DESCRIPTION OF THE REGISTRANT’S SECURITIES
REGISTERED PURSUANT TO SECTION 12 OF THE
SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation (the “Company”) has one class of securities registered under Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. In this Exhibit 4.1, when we refer to “Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation,” the “Company,” “we,” “us” or “our” or when we otherwise refer to ourselves, we mean Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation excluding, unless otherwise expressly stated or the context requires, our subsidiaries; all references to “common stock” refer only to common stock issued by us and not to any common stock issued by any subsidiary.
DESCRIPTION OF COMMON STOCK
The general terms and provisions of our common stock are summarized below. This summary does not purport to be complete and is subject to, and is qualified in its entirety by express reference to, the provisions of our charter and bylaws, each of which is filed as an exhibit to the Annual Report on Form 10‑K of which this Exhibit 4.1 is a part. We encourage you to read our charter and bylaws, and the applicable provisions of the General Corporation Law of the State of Maryland (the “Maryland General Corporation Law”) for additional information. As of December 31, 2019, our authorized common stock consisted of 450,000,000 shares of common stock, $0.01 par value per share, and 50,000,000 shares of preferred stock, $0.01 par value per share.
We were formed under the laws of the state of Maryland. The rights of our stockholders are governed by Maryland law as well as our charter and bylaws. The following summary of the terms of our capital stock is only a summary, and you should refer to the Maryland General Corporation Law (the “MGCL”), and our charter and bylaws for a full description.
Our charter authorizes us to issue up to 450,000,000 shares of common stock, $0.01 par value per share, and 50,000,000 shares of undesignated preferred stock, $0.01 par value per share. Our charter authorizes our board of directors to amend our charter from time to time to increase or decrease the aggregate number of authorized shares of stock or the number of shares of stock of any class or series that we have authority to issue without stockholder approval. Under Maryland law, stockholders are not generally liable for our debts or obligations.
Our charter also contains a provision permitting our board of directors, by resolution, to classify or reclassify any unissued common stock or preferred stock into one or more classes or series by setting or changing the preferences, conversion or other rights, voting powers, restrictions, limitations as to dividends or other distributions, qualifications, or terms or conditions of redemption of any new class or series of stock, subject to certain restrictions, including the express terms of any class or series of stock outstanding at the time. We believe that the power to classify or reclassify unissued shares of stock and thereafter issue the classified or reclassified shares provides us with increased flexibility in structuring possible future financings and acquisitions and in meeting other needs that might arise.
Our charter and bylaws contain certain provisions that could make it more difficult to acquire control of the Company by means of a tender offer, a proxy contest or otherwise. These provisions are expected to discourage certain types of coercive takeover practices and inadequate takeover bids and to encourage persons seeking to acquire control of the Company to negotiate first with our board of directors. We believe that these provisions increase the likelihood that proposals initially will be on more attractive terms than would be the case in their absence and facilitate negotiations that may result in improvement of the terms of an initial offer that might involve a premium price for our common stock or otherwise be in the best interest of our stockholders. See “Risk Factors-Risks Related to Our Organization and Structure” in our Annual Report on Form 10-K of which this Exhibit 4.1 is a part.
Our common stock trades on The New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “ACRE.” Subject to any preferential rights of any other class or series of stock and to the provisions of our charter regarding the restrictions on the ownership and transfer of stock, the holders of our common stock are entitled to such distributions as may be authorized from time to time by our board of directors out of legally available funds and declared by us and, upon our liquidation, are entitled to receive all assets available for distribution to our stockholders. Holders of our common stock generally will not have preemptive rights, which means that they will not have an automatic option to purchase any new shares that we issue, or preference, conversion, exchange, sinking fund or redemption rights. Holders of our common stock generally will have no appraisal rights unless our board of directors determines that appraisal rights apply, with respect to all or any classes or series of stock, to one or more transactions occurring after the date of such determination in connection with which our stockholders would otherwise be entitled to exercise appraisal rights.
