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What’s a SPAC and Should You Invest in One?

SPAC investment risks

  • SPACs are a blank-check vehicle for acquisitions to help private companies get listed on an exchange without having to go through an IPO
  • Difficult to write off SPACs given that retail investors have driven other more speculative investments to lofty returns, but with more speculative segments of the market, caution and regular profit-taking discipline are needed

In many parts of the rich world, it’s not uncommon to buy a house “off the plan” meaning a realtor shows you a bunch of glossy brochures as well as a scale model of the home that you’ll be putting real dollars behind (“this isn’t a house for people, it’s a house for ants! Cf. Zoolander).

These days, prospective building plots have full scale mock-ups of the prospective homes and even virtual tours using VR technology to simulate what the future purchase ought to look like should it ever materialize.

But now imagine plonking down money on something that doesn’t exist now, and its organizers aren’t even sure will exist, just that it will “someday.”

Cue ominous music and welcome the SPAC, or Special Purpose Acquisition Company.

As its name may or may not imply, a SPAC is basically a listed vehicle that provides a backdoor stock exchange listing for a private company that would otherwise struggle or want to avoid the laborious and more costly IPO process. So how does it work?

Quite simply, investors buy shares in the SPAC based on the themes that its arrangers are touting and the arrangers of the SPAC essentially have a “blank check” to go about acquiring companies that they deem fit.

SPACs typically have no more than two years to find target acquisition companies, failing which, they’ll need to return whatever money they’ve collected, to investors.

And over the past 15 months, a total of 474 SPACs have raised an estimated US$156 billion and that’s not even counting how the shares of these SPACs have skyrocketed once the acquisitions have been made.

Sounds reasonable right? If the SPAC finds a target, everyone wins and if not, investors get their money back.

Not so fast Gordon Gecko, terms and conditions apply. Let’s begin with how SPACs got started, because everyone loves a good origin story.

SPACs are hardly new – they’ve been around since the 1980s, but were considered one of the dodgier corners of the financial markets, relegated to pink slips or over-the-counter trading venues where penny stocks and snake oil salesman lurk.

All that changed of course because of the coronavirus pandemic. With historically low interest rates and mountains of liquidity flooding into the financial markets, the “everything rally” saw SPACs become a suddenly viable way to raise capital. Almost overnight “everything” that couldn’t have been funded using traditional routes, was viable via a SPAC – from the most ambitious flying taxi companies to literal moonshots, like Virgin Galactic (-2.78%), which helped to popularize the fundraising vehicle.

The problem is because there’s a pecuniary pressure on SPACs to acquire companies before their timelines run out, they may acquire and potentially overvalue companies that they wouldn’t, under normal circumstances.

How do you value a flying electric taxi company that’s never carried a single pilot, let alone passenger? You tell me, cause chances are your guess is as good as mine.

Which is why as many as three quarters of SPACs have not made a single acquisition, and even if they don’t, it’s no sweat off the backs off their arrangers backs because in many cases, they just need to raise enough from investors to cover their costs and return what’s left over.

So is it sustainable?

As with so many things during this pandemic, probably not, but we can deal with that later.
In the meantime, consider Exhibit A, GameStop (+41.21%). To write off SPACs entirely would be hubris.

Just as most people don’t know the complicated feats of engineering that go into making an electric car move, they’re more than happy to put down money on a Tesla (-5.84%) or buy its stock.

Similarly, investors have been minting fortunes because SPACs sell stories first, stocks second.

SPACs have a breadth of latitude in valuing the businesses they buy and unlike traditional IPOs, where financial results are in focus, SPACs can base entire deals on projections (conjecture). That provides SPACs plenty of fuel for speculation – take DraftKings (+1.65%) which launched its SPAC in 2019 and is now up some 450%.

For the plucky investor who made a fortune on the likes of GameStop and AMC Entertainment (+15.40%), the SPAC is just another spin at the roulette table of risk.

And like the GameStop investor, the place to look for information isn’t Barrons or Bloomberg, but Reddit and Twitter. Historically, 60% of SPACs trade below their launch price – which means the odds aren’t all that bad, there’s a 40% chance that a SPAC investor will make money out of the gate, on something which is wildly speculative.

And SPACs with high-profile personalities at their helms tend to do better than those which are thematic.
But investors looking to wade into this space need to know that the window of opportunity on SPACs may fast be closing with U.S. regulators looking more closely at the space.

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SuperCryptoNews is a global leading blockchain and crypto news provider, covering daily news on the latest tech and trading developments in crypto. We bring you expansive crypto news coverage especially in Asia, with a focus on Singapore, Thailand and Southeast Asia.

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© Copyright of Novum Global Consultancy Pte Ltd {2020, 2021}. All rights reserved.

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