Hundreds of stocks have broken the buck this year, following a slump in the once-hot market for buzzy startups seeking rapid growth.
As of Friday, 557 stocks listed on U.S. exchanges were trading below $1 a share, up from fewer than a dozen in early 2021, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The majority of these stocks—464 of them—are listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market, whose rules require companies to maintain a minimum share price of $1 or risk being delisted.
Investor-protection advocates say many of these sub-$1 stocks belong to risky small companies that should be on the over-the-counter market, the traditional home of “penny stocks” not ready for the prime time of Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange.
But instead of being delisted, the companies are maneuvering to maintain their Nasdaq spots—alongside blue chips such as Apple and Microsoft—as long as they can.
“Any company that looks to list and remain listed on Nasdaq must satisfy certain requirements,” a Nasdaq spokesperson said. “Our rules, like any other exchange, are approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and provide specified periods for companies to regain compliance with the applicable requirements.”
Companies with a share price below $1 can stay listed more than a year before Nasdaq kicks them off. Largely owing to the pileup of stocks below $1, around one in six Nasdaq-listed companies is running afoul of the exchange’s rules, Nasdaq data show.
“Exchanges are supposed to be gatekeepers and list only bona fide companies that have investor interest,” said Rick Fleming, a former SEC investor advocate. “If a bunch of companies aren’t really meeting those standards, it undermines the seal of approval that the exchanges are supposed to be imparting.”
Many of today’s sub-$1 stocks went public in 2020 and 2021 during a boom in initial public offerings and deals with special-purpose acquisition companies. Mergers with SPACs were a popular way for startups to go public until a regulatory crackdown in 2021 slowed the SPAC craze.
Nasdaq’s website lists 583 companies that are “noncompliant” with its own listing rules. Besides falling below $1 a share, common reasons for companies to become noncompliant include failing to meet minimum targets for float, stockholders’ equity or number of shareholders.
AEye, a maker of sensor technology for self-driving cars, is on the list because its shares have been stuck below $1 for nearly a year. They closed at 15 cents on Friday, down more than 98% since AEye made its debut on Nasdaq through a SPAC merger in August 2021.
The company plans a reverse stock split before the end of this year to regain compliance, an AEye spokeswoman said.
Reverse stock splits have surged as struggling companies seek to boost their share price above $1. There have been 255 reverse splits so far in 2023, up from 159 last year, according to data provider Wall Street Horizon.
Some investors view reverse splits as a black mark on a company’s reputation, so companies often avoid doing them until there is no other choice.
Under Nasdaq rules, a company whose shares fall below $1 for 30 days gets a warning stating that it is noncompliant and has 180 days to get its share price back above the threshold. At the end of that period, many companies get an additional 180-day grace period if they say they are considering a reverse split or some other way to get back above $1.
At the end of the second 180-day period, companies can still avoid getting kicked off Nasdaq by requesting a hearing to appeal the delisting decision. Until the hearing, they won’t be delisted. Companies must pay Nasdaq a $20,000 fee for the hearing.
Some of the sub-$1 stocks have enjoyed bursts of heavy trading volume as individual investors pile into them, driven by social-media chatter.
Inpixon, a maker of location software for factories and warehouses, unleashed a brief trading frenzy this summer after announcing a merger, even though it is a relatively obscure company whose shares have traded below $1 since January.
On July 25, about 267 million shares of Inpixon changed hands—representing 2.7% of the shares traded in the entire U.S. stock market that day and more than 300 times the previous day’s volume, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. On Friday, Inpixon closed at 7 cents a share.
Nasdaq has required listed companies to maintain a $1 share price since the 1990s, though it suspended the rule during market crashes in 2001, 2008 and 2020. The NYSE has a similar minimum-price rule on its flagship exchange. But the Big Board has far fewer companies trading below $1, because Nasdaq attracts the majority of companies with small market caps, which are more likely to fall below the threshold.
The recent surge in exchange-listed stocks trading for pennies raises concerns about market integrity, said S. Ghon Rhee, a finance professor at the University of Hawaii and co-author of a 2011 academic study on Nasdaq’s $1 rule.
“When it comes to risks associated with stocks falling below $1, our findings suggest that noncompliant stocks were much more vulnerable to catastrophic losses,” Rhee said. “Investors could have their entire investment wiped out.”
Write to Alexander Osipovich at [email protected]News Related