The holders of our common stock vote together as a single class on all matters. Holders of shares of our common stock are entitled to vote for the election of directors. Directors may be removed from office, only for cause, by the affirmative vote of stockholders entitled to cast not less than two-thirds of the votes entitled to be cast generally in the election of directors. Vacancies on the board of directors resulting from death, resignation, removal or otherwise and newly created directorships resulting from any increase in the number of directors may be filled only by a majority of the directors then in office (although less than a quorum). Any such director elected to fill a vacancy will serve for the remainder of the full term of the class in which such vacancy occurred and until his or her successor is elected and qualifies or until his or her earlier death, resignation or removal.
Meetings and Special Voting Requirements
Subject to our charter restrictions on ownership and transfer of our stock and except as may otherwise be specified in our charter, including with respect to the vote by the common stock for the election of directors, each holder of common stock is entitled at each meeting of stockholders to one vote per share owned by such stockholder on all matters submitted to a vote of stockholders. There is no cumulative voting in the election of our board of directors, which means that the holders of a majority of shares of our outstanding common stock can elect all the directors then standing for election and the holders of the remaining shares of common stock will not be able to elect any directors.
Under Maryland law, a Maryland corporation generally cannot dissolve, amend its charter, merge, convert, sell all or substantially all of its assets, engage in a share exchange or engage in similar transactions outside the ordinary course of business, unless declared advisable by the board of directors and approved by the affirmative vote of stockholders entitled to cast at least two-thirds of all the votes entitled to be cast on the matter. However, a Maryland corporation may provide in its charter for approval of these matters by a lesser percentage, but not less than a majority of all the votes entitled to be cast on the matter. Except for certain amendments of our charter relating to the removal of directors and the vote required to amend certain provisions of the charter, our charter provides for a majority vote in these situations.
An annual meeting of our stockholders is held each year. Special meetings of stockholders may be called upon the request of a majority of our directors, the chairman of the board of directors, the president or the chief executive officer and must be called by our secretary to act on any matter that may properly be considered at a meeting of stockholders upon the written request of stockholders entitled to cast at least a majority of the votes entitled to be cast on such matter at the meeting (subject to the stockholders’ compliance with certain procedures set forth in our bylaws). The presence of stockholders entitled to cast at least a majority of all the votes entitled to be cast at such meeting on any matter, either in person or by proxy, will constitute a quorum.
One or more persons who together are and for at least six months have been stockholders of record of at least five percent of the outstanding shares of any class of our stock are entitled to receive a copy of our stockholder list upon request in accordance with Maryland law. The list provided by us will include each stockholder’s name and address and the number of shares owned by each stockholder and will be made available within 20 days of the receipt by us of the request. Stockholders and their representatives shall also be given access to our bylaws, the minutes of stockholder proceedings, our annual statements of affairs and any voting trust agreements on file at our principal office during usual business hours. We have the right to request that a requesting stockholder represent to us that the list and records will not be used to pursue commercial interests.
Restrictions on Ownership and Transfer
In order for us to qualify as a real estate investment trust (“REIT”), we must meet the following criteria regarding our stockholders’ ownership of our shares:
we cannot be “closely held” under Section 856(h) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”); that is, five or fewer individuals (as specially defined in the Code to include specified private foundations, employee benefit plans and trusts and charitable trusts and subject to certain constructive ownership rules) may not own, directly or indirectly, more than 50% in value of our outstanding shares during the last half of a taxable year, other than our first REIT taxable year; and
100 or more persons must beneficially own our shares during at least 335 days of a taxable year of twelve months or during a proportionate part of a shorter taxable year, other than our first REIT taxable year.
We may prohibit certain acquisitions and transfers of shares so as to ensure our initial and continued qualification as a REIT under the Code. However, there can be no assurance that this prohibition will be effective. Because we believe it is
essential for us to continue to qualify, among other purposes, our charter provides (subject to certain exceptions) that no person may own, or be deemed to own by virtue of the attribution provisions of the Code, more than 9.8% in value of the aggregate of our outstanding shares of stock or more than 9.8% (in value or number of shares, whichever is more restrictive) of any class or series of our shares of our stock.
