Sep 29, 2020 - Economy & Business

The new bizarro world of SPACs

Illustration of Ben Franklin with a full beard on a 100 dollar bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In Superman (and Seinfeld) lore, "bizarro" world is one in which the people and places are the same but different. Almost as if they've been inverted.

The big picture: SPACs have become bizarro private equity.

What's happening: Private equity firms have spent decades convincing public companies to go private, or private companies to swap financial sponsors.

  • They tell CEOs that being private means no longer worrying so much about quarterly numbers, creating flexibility to make decisions in the company's best long-term interests.
  • They won't pace public backlash over executive pay or the other disclosure downsides of public company life.

Now, many of these same private equity firms are creating SPACs whose primary purpose is to take private companies public.

  • Names like TPG and Gores and ArcLight and (just announced) H.I.G. Capital.
  • The acquisition part is the same, but everything else is different. Even the transaction financing is inverted, often about equity instead of debt.
  • It is, in a word, bizarro.

The bottom line: Private equity has always been as much about business opportunity as it's been about business ideology. Its enthusiastic participation in SPACs reflects that reality, even if it defies the rhetoric.

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