What is 'OTC Pink'

The OTC Pink, or Pink Sheets, is the lowest and most speculative tier of the three marketplaces for the trading of over-the-counter stocks. All three tiers are provided and operated by the OTC Markets Group. This marketplace offers to trade in a wide range of equities through any broker and includes companies in default or financial distress. Since it has no disclosure requirements, categorization of OTC Pink companies is from information provided by the company. OTC Markets somewhat euphemistically advertises OTC Pink as “The Open Marketplace with Variable Reporting Companies.”

BREAKING DOWN 'OTC Pink'

The over-the-counter (OTC) market is a decentralized market where securities, not listed on major exchanges, are traded directly by a network of dealers. Instead of providing an order matchmaking service as with the NYSE, these dealers carry inventories of securities to facilitate any buy or sell orders. 

Because information was initially printed on pink paper, the OTC Pink is also called the Pink Sheets.

The OTC Pink, as well as the companion tiers, OTCQX and OTCQB, is run by OTC Link. The link is an electronic inter-dealer quotation and trading system developed by OTC Markets Group. Registered with the SEC as a broker-dealer, OTC Link is also an alternative trading system (ATS). OTC Link allows broker-dealers not only to post and disseminate their quotes but also to negotiate trades through the system’s electronic messaging capability. This feature will enable it to replace the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB), which was a quotation-only system.

Regulation of the OTC Pink Marketplace

Because of the variable, self-reporting nature by OTC Pink companies, they are classified based on the quality and quantity of information they provide to investors. Classification is as follows.

  • Current Information companies are those that follow the International Reporting Standard or Alternative Reporting Standard. These companies make filings publicly available through the OTC Disclosure & News Service.

  • Limited Information companies include troubled firms in financial distress, bankruptcy, or those with accounting issues. This category also includes companies that are unwilling to meet the OTC Pink Basic Disclosure Guidelines.
  • No Information companies are those businesses that do not provide any disclosure at all.

OTC Pink provides for transparent trading and best execution although there are no financial standards or disclosure requirements. The marketplace trades a wide range of domestic and foreign companies including penny stocks, shells companies, distressed companies and dark companies that cannot or will not provide company information to investors.

Because of the lack of reporting requirements, only professional and sophisticated investors with a high risk-tolerance should trade here. Investors should research the companies they are considering and review all business activities.

All broker-dealers that trade on the OTCQX, OTCQB and OTC Pink securities have to be Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) members. Further, they must register with the SEC and are subject to state securities regulations. In this way, as with exchange-traded securities, investors trading OTC securities are protected from an unethical broker-dealer’s illegal practices by the same SEC and FINRA rules such as Best Execution, Limit Order Protection, Firm Quotes, and Short Position Disclosure.

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