Short-sellers have tripled bets against SPACs since the start of 2021 amid fears the blank-check frenzy has gone too far

Stock Market Bubble
  • More and more short-sellers are beginning to turn their attention to SPACs, which have experienced a boom in 2021.
  • They’ve more than tripled their bets against SPACs to $US2.7 ($3) billion since the beginning of the year, according to data from S3 Partners.
  • Recent SPACs that have been targets of high profile short-sellers include XL Fleet and Lordstown Motors, among others.
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SPAC IPOs have been all the rage since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the trend has only accelerated in 2021. Now short-sellers are beginning to take notice.

The group of investors has tripled bearish bets against SPACs to $US2.7 ($3) billion, from $US724 ($937) million at the start of the year, according to data from S3 Partners first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Short-sellers have a lot of SPACs to sift through, given that the $US166 ($215) billion raised by SPACs in the first quarter of 2021 exceeds all of the SPAC deals formed in 2020. But high-profile short-sellers seem to be having no problem finding their targets.

Muddy Water’s Carson Block released a report earlier this month on XL Fleet, a recent SPAC IPO that, according to Block, misled investors on an inflated revenue backlog for its retrofitted hybrid vehicles. The share price of XL Fleet has yet to recover from Block’s short report.

Short-seller firm Hindenburg Research, which rose to fame last year after it released a damaging short-report on Nikola, has also had success targeting SPAC firms. Hindenburg released a report on Lordstown Motors last week, alleging that the SPAC-merged company has “no revenue and no sellable product.” Shares of Lordstown dipped more than 20% and have yet to recover from the decline.

Even the SPACs led by billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya have been unable to avoid the scrutiny of short-sellers. Palihapitiya’s recent Social Capital SPAC merger with fintech firm SoFi has more than 20% of its share float sold short, according to data from Finviz.

Besides the underlying business concerns raised by short-sellers for SPACs, underlying trends in interest rates could be helping their bets against SPAC mergers. A majority of the companies going public via SPAC merger are not profitable, and don’t forecast profitability until years down the road.

The dearth of profits hasn’t jived well with investors as interest rates have risen over the past few months, sparking a rotation out of high-tech growth companies and into cyclical stocks in the energy and financial sectors.

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