A High-Growth Debutante Ball of sorts is months away. Dateless SPACs (i.e., special purpose acquisition companies) would be wise to fix their gaze on the hot young Southeast Asian start-up market if they don’t want to be left without a dance partner.
Carson Block is the most famous short-seller of his generation, known for tome-length, densely researched short reports that eviscerate companies where he believes management is lying and taking shareholders to the cleaners. He is not afraid to use the f-word — “fraud” — in his reports. And as you will discover in this interview, his views on the market are laced with f-bombs and salty stories as well. So, trigger warning, folks: if you are squeamish about looking under the rock that is sometimes Wall Street, this interview may not be for you.
Chinese IPOs had a strong start in the first quarter of 2021, with 24 initial public offerings from Greater China that raised $5.8 billion. According to Renaissance Capital data, that's up by 728% over the $700 million raked in by Chinese names listing on NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange in the first quarter of 2020.
On March 31st, the SEC’s Acting Chief Accountant, Paul Munter, issued a lengthy “public statement” detailing concerns about private companies' readiness that go public through a SPAC merger to be successful as listed companies. His admonitions come as SPAC IPOs have exploded in the first quarter of 2021, with 298 SPACs raising over $87 billion, nearly 24 times the $3.49 billion raised by 13 SPACs during the comparable period in 2020. At the same time, SPAC IPOs that had been trading at huge premia to the cash held in trust and outperforming the S&P back in February have seen a significant retrenchment, with an average return of just 1.5% for SPACs that debuted in Q1 2021, according to Renaissance Capital.
In 2020, China dominated the global IPO market as never before. 565 new public companies were born through listings on China’s domestic markets, Hong Kong, and the U.S. exchanges, raking in $133 billion dollars. That is up by 51% from 2019 and compares to $78.2 billion raised by 218 operating companies on the U.S. markets during the same period. While the U.S. still led the world in capital raising last year, that was primarily due to the unprecedented 248 SPAC IPOs that raised $75.5 billion dollars. In 2021, SPAC IPOs based in Asia are taking off as experienced private equity, venture, and hedge fund investors launch their own SPAC initiatives. A SPAC merger creates yet another option for the management teams of companies from Greater China to consider in order to raise capital and obtain public status on an accelerated timeframe.
In the past 18 months, many of the biggest names in finance have embraced SPACs, as they became an obsession of both retail investors and the financial media. So far in 2021, 264 SPAC IPOs have gone public, raising $77 billion — a pace of over $1.5 billion per trading day. This compares to 71 operating companies that have IPOed thus far this year, raising $30.1 billion.
If any dealmaker felt the pandemic pinch, one would expect it to be Euan Rellie, founder of cross-border M&A boutique investment bank BDA Partners. The sun never sets on BDA’s sprawling network of corporate matchmakers, with offices across Asia’s burgeoning economies, New York, and London. But COVID travel restrictions meant bankers and clients alike had their wings clipped for most of 2020, unable to peruse the tasty corporate assets on offer in places like China, Vietnam, India, and Korea.
The U.S. IPO market is off to a rollicking start in 2021, with 114 new listings in the month of January that have raised $36.1 billion. The top performer so far? RLX Technology, the Chinese e-cigarette purveyor that rocketed 146% on the first day's trading, is currently hovering at twice its offering price.
The White House put over a dozen Chinese companies on an investment blacklist. Congress passed legislation to enforce long-neglected requirements for audit inspections or delist the offending companies from U.S. exchanges. China’s government announced antitrust investigations that shook the value of internet goliaths, Alibaba and Tencent.
On December 2nd, 2020, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would bar Chinese companies from trading in the U.S. if their auditors are not subject to inspections by the PCAOB within three years. The "Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act" was passed by the Senate in May and will now be sent to President Trump to be signed into law.