Breakingviews - Could Bill Ackman's SPAC buy Bloomberg or Airbnb?

Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 17, 2017.

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - The naming of names for Bill Ackman’s special purpose acquisition company just got more interesting. On Tuesday, the New York Post reported that the hedge fund manager’s blank-check vehicle wanted to take a stake in the former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s eponymous media empire, something Bloomberg LP dismisses. It’s true that Ackman’s $5 billion war chest can hook a big fish by taking a small stake in a company. But large, well-known private firms don’t need a SPAC to go public.

Ackman broke a record in July when he listed shares of Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, raising $4 billion in a blank-check offering and pledging to stump up another $1 billion of his firm’s own cash. He has also had talks with Airbnb, Reuters has reported. With a potential $5 billion as bait and mature technology firms as possible targets, an outgoing call to Bloomberg’s firm – unsolicited and unappreciated as it might be – wouldn’t be a surprise.

Airbnb was recently valued in private markets at nearly $20 billion, and the Bloomberg business could tip the scales at $60 billion, Breakingviews has estimated. It’s possible for Ackman to buy a company of that size. Such vehicles don’t have to – and often don’t – buy their targets outright. Ackman’s SPAC could spend its cash buying a small stake from insiders, then simply issue more shares in exchange for the rest of its target’s privately held stock, like a more traditional reverse merger.

The fees that go to SPAC sponsors like Ackman are based on the original size of the vehicle, so a larger target makes those outlays less dilutive to other shareholders overall. But this is where the hedgie’s quest for a big name might get stuck. Aside from having a strong negotiating position over valuation, companies like Airbnb or Bloomberg don’t need the shortcut to public markets that a SPAC can provide. They can easily afford Wall Street underwriters and they have the resources to do the paperwork and the pulling power to attract institutional investors keen to take shares in an initial public offering.

If founders like the former mayor and Airbnb boss Brian Chesky can keep full control of the process and avoid handing Ackman or anyone else payouts, an old-school listing process is a far more obvious path.


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