Chamath Palihapitiya speaks to SPAC concerns, from fees to disclosures to quality

It was almost exactly two years ago that a special purpose acquisition vehicle (SPAC) spearheaded by investor Chamath Palihapitiya took public the space tourism company Virgin Galactic. It was the first human spaceflight company to trade on the NYSE — or any exchange, for that matter — and it was so successful, with the company’s shares trading higher and higher for so many months afterward, that it almost immediately kicked off the SPAC frenzy.

Consider that in the first three months of this year alone, SPACs raised $87.9 billion, exceeding the total issuance in all of 2020, according to data from SPAC Research. So far, according to SPAC Insider, 450 blank check companies have been successfully formed, compared with 15 just 10 years ago.

Palihapitiya has been among the biggest beneficiaries of the craze. Called the “Pied Piper of SPACs” by The New Yorker and the “King of SPACs” by Bloomberg, he has formed at least 10 blank check companies and publicly shared plans to raise many more. (On the “All-In Podcast” that he co-hosts, Palihapitiya last year revealed he had reserved the symbols from “IPOA” to “IPOZ” on the NYSE.)

Of course, whenever market activity grows too feverish, retail investors get bruised. Indeed, after a number of companies taken public via blank check companies were discovered to have fudged some of their numbers — in June, for example, Lordstown Motors admitted it did not have binding orders from customers for its electric Endurance pickup truck after all — fears have grown that SPACs don’t feature enough disclosures and that they mostly benefit the people organizing them, like Palihapitiya, who joined us last week to talk about that concern and others.