Over the past few years, investors have been pumping money into electric vehicle startups and other young green tech companies at a record clip, with many EV startups going public via the so-called SPAC deals. Also known as blank check companies, special purpose acquisition companies are companies that have no commercial operations and are formed with the sole intention to raise capital through an initial public offering (IPO) for the purpose of acquiring or merging with an existing company.
Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) have emerged as one of the most exciting & disruptive capital markets themes over the past several years, characterized by huge deals, little diligence, and high-profile sponsor teams drawing investors to this once underfollowed market.
Unfortunately, little research and information available on publicly-traded SPACs, coupled with a wave of regulatory scrutiny, outside allegations, and growing investor skepticism, have turned the tide against SPACs and speculative EV companies leading to a massive selloff.
It all started last year after the SEC, for the first time ever, announced an aggressive and ground-breaking decision and enforcement actions against a special purpose acquisition company known as Stable Road Acquisition Corp. (SRAC); its sponsor, SRC-NI; the CEO of SRAC; the target company; and the target company’s former CEO. In the decision, the SEC made it abundantly clear that SPAC sponsors must conduct adequate due diligence in connection with a merger, and that SPAC transactions would draw increased regulatory scrutiny by the SEC under the Biden administration.
And just like that, SPAC mania metamorphosed into a severe SPAC-lash, with newer pure-play EV upstarts such as Fisker (NYSE:FSR), Faraday Future Intelligent (NASDAQ:FFIE), Lordstown Motors (NASDAQ:RIDE), Nikola (NASDAQ:NKLA), Lucid Motors (NASDAQ:LCID), Nio (NYSE:NIO), XPeng (NYSE:XPEV), Li Auto (NASDAQ:LI), Canoo (NASDAQ:GOEV) and Rivian Automotive (NASDAQ:RIVN) finding themselves on the receiving end.
Stocks of all the ten startups are down in double-digits in the year-to-date.
And there’s no end in sight for the ongoing backlash against SPAC-backed EV companies.
Last Tuesday, delivery-van company Electric Last Mile Solutions, Inc. (NASDAQ:ELMS) and electric-car maker Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc. made leadership changes following recent investigations by their boards of directors.
At ELMS, Chief Executive James Taylor and Executive Chairman Jason Luo resigned after an investigation concluded both men purchased equity in the company at below market value around the company’s December 2020 SPAC merger. The company also said its financial statements might be inaccurate and would be restated.
ELMS stock has crashed 60% in the past week to trade at $2.08.
Faraday Future’s case was, perhaps, even more egregious. An SEC investigation determined that Faraday’s claim to have 14,000 reservations for a vehicle may have been misleading, forcing the company to change the description of nearly half of the so-called reservations to unpaid indications of interest. Faraday went public last year through a $3.4 billion SPAC deal, but has little to show for its efforts after hitherto failing to launch a car.
The probe also found that Faraday’s founder Jia Yueting, who stepped down as Faraday’s CEO in 2019, played a more significant role at the company than had been represented to some investors. Mr. Jia’s nephew, Jiawei Wang, has been suspended without pay from his role as vice president for global capital markets.
Faraday stock has plunged 76.4% over the past year.
Many of these young EV companies went public through SPAC mergers, with many of the deals generating frenzied buying by small investors eager to jump into the ESG and green tech bandwagon.
“You were getting complete silliness,” Sam Peters, a portfolio manager at ClearBridge Investments who has studiously avoided pre-revenue electric-vehicle stocks, has told the Wall Street Journal.
But those three are not the only businesses in the space that have come into the SEC’s crosshairs. Other high-profile deals that have recently faced scrutiny include those that took electric-vehicle makers Nikola Corp. and Lordstown Motors Corp. public. Late last year, Nikola agreed to pay $125 million to settle a regulatory investigation for allegedly misleading statements by its founder and one-time executive chairman Trevor Milton.
On Thursday, Hindenburg Research, a short-seller that targeted Nikola and Lordstown, alleged that new technology touted by an upstart lithium producer has yet to work, sending shares down 25%. Hindenburg echoed similar claims about Standard Lithium Ltd. made by another short seller, Blue Orca Capital, late last year.
Nikola shares are down 68.1% over the past 12 months while Lordstown has tanked 88.9%. But the bloodbath has not been limited to EV startups only.
The biggest ETF in the SPAC space, Collaborative Investment Series Trust - The SPAC and NEW Issue ETF (NASDAQ:SPCX), with 80.6M in assets under management (AUM), is down 12.8% over the past 52 weeks; Morgan Creek-Exos SPAC Originated ETF (NYSEARCA:SPXZ) has lost 50.0% while Defiance NextGen SPAC IPO ETF (NYSEARCA:SPAK) is down 46.4%.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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