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Oct 22, 2021

Donald Trump’s SPAC deal will take memes to an extreme: Chris Bryant

SPAC tied to Trump social media firm skyrockets in value

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If your aim was to design the perfect meme stock, it would probably look something like the one that Donald Trump has just foisted on the investing world.

Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., the blank-check firm that Trump’s nascent social media venture is merging with, more than quadrupled in regular trading Thursday. It surged again in Friday’s pre-market, boosting the implied value of Trump Media & Technology Group by several billion dollars.

It’s quite the spectacle yet at the same time not the least surprising. As has been quickly noted, there’s a certain inevitability to the stock-market-obsessed Trump getting involved with a special purpose acquisition company — and those shares then rocketing based on little but the former president’s notoriety/popularity.

Celebrities, people in business and finance, or those formerly in politics (like former House Speaker Paul Ryan) have discovered SPACs are a great way to capitalize on their fame. It doesn’t matter if the target doesn’t have much of a business yet. (It’s hard to tell because Digital World and Trump published little information; the launch of his Twitter-substitute platform Truth Social isn’t until next month.) Of course the self-styled deal artist wants a SPAC merger!

It’s not the first time that identity politics has threatened to spill into the investing world. Part of the reason meme stocks like GameStop Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. rocketed was because at least some ordinary investors hoped to punish hedge funds and believed Wall Street was conspiring against them. They enjoyed being part of a movement and making money at the same time. (The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s rather dry report this week on the GameStop saga probably hasn’t changed their minds.)  

Though it’s still early days, Trump must be giddy at the prospect of having a stock he can command with a few blasts on his social media platform, and it could prove very lucrative for him. That’s providing he doesn’t upset financial regulators in the process, which isn’t guaranteed.

For now, even the most ardent Trump supporter must question whether recent price action reflects the company’s future earnings prospects.

An astonishing half a billion shares changed hands during regular hours on Thursday. That’s around 17 times the number available, and suggests a lot of investors aren’t buying and holding the stock — they’re flipping it for a quick profit.

Another sign that people are gambling is the large price gap between the value of the SPAC shares and warrants, which confer a right to buy the stock for US$11.50 in the future. The warrants aren’t exercisable yet and the discount may reflect fears the shares won’t hold at these heady levels.

It’ll be interesting when the merger parties eventually file a prospectus with the SEC. It’s one time even the notoriously boastful Trump won’t be able to exaggerate. But in a bizarre way the blank financial slate we have right now is helpful for a meme stock. It allows speculators to project their own rosy visions onto Trump’s company.

Not everyone’s a fan. Hedge fund Saba Capital Management sold all its unrestricted shares on Thursday morning before the shares shot up, the New York Times reported, thereby missing out on huge gains. 

Hedge funds have also profited lately from betting against SPACs once they’ve completed mergers, but I doubt even the wealthiest Trump opponents will be brave enough to short this one.

It’s easy to imagine TMTG’s stock price becoming a righteous cause for Trump followers. If retail investors buy GameStop to stick it to hedge funds, they can surely persuade each other to buy this one to promote “non-woke” programming or stoke Trump’s ego, however financially imprudent that might seem. And doubtless the former president will encourage them. Similarly, if the stock declines, conspiracy theories about which nefarious Wall Street actors are to blame will spread quickly online.   

Initially, Trump’s media company will have about US$290 million to play with once the merger closes (assuming there are no redemptions, which aren’t likely given where shares are now). But in time he may be able to raise far more by selling more stock, just as AMC and GameStop have done.

A Trump SPAC was made for the meme stock era. I’d expect him to take full advantage.