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What is Rule 144A?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Rule 144A is a financial regulation in the United States exempting registration requirements for the sale of restricted securities when qualified institutional buyers are involved in the sale. This rule allows sophisticated investors to bypass the regulations put in place to protect members of the public interested in participating in the investment market, increasing liquidity on the stock market by permitting trading of restricted securities with less regulatory oversight in certain circumstances. Rule 144A was passed in 1990 as part of an amendment to the Securities Act of 1933, a key piece of financial legislation.

Under Rule 144A, qualified institutional buyers are allowed to make large trades of restricted securities directly between themselves and with the assistance of broker-dealers without needing to meet registration requirements. Participants in these trades are required to confirm that the other party or parties involved are truly qualified institutional buyers. This means that they are considered experienced and sophisticated enough to make complex investment decisions without the need for extensive regulatory protections.

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Known as 144 securities, these securities can be traded easily under Rule 144A, permitting increased liquidity and allowing institutional investors to move more quickly to take advantage of changes in the market. Trade in 144 securities is not allowed for other types of buyers, as they are believed to be at risk of making poor investment decisions due to lack of knowledge and experience. These buyers are restricted to more regulated securities markets where there is more oversight and the risks associated with investment are reduced.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) monitors and regulates the securities market in the United States and keeps a sharp eye out for fraud and other situations that may put individual investors at risk. This regulatory agency is concerned with establishing and enforcing policy to protect investors while also promoting the growth and development of the securities market in the United States. Rules like Rule 144A are intended to promote both foreign and domestic trade by making it easier for large institutions to engage in big investments.

In addition to monitoring trading activity, the SEC can also conduct audits of individual investors and firms. If it suspects that unauthorized trading has occurred, it can take actions including fining investors or bringing cases to court for other penalties, such as being stripped of trading licenses or sent to prison for violating parts of the criminal code. The SEC maintains tiplines for the purpose of allowing people to call in cases of suspicious trading and questionable ethics on the part of traders.

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