SPAC-Lash?

Earlier this year, you couldn’t glance at a business publication without the ugly letters S-P-A-C staring right back. Special purpose acquisition vehicles were all over the news, thanks to high-profile ones raised by once-prominent buyout pros like Tom Hicks and Michael Gross.

By March, most of the investment banks had begun underwriting them, and the backward style of IPO seemed a little less back-alley and a little more Wall Street. Even Goldman Sachs got in on the action, underwriting a SPAC called Liberty Lane.

Then came news that a wide swath of registered SPACs were sitting idle (by choice) in hopes of waiting out the ugly IPO market. Most of those blank-check companies plan to continue waiting (wonder what their investors think?). Factor in the May cancellation of Liberty Lane and we have what seems to be a SPAC-lash. Was all the excitement just hype?

“The market was tired of SPACs,” says Robert Clauser, CFO of MEHI, a media-focused SPAC which boasts publishing house Hearst as a strategic investor. MEHI has a few months left to find a deal and is close to striking one with one of three potential targets.

Some of the SPACs raised in the latter half of 2007 will never come to market, he predicts. With so many formed last year (around 80), and a shrinking amount of market liquidity this year, he expects a number of the blank check companies, like Goldman’s Liberty Lane, to be weeded out. Still, he doesn’t expect the SPAC itself to go anywhere, despite the backlog. “In six months we might see more liquidity in the marketplace—right now people aren’t sure how to invest in any kind of IPO, let alone a SPAC.”

The fact that around 75% of all proposed SPAC deals from 2007 were approved by their shareholders is further proof, Clauser adds.

SPAC underwriting firms like Lazard and Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. have nearly 40 SPAC IPOs in their backlogs.

Further reading: The Deal’s Vyvyan Tenorio did an in-depth piece on shell companies in May.