Our board of directors, in its sole discretion, may waive this ownership limit (prospectively or retroactively) if evidence satisfactory to our directors, including certain representations and undertakings required by our charter, is presented that such ownership will not then or in the future jeopardize our status as a REIT. Also, these restrictions on transferability and ownership will not apply if our directors determine that it is no longer in our best interests to continue to qualify as a REIT or that compliance with such restrictions is no longer required in order for us to qualify as a REIT.
In addition to prohibiting the transfer or ownership of our stock that would result in any person owning, directly or indirectly, shares of our stock in excess of the foregoing ownership limitations, our charter prohibits the transfer or ownership of our stock if such transfer or ownership would:
with respect to transfers only, result in our capital stock being beneficially owned by fewer than 100 persons, determined without reference to any rules of attribution;
result in our being “closely held” within the meaning of Code Section 856(h) (regardless of whether the ownership interest is held during the last half of a taxable year);
result in our owning, directly or indirectly, more than 9.8% of the ownership interests in any tenant or subtenant; or
otherwise result in our disqualification as a REIT.
In the case of any attempted transfer of our stock which, if effective, would result in a violation of these limitations, then the number of shares causing the violation (rounded up to the nearest whole share) will be automatically transferred to a trust for the exclusive benefit of one or more charitable beneficiaries (or, in the case of a transfer that would result in our stock being beneficially owned by fewer than 100 persons, be void), and the proposed transferee will not acquire any rights in the shares. To avoid confusion, these shares so transferred to a beneficial trust will be referred to in this exhibit as “Excess Securities.” Excess Securities will remain issued and outstanding shares and will be entitled to the same rights and privileges as all other shares of the same class or series. The trustee of the beneficial trust, as holder of the Excess Securities, will be entitled to receive all distributions authorized by the board of directors on such securities for the benefit of the charitable beneficiary. Our charter further entitles the trustee of the beneficial trust to vote all Excess Securities. Subject to Maryland law, the trustee will have the authority (a) to rescind as void any vote cast by the proposed transferee prior to our discovery that the shares have been transferred to the beneficial trust and (b) to recast the vote in accordance with the desires of the trustee acting for the benefit of the charitable beneficiary. However, if we have already taken irreversible corporate action, then the trustee will not have the authority to rescind and recast the vote. If a transfer to the trust would be ineffective for any reason to prevent a violation of any of the foregoing restrictions, the transfer resulting in such violation will be void from the time of such purported transfer.
The trustee of the beneficial trust will select a transferee to whom the Excess Securities may be sold as long as such sale does not violate the 9.8% ownership limit or the other restrictions on ownership and transfer. Upon sale of the Excess Securities, the intended transferee (the transferee of the Excess Securities whose ownership would have violated the 9.8% ownership limit or the other restrictions on ownership and transfer) will receive from the trustee of the beneficial trust the lesser of such sale proceeds, or the price per share the intended transferee paid for the Excess Securities (or, in the case of a gift or devise to the intended transferee, the price per share equal to the market value per share on the date of the transfer to the beneficial trust). The trustee may reduce the amount payable to the intended transferee by the amount of dividends and other distributions which have been paid to the intended transferee and are owed by the intended transferee to the trustee. The trustee of the beneficial trust will distribute to the charitable beneficiary any amount the trustee receives in excess of the amount to be paid to the intended transferee.
In addition, we have the right to purchase any Excess Securities at the lesser of (a) the price per share paid in the transfer that created the Excess Securities (or, in the case of a devise or gift, the market price at the time of such devise or gift) and (b) the market price on the date we, or our designee, exercise such right. We may reduce the amount payable to the intended transferee by the amount of dividends and other distributions which have been paid to the intended transferee and are owed by the intended transferee to the trustee. We will have the right to purchase the Excess Securities until the trustee has sold the shares. Upon a sale to us, the interest of the charitable beneficiary in the shares sold will terminate and the trustee will distribute the net proceeds of the sale to the intended transferee.
