Sep 11, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Nikola's GM honeymoon interrupted

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The EV startup Nikola Corp.'s stock fell Thursday after a financial research firm published a report claiming the electric and fuel cell truck startup is an "intricate fraud."

Catch up quick: It comes just two days after Nikola's shares jumped on the news that GM is taking an 11% stake in the company, is engineering and building its Badger pickup, and will supply key battery and fuel cell tech.

Driving the news: Hindenburg Research alleges Nikola has made a series of deceptive statements.

  • They include falsely claiming to possess proprietary tech, and releasing deceptive video of the Nikola One semitruck in operation.
  • "Nikola had the truck towed to the top of a hill on a remote stretch of road and simply filmed it rolling down the hill," the report states.
  • CNET has much more on Hindenburg's allegations here.

Of note: Hindenburg is short Nikola — that is, they make money when the share price falls.

Threat level: If some of the claims prove true, it could slow the rush of capital into unproven EV startups, especially via deals to take them public via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs.

  • These SPAC deals are all the rage lately. It's how Nikola went public in June, and EV startups Canoo, Lordstown Motors and Fisker have all announced SPAC deals in recent weeks.

Quick take: Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon says the Nikola flap could cast a pall over SPAC deals more broadly.

  • "SPACs have historically been viewed as a bit shady," he says, pointing to a reputation they have recently been shedding.
  • "If the Hindenburg allegations hold up, investors will be that much less likely to trust future SPACs in this — or any — industry."

What they're saying: "We have retained leading law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP to evaluate potential legal recourse, including with respect to the activist short seller and any others acting in concert," a separate statement published Friday reads.

Meanwhile, GM said in a statement: “We are fully confident in the value we will create by working together."  

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