SEC considers new investor protections for SPACs

  • SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said that the agency is devoting significant resources to addressing emerging issues in a wave of traditional initial public offerings and SPACs in a hearing Wednesday.
  • SPACs have boomed in recent years, but the SEC worries that retail investors aren't adequately protected.
  • He also said he wants to work with Congress to potentially regulate cryptocurrency markets.

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Amid a boom in special-purpose acquisition companies, better known as SPACs, the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering new protections against the investment vehicles.

In prepared remarks ahead of a Wednesday hearing with the House Appropriations Committee, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said that the agency is devoting significant resources to addressing emerging issues in a wave of traditional initial public offerings and SPACs.

Some of the resources will be devoted to new ideas and recommendations around SPACs and how to appropriately protect retail investors who are interested in jumping into the investment.

SPACs have taken off like wildfire in the last six months, said Gensler Wednesday during the hearing.

"There are some real questions about who is benefitting and investor protection," he said.

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So far this year, there have been 329 SPACs that have raised more than $100 billion, according to SPAC Research. Last year, there were 248 SPACs that raised more than $83 billion, and in 2019 59 SPACS raised more than $13 billion.

SPACs, also known as blank-check companies, work like this: Capital is raised in an initial public offering without a company attached. Then, the IPO finds a private company and merges with it to take it public, generally within two years.

That means that when investors buy into a SPAC, they're hoping for the stock to surge once it's eventually merged with a company going public. But secondary investors, more likely the retail crowd, usually get in too late to see meaningful gains and often lose money.

The performance of SPACs, especially after they've announced a deal, has been weak this year. The CNBC SPAC Post Deal Index, which includes the largest SPACs that have come to market and have announced a target, is down about 15% year to date through Wednesday's close.

In addition to SPACs, Gensler also touched on how the SEC is looking to fill gaps in investor protection in popular but volatile cryptocurrency markets.

Currently, the market for trading assets such as bitcoin, ethereum and dogecoin are not regulated in the U.S., something the SEC would like to change with help from Congress.

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