Any person who (a) acquires or attempts or intends to acquire shares in violation of the foregoing ownership limitations, or (b) would have owned shares that resulted in a transfer to a charitable trust, is required to give us immediate written notice or, in the case of a proposed or intended transaction, 15 days’ written notice. In both cases, such persons must provide to us such other information as we may request in order to determine the effect, if any, of such transfer on our status as a REIT. The foregoing restrictions will continue to apply until our board of directors determines it is no longer in our best interest to continue to qualify as a REIT or that compliance with such restrictions is no longer required in order for us to qualify as a REIT.
The 9.8% ownership limit does not apply to the underwriters in a public offering of shares. Any person who owns more than 5% of the outstanding shares during any taxable year will be asked to deliver a statement or affidavit setting forth the name and address of such owner, the number of shares beneficially owned, directly or indirectly, and a description of the manner in which such shares are held. Each such person also must provide us with such additional information as we may request in order to determine the effect of such ownership on our status as a REIT and to ensure compliance with the 9.8% ownership limit.
The MGCL provides that our stockholders:
are not liable personally or individually in any manner whatsoever for any debt, act, omission or obligation incurred by us or our board of directors; and
are under no obligation to us or our creditors with respect to their shares other than the obligation to pay to us the full amount of the consideration for which their shares were issued.
Under the MGCL, “business combinations” between a Maryland corporation and an “interested stockholder” or an affiliate of an interested stockholder are prohibited for five years after the most recent date on which the interested stockholder becomes an interested stockholder. These business combinations include a merger, consolidation, share exchange or, in circumstances specified in the statute, an asset transfer or issuance or reclassification of equity securities. An interested stockholder is defined as: (a) any person who beneficially owns, directly or indirectly, 10% or more of the voting power of the then-outstanding voting stock of the corporation; or (b) an affiliate or associate of the corporation who, at any time within the two-year period prior to the date in question, was the beneficial owner, directly or indirectly, of 10% or more of the voting power of the then-outstanding stock of the corporation.
A person is not an interested stockholder under the statute if the board of directors approved in advance the transaction by which the person otherwise would have become an interested stockholder. However, in approving a transaction, the board of directors may provide that its approval is subject to compliance, at or after the time of approval, with any terms and conditions determined by the board of directors.
After the expiration of the five-year period described above, any business combination between the Maryland corporation and an interested stockholder must generally be recommended by the board of directors of the corporation and approved by the affirmative vote of at least:
80% of the votes entitled to be cast by holders of the then-outstanding shares of voting stock of the corporation; and
two-thirds of the votes entitled to be cast by holders of voting stock of the corporation other than shares held by the interested stockholder with whom or with whose affiliate the business combination is to be effected or held by an affiliate or associate of the interested stockholder.
These supermajority vote requirements do not apply if the corporation’s common stockholders receive a minimum price, as defined under the MGCL, for their shares in the form of cash or other consideration in the same form as previously paid by the interested stockholder for its shares. The MGCL also permits various exemptions from these provisions, including business combinations that are exempted by the board of directors before the time that the interested stockholder becomes an interested stockholder. Pursuant to the statute, our board of directors has adopted a resolution exempting any business combination with Ares Investment Holdings LLC ("Ares") or any of its affiliates. Consequently, the five-year prohibition and the supermajority vote requirements will not apply to business combinations between us and Ares or any of its affiliates. As a
result, Ares or any of its affiliates may be able to enter into business combinations with us that may not be in the best interest of our stockholders, without compliance with the supermajority vote requirements and the other provisions of the statute. The business combination statute may discourage others from trying to acquire control of us and increase the difficulty of consummating any offer.
