April 19, 2021
Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs, have exploded on the financial markets over the last year or so, raising more than $100 billion so far in 2021 and already topping last year’s $82.1 billion total. Also known as a “blank check company,” SPACs are shell corporations listed on a stock exchange with the purpose of acquiring a private company, thus making it public without going through the traditional initial public offering process.
Though SPACs have been around since the 1990s, the capital raised last year alone by way of this strategy exceeded the amount raised in the entire previous history of these companies, with more than 130 SPACs going public so far in 2021. SPACs traditionally existed as a last resort for companies that would otherwise have had difficulties raising money on the open market. An example of this is WeWork, a provider of flexible shared workspaces and services for technology startups that plans to go public through a merger with a SPAC this year after a failed 2019 IPO.
In the last year, however, SPACs have become more common because of the extreme market volatility we’ve seen in the wake of the pandemic. While some companies have postponed IPOs because of fear that market volatility could negatively impact the stock’s public debut, others have chosen to go public by merging with a SPAC, providing an infusion of capital far more quickly than an IPO.
Some of the more prominent SPACs and companies they’ve taken public include space tourism company, Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (Tii:SPCE). Its ties to billionaire investor Richard Branson caused some investors to take greater notice of SPACs in 2019. Formed to acquire companies to help its objective of making consumer spaceflight commonplace, the stock’s price recently dropped sharply from its $62.80 52-week high on reports that founder Richard Branson had sold $150 million worth of shares.
Los Angeles-based electric vehicle (EV) startup Canoo Inc. (Tii:GOEV) went public late last year by way of a merger with Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp., a SPAC that raised $300 million in its IPO in March 2019. Other EV manufacturers have either used this strategy to go public in recent months or announced plans to do so, including Nikola Corp., Fisker Inc. and Lordstown Motors.
Online/mobile gaming was one of the winners of 2020, as consumers looked for entertainment options during the lockdown. Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. (Tii:SRNGU) is the SPAC that took both sports betting platform DraftKings Inc. (Tii:DKNG) and mobile multiplayer competition platform Skillz Inc. (Tii:SKLZ) public. Though both platforms are online gaming/betting platforms, the SPAC is industry agnostic, and its transactions are not limited to a particular industry, sector or geographic region.
The cannabis industry has taken off in recent years as more U.S. states legalize medicinal and recreational use. BDSA, a top cannabis market research firm, projects the American market for cannabis to top $24 billion this year. Clever Leaves Holdings Inc. (Tii:CLVR), a pharmaceutical-grade cannabis grower and processor, went public via a business combination with Schultze Special Purpose Acquisition Corp. on December 18, 2020. Another industry player, Tuatara Capital Acquisition Corporation (Tii:TCACU), a cannabis-focused SPAC focused on the growth potential of non-recreational cannabis, raised $175 million in an upsized IPO in February.
Telehealth is another area that has become an increasing focus of investor interest during the pandemic. Hims & Hers Health, Inc. (Tii:HIMS) is an online platform that sells prescription and over-the-counter drugs online and offers online consultations to get prescriptions. The platform went public by way of SPAC early this year, reaching a valuation of $1.6 billion. In March, the company reported revenue for the full year ended December 31, 2020, grew 80% year-over-year. Despite this, Hims & Hers Health shares are down some 21% for the year.
Whether SPACs are here to stay remains to be seen. But with a robust pipeline with some 145 currently seeking merger targets, SPACs could potentially outpace traditional IPOs this year.