Wall Street’s hottest new trend is a 1980s retread: Private firms are merging with so-called blank-check companies in order to go public without the pains and payments that come with a traditional IPO. Those companies, called SPACs, have proliferated since last year, raising billions of dollars on the promise of win-win transactions for investors and entrepreneurs alike. But are the claims too good to be true?
The latest episode of “The Facts, STAT!” takes a dive into the details of SPACs, short for special-purpose acquisition companies. Once a disreputable means for penny stocks to go public, SPACs have become blue-chip investments, endorsed by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez. They’re particularly popular in biotech, where virtually every name-brand investment fund has launched a blank-check firm on the hunt for promising startups.
But the sudden glut of SPACS — about 250 of them went public last year, and 2021 is on pace to double that — creates risk. Most SPACs have just two years to find a merger, after which they have to give all the money back. That sets the stage for a game of musical chairs that could lead to bad deals, unhappy shareholders, and the bursting of the SPAC bubble.