Feb 11, 2021 - Economy

The SPAC boom's impact on stock market democratization

Illustration of a money clip full of checks.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The SPAC boom has acquired a reputation for democratizing investment, without the headline-grabbing volatility of last month's Reddit revolt.

Between the lines: It's a valid characterization. But it's also a complicated one, creating new opportunities for the "little guy" while further enriching those who already had swollen bank accounts.

The democratizing case goes something like this: SPACs are bringing dozens, if not hundreds, of companies to the public markets that otherwise would have continued raising money in the private markets.

  • That means retail investors, including unaccredited ones, can play in the venture capital sandbox from which they've been historically excluded. And that creates the opportunity to benefit from growth that might have already occurred before a traditional IPO.
  • And, yes, there also is all sorts of speculative trading on pre-merger SPACs, with CNBC reporting yesterday that the 50 largest had seen their share prices rise nearly 14% in 2021, raising concerns that the meme stock phenomenon extends beyond nostalgia names like GameStop and Bed Bath & Beyond.

But, but, but: SPAC sponsors are almost exclusively rich folks or well-heeled institutions, and SPAC structures further consolidate their capital via very favorable terms.

  • Yes, SPAC sponsors get locked up and there has been some downward pressure on terms. But they typically get a greater percentage ownership for less effort and shorter hold times than do traditional venture capital or private equity investors.

The bottom line: SPACs have helped level the playing field, bubble or not, but it remains decidedly tilted.

  • Go deeper: Axios Re:Cap podcast talked SPAC boom with Victoria Grace, CEO of Queen's Gambit Growth Capital. Listen via Apple, Spotify or Axios.
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