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Is any company too big to be SPAC’d?

While many deemed 2020 the year of SPAC, short for special purpose acquisition company, 2021 may well make last year look quaint in comparison.

It’s probably not premature to be asking: is there any company too big to be SPAC’d?

Just today, we saw the trading debut of the most valuable company to date go public through a merger with one of these SPACs: 35-five-year-old, Pontiac, Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage, which is among the biggest mortgage companies in the U.S.

Its shares slipped a bit by the end of trading, closing at $11.35 down from their starting price of $11.54, but it’s doubtful anyone involved is crying into their cocktails tonight. The outfit was valued at a whopping $16 billion when its merger with the blank-check outfit Gores Holdings IV was approved earlier this week.

Why is this interesting? Well, first, despite UWM’s size, unlike with a traditional IPO that can require 12 to 18 months of preparation, UWM’s path to going public took less than a year, beginning with Gores Holdings IV completing its IPO in late January 2020 and raising approximately $425 million in cash.

Alec Gores, the billionaire founder of of the private equity firm Gores Group, led the deal. The tie-up was announced back in September and ultimately included an additional $500 million private placement. (It’s typical to tack-on these transactions once a target company has been identified and accepts the terms of the proposed merger. Most targets are many times larger than the blank check companies with which they are joining forces.)

Also notable is that UWM is a mature company, one that says it generated $1.3 billion in revenue in the third quarter of last year alone and whose CEO, whose father started the company in 1986, said last fall that the company is “massively profitable.”

It’s a story unlike that of most outfits to go public recently through the SPAC process. Consider Opendoor, Luminar Technologies, and Virgin Galactic. Each are developing businesses that need capital to keep going and which might not have found much more from private market investors.

SpaceX director Steve Jurvetson underscored the point pretty bluntly last week, saying, for example, that Virgin Galactic has seen “no positive business development” since being taken public. “They announced that they’re going to develop a hypersonic plane, but that has zero synergy with the current business they’re trying to launch, which is suborbital spaceflights, which have yet to happen for customers.”

If more profitable, more mature, more businesses with a very clear path to future revenue begin choosing SPACs over traditional IPOs, it could, at long last, change stubborn perceptions of SPAC candidates as fly-by-night operations that aren’t sustainable as public companies.

It could also widen ideas about what size companies are appropriate to take public this way.

More certain: UWM isn’t likely to hold the record for ‘biggest SPAC deal ever’ for long. Not only is interest in SPACs as feverish as ever, but one vehicle in particular seems poised to take the title, and that’s the SPAC of billionaire investor William Ackman, whose blank-check company raised $4 billion last summer.

Presumably, the deal will be a doozy. Reportedly, Ackerman was at one point looking to take public Airbnb with his SPAC. When Airbnb passed on the proposed merger, he reportedly reached out to the privately held media conglomerate Bloomberg. (Bloomberg has said it’s untrue.)

Because SPACs typically complete a merger with a private company in two years or less, speculation has been runs rampant about what Ackman — who plans to kick in an additional $1 billion in cash from his hedge fund — will piece together with all that money.

In the meantime, there have been 59 new SPAC offerings in the last 22 days alone — as many as in all of 2019. They’ve raised $16.8 billion. And there’s seemingly no end in sight.

Just this week, Fifth Wall Ventures, the four-year-old, L.A.-based proptech focused venture firm, registered plans to raise $250 million for a new blank-check company.

Meanwhile, Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak, who previously ran medical device giant Medtronic, is planning to raise between $750 million and $1 billion for a blank-check firm targeting deals in the health tech sector, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

As for Gores Group, on Wednesday, it registered plans to raise $400 million in an IPO for its newest blank check company. It will be the outfit’s seventh SPAC to date.

Zillow surprises investors by buying up homes

Real estate platform Zillow changed up its business model this week, announcing that it plans to purchase and sell homes in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Zillow will be working with Berkshire Hathaway and Coldwell Banker to make offers on homes before it finds a buyer. Zillow will pay commissions and also “make necessary repairs and updates and list the home as quickly as possible.”

Calling it “Instant Offers,” Zillow says,

“the program gives real estate agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home. Across all testing, Zillow found the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their home with an agent, making Instant Offers an excellent source of seller leads for Premier Agents and brokerage partners.”

Shares fell 7% on Friday, following the revelation.

This is a marked business change for the website, which is mainly a hub of information about real estate properties. Buying up homes will provide added costs and risks, so some investors didn’t like it.

Yet Zillow says it has been testing out this program for about a year and that it is optimistic about its future success.

In an interview with CNBC, CEO Spencer Rascoff said, “we’re ready to be an investor in our own marketplace.” He believes Zillow has “huge advantages because we have access to this huge audience of sellers and huge audience of buyers.”

Rascoff acknowledged that Zillow will be taking on debt to execute on its new mission.

This will also put it in competition with Opendoor. CEO Eric Wu provided us the following statement.

“We are genuinely excited, having invented this new category in 2014, and it’s invigorating to see a host of others in the industry recognize the importance of removing hassle and time from the transaction.  We are proud to have served over 15,000 customers, to be expanding to dozens of markets, and to be reaching market share numbers that demonstrate the significant demand and love for our experience and product.  We continue to be focused on building technology to remove friction from the transaction through a world-class pricing model, a suite of vertically integrated applications, All-Day Open Houses, our Buyer Guarantee, and a few new products we will be launching shortly.  Most importantly, we are here to service our customers, buyers and sellers who crave and deserve a best-in-class experience as they transition from one home to their next.”

Game on.