclosure. Companies that intend to be listed on the Select tier need to make overall control of the core issue: 'ability to remain sustainable operation’, and continuously make sufficient information disclosure, in order to protect the legitimate rights and interests of investors," Zhang and Sun say.

Shen also points out how the Select tier is different from the other two tiers. First, a company needs to go through more procedures in order to be listed on the Select tier, compared with those of the Base and Innovation tiers.

Secondly, the Select tier is stricter in terms of requirements. "For example, the reporting period is three years plus one period, the visits and disclosures of the top ten clients and suppliers during the reporting period, and the review of horizontal competition and related-party transactions, these are the same as the IPO requirements, and other legal compliance and financial regulatory requirements are also the same as those of IPOs," Shen illustrates.

And finally, with regard to preparing enterprises for the launching on the Select tier, Shen elaborates on four sets of standards from the perspective of market value and financial conditions of the enterprises: "(1) Giving priority to profitable companies with stable and efficient profit models. This standard focuses on financial indicators of the company, while the market value thereof plays a supporting role; (2) Focusing on growth companies with clear profit models, rapid business development, and initial profitability; (3) Paying attention to R&D companies with certain R&D capabilities and achievements, which have initially achieved business incomes; and (4) Innovative enterprises with high market recognition and strong R&D and innovation capabilities; and there is no requirement on the income and profitability of such enterprises."

As a result, Shen believes that intermediary agencies should do adequate due diligence in the preliminary preparation stage, including whether the companies fall within the negative list, whether the market value and financial requirements of the companies meet the standards, and whether their financial norms and legal compliance status are consistent with IPO requirements.

LAW FIRMS INVOLVED
The Select tier is of great significance to the NEEQ and enterprises, and has received extensive attention. Law firms are actively involved in the field. Grandall has advised Ningxia Kai Tian Gas Development and Dalian Linto NC Machine on the issuance of shares on NEEQ Select, and Tian Yuan has helped Golden Times Culture Communications and Sanmen Sanyou Technologies successfully launch on the Select tier.

"Getting off to a good start is the key to a broad market prospect," Zhang says. "As a partner at Grandall Shanghai Office, I'll actively participate in various business training and exchange activities, and hope to share with my colleagues the practical experience of the first batch of NEEQ Select, and to support and assist other teams of Grandall that plan to engage in the Select tier projects."

Shen says: "With regard to the current Select tier related businesses, we'll allocate our resources in light of the reform of the ChiNext board registration system carried out by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange this year. The launch of NEEQ Select tier has created a new way to meet the financing needs of companies that cannot be listed on the SSE STAR Market or the ChiNext. We'll pay attention to the growth of those companies, guide their standardized development, and help them to successfully enter the Select tier." 

MORE MARKET-ORIENTED
The launch of the SSE STAR Market last year, the recent reform of the ChiNext registration system, and the launch the NEEQ Select tier all indicate that China's capital market reform has entered an accelerated stage. Looking forward, Zhang believes that the core development trend of the capital market reform is market orientation.

"Market-oriented development is manifested by the establishment of a multi-layer capital market to meet different needs, and gradual implementation of the registration-based system. Of course, the ultimate goal of market orientation is to be in line with international standards and promote China's capital market to serve the national strategy in all aspects. Although there can be challenges in the reform process, the general trend of market orientation and internationalization will remain unchanged," Zhang says.