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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.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 23, 2020 - Science

Planetary science in the private space age

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The private spaceflight industry isn't just interested in being the manufacturing and infrastructure workhorse in space — some want in on exploration.

Why it matters: Studying planets from close range has long been the realm of governments able to fund and fly missions to distant locations like the Moon, Mars and Venus. Now, private companies are shooting for those destinations and they're prioritizing science at the same time.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jun 2, 2020 - Science

NASA passes the torch

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the historic crewed SpaceX launch last weekend, NASA passed the torch to private companies that will need to step up to build the economy the space agency envisions in orbit.

Why it matters: This new era of spaceflight will likely be marked by new conflicts — possibly including product placement (like the Tesla that drove the astronauts to the pad on Saturday), safety concerns and cultural differences between companies, the space agencies and people they serve.

Fanatics founder says successful businesses need to contribute toward social good

Axios' Felix Salmon (L) and Fanatics' founder Michael Rubin (R). Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Private sector businesses need to contribute toward social causes they believe in, because "government alone cannot do what needs to be done," Fanatics chief executive Michael Rubin said at an Axios Event on Wednesday.

The state of play: Many private companies have ramped up their charitable efforts during the pandemic. Fanatics, for example, switched gears from producing athletic apparel to manufacturing masks and PPE for essential workers in spring when supplies were falling short. Rubin argues those kinds of relief efforts should be standard in the private sector.