Control Share Acquisitions
With some exceptions, Maryland law provides that control shares of a Maryland corporation acquired in a control share acquisition have no voting rights except to the extent approved by a vote of stockholders entitled to cast at least two-thirds of all the votes entitled to be cast on the matter, excluding “control shares”:
owned by the acquiring person;
owned by our officers; and
owned by our employees who are also directors.
“Control shares” mean voting shares of stock which, if aggregated with all other shares of stock owned by the acquirer in respect of which the acquirer can exercise or direct the exercise of voting power, would entitle the acquiring person to exercise voting power in electing directors within one of the following ranges of voting power:
one-tenth or more, but less than one-third of all voting power;
one-third or more, but less than a majority of all voting power; or
a majority or more of all voting power.
Control shares do not include shares the acquiring person is then entitled to vote as a result of having previously obtained stockholder approval. A control share acquisition occurs when, subject to some exceptions, a person directly or indirectly acquires ownership or the power to direct the exercise of voting power (except solely by virtue of a revocable proxy) of issued and outstanding control shares. A person who has made or proposes to make a control share acquisition, upon satisfaction of some specific conditions, including an undertaking to pay expenses, may compel our board of directors to call a special meeting of our stockholders to be held within 50 days of a request to consider the voting rights of the control shares. If no request for a meeting is made, we may present the question at any stockholders’ meeting.
If voting rights are not approved at the meeting or if the acquiring person does not deliver an acquiring person statement on or before the 10th day after the control share acquisition as required by the statute, then, subject to some conditions and limitations, we may redeem any or all the control shares (except those for which voting rights have been previously approved) for fair value, determined without regard to the absence of voting rights for the control shares, as of the date of any meeting of stockholders at which the voting rights of such shares are considered and not approved, or, if no such meeting is held, as of the date of the last control share acquisition by the acquiror. If voting rights for control shares are approved at a stockholders meeting and the acquirer becomes entitled to vote a majority of the shares entitled to vote, all other stockholders may exercise appraisal rights. The fair value of the shares as determined for purposes of such appraisal rights may not be less than the highest price per share paid by the acquirer in the control share acquisition. The control share acquisition statute does not apply to shares acquired in a merger, consolidation, or share exchange if we are a party to the transaction or to acquisitions approved or exempted by our charter or bylaws.
As permitted by the MGCL, our bylaws contain a provision exempting from the control share acquisition statute any and all acquisitions of our stock. There can be no assurance that this provision will not be amended or eliminated at any time in the future.
Subtitle 8 of Title 3 of the MGCL permits a Maryland corporation with a class of equity securities registered under the Exchange Act and at least three independent directors to elect to be subject, by provision in its charter or bylaws or a resolution of its board of directors and notwithstanding any contrary provision in the charter or bylaws, to any or all of five provisions:
a two-thirds vote requirement for removing a director;
a requirement that the number of directors be fixed only by vote of the directors;
a requirement that a vacancy on the board of directors be filled only by affirmative vote of a majority of the remaining directors in office and for the remainder of the full term of the class of directors in which the vacancy occurred; and
a majority requirement for the calling of a stockholder-requested special meeting of stockholders.
Pursuant to Subtitle 8, we have elected in our charter and bylaws to provide that vacancies on our board of directors may be filled by the remaining directors and any such director elected to fill a vacancy will serve for the remainder of the full term of the class in which such vacancy occurred and until his or her successor is elected and qualifies or until his or her earlier death, resignation or removal. Through provisions unrelated to Subtitle 8, our charter also vests in the board of directors the exclusive power to fix the number of directorships, provides that any director may be removed from office, only for cause, by the affirmative vote of stockholders entitled to cast not less than two-thirds of the votes entitled to be cast generally in the election of directors, and requires (unless called upon the request of a majority of our directors, the chairman of the board of directors, the president or the chief executive officer) the written request of stockholders entitled to cast at least a majority of the votes entitled to be cast on any matter that may properly be considered at a meeting of stockholders to call a special meeting to act on such matter.
Transfer Agent and Registrar
The transfer agent and registrar for our shares of common stock is Computershare Trust Company, N.A.