Will $15M penny-stock market deliver job 'rebirth'?

Pretty Penny
A penny for your thoughts - and that stock. Delaware officials hope a new board of trade for penny stocks will be the key to a rebirth in Wilmington.

Officials in Delaware and its largest local govenrment -- New Castle County, where most Delawareans live -- were beyond enthusiastic on July 28 after county council agreed to authorize up to $15 million in revenue bonds to help a group of prominent ex-Wall Streeters (with Washington connections) build the Delaware Board of Trade -- DBOT -- a new securities market, in Wilmington.

 DBOT says its organizers include former NYSE CEO Richard Grasso, former UBS Financial Services CEO Joseph Grano, former Philadelphia Stock Exchange chairman John Wallace, former Cincinnati Stock Exchange CEO Richard “Nick” Niehoff, and Denis Toner, a former aide to Vice President Biden who also served on the U.S. Postal Service board.

DBOT is designed to exploit the JOBS Act, a 2012 law passed by Congress (with particular support from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., more here) that allows small businesses that lack full Securities and Exchange Commission IPO approvals to raise up to $50 million from investors (the old limit was $5 million).

DBOT organizers plan a "venture exchange," a sort of high-end crowdfunding, to speed those capital infusions. County administrator David Grimaldi assures me the DBOT, not county taxpayers, will be on the hook to repay PBOT bonds (if they are issued). 

Hasn't the nation gotten away from regional stock markets? The last of the local exchanges that once flourished -- in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston -- mostly folded in the early 2000s into national markets (Nasdaq, the New York Stock Exchange). Physical stock and option trading, even on the once-frantic New York floor, is a shadow of what it was back in 2001, when Philadelphia's basement Market St. trading floor bustled with more than 1,000 equity and options traders, many of them relocated after the attack on the World Trade Center. Traders have since "moved upstairs" and online, taking the bright-jacketed floor specialists and market-makers with them.

But there's been a corresponding boom in electronic markets. DBOT hopes to cash in. Its bond proposal won unanimous approval from the elected council after it was proposed by elected County Executive Tom Gordon, and introduced by Council President Christopher Bullock and Councilman Penrose Hollins, who represents Wilmington.

“This project may be the biggest thing to happen to Delaware since the Banking Act," said Gordon, referring to the 1981 state law that made Delaware a credit card and wholesale lending center. "Our State will not only be the best choice to incorporate a new business, but also to raise the money necessary to fund it,” Gordon added.

According to Grimaldi, “DBOT can offer new businesses a more attractive alternative to traditional venture capital funding. Overnight, one of our biggest economic challenges, access to capital, can become a core competitive advantage. This is big.”

“This is a game changer for the state,” added Bullock in a prepared statement. “It will be a direct job creator and provide a shot in the arm to both the state and the city of Wilmington.” Councilman Hollins claimed the Philadelphia exchange, at its peak in the mid-2000s, pumped up to half a billion dollars "in annual capital expense spending" plus a $100 million tech payroll. "If that were replicated in Wilmington, it would be transformational.”

Added Grimaldi's assistant, Samuel Guy: “The Delaware Board of Trade will be operated by globally recognized leaders in the financial services industry. The new exchange will position Delaware as a first mover to directly benefit from the incentives created under the (federal) JOBS Act and corresponding SEC Regulation A+, which was recently finalized. This may lead to a rebirth of our economy.”

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