Like the two ends of a seesaw, private placements of stock tend to go up as the availability of public financing goes down. But when buyers are reluctant to get on that ride, companies and their bankers look for creative ways to sweeten the pot.

A popular mechanism this time around is what we'll call, for lack of a better term, "quasi-public placements." These are deals sold like private placements, but with stock that is registered at the close of the deal or shortly thereafter. In traditional private placements, the stock is unregistered for a significant period of time.

The three biggest private placements of the past quarter - Alpha-Beta Technology Inc. ($20 million), Celtrix Pharmaceuticals Inc. ($10.5 million) and NeoRx Corp. ($9 million) - all used that mechanism.

Quick liquidity

ABTI is developing carbohydrate-based drugs for infections and inflammatory diseases, and for lowering cholesterol. NERX is focused on anticancer monoclonals and CTRX is using growth factors for ophthalmic indications.