Spac produces one of world's biggest billionaire implosions

Spacs can go from a means of wealth creation into one of destruction. PHOTO: BT FILE

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The merger machine that has minted some of the world's biggest new fortunes is also responsible for one of the largest wealth implosions.

Arrival's chief executive Denis Sverdlov, who was worth US$11.7 billion (S$16.2 billion) a year ago, lost his billionaire status last month as shares of the electric vehicle (EV) maker he founded have cratered since combining with a special purpose acquisition company (Spac).

His 94 per cent decline in net worth is the largest wealth loss of anyone outside China who appeared on last year's Bloomberg Billionaires Index, exceeding even the 90 per cent drop of Carvana's CEO Ernie Garcia III.

Only Chinese education-tech billionaires Zhang Bangxin and Larry Chen have notched larger percentage declines. Mr Zhang lost 96 per cent of his fortune, while Mr Chen lost 99 per cent.

Mr Sverdlov's collapse is a cautionary tale of how Spacs - a financial manoeuvre that boomed in recent years - can go from a means of wealth creation into one of destruction.

Even some banks that helped create the Spac market are now spurning them over risk concerns, with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America both curtailing their involvement.

The once-niche market was seen as a way to help companies get a public listing while avoiding some of the disclosure requirements of an initial public offering, attracting all kinds of deep-pocketed financiers, celebrities and athletes.

This year through mid-May, 66 Spacs had raised just US$11.5 billion on US exchanges, compared with 317 that had amassed US$102 billion at this point last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"Arrival is dealing with the negative halo effect of Spac companies," said ABI Research principal analyst Susan Beardslee.

Margin loan

Adding to Mr Sverdlov's troubles was a margin loan he took out last year from Citigroup against US$1.5 billion of Arrival stock.

In April, a company controlled by the former billionaire granted the bank a security interest in about 5 per cent of his shares in exchange for US$79 million, which he used to pay back the loan.

A former Russian deputy minister, Mr Sverdlov, 43, founded the British-based company in 2015 using money from a previous fortune in telecommunications.

By 2020 he had invested US$450 million in Arrival and the following year took it public after combining with CIIG Merger Corp, a Spac led by former Marvel Entertainment CEO Peter Cuneo.

Arrival's market value quickly soared to more than US$13 billion, making Mr Sverdlov one of the wealthiest people on the planet thanks to his roughly 75 per cent stake.

Spacs were especially popular method at the time for taking EV companies public, with investors rewarding companies like Nikola Corp, Lordstown Motors and Canoo with super-sized valuations.

Last week, Canoo warned that it may not have enough cash to keep doing business.

Hampered by production delays and forced to abandon earlier forecasts, Arrival's share price has fallen about 95 per cent since its post-merger peak.

Aside from concerns over its Spac route to market, investors do not appear enthusiastic about its plans to use micro-factories to build electric vans and buses.

The company - which currently has one factory in Britain and is building two more in the United States - has yet to bring a product to market.

Unlike the founders of Nikola and Lordstown Motors, who left their companies after shares cratered, Mr Sverdlov is staying put.

Partly that is out of necessity. The entity through which he controls Arrival, known as Kinetik, is required to maintain control of 50 per cent or more of its voting shares until the end of the year, according to a November securities filing.

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