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Feb 18, 2021

Palantir slides with nearly all shares unlocked for trading

Gordon Reid discusses Palantir


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Palantir Technologies Inc. declined 7 per cent on Thursday after a flood of shares became eligible to sell for the first time.

Nearly all shares are now unlocked for trading, the result of an unusual restriction placed on stockholders when the data software company went public. Such lockups are common after initial public offerings but less so for companies that list their shares directly on an exchange, as Palantir did on the New York Stock Exchange in September.

Two longtime investors said in interviews that they will hold, but at least one other, billionaire George Soros, has publicly signaled his plans to exit.

Palantir has amassed a long list of shareholders in the nearly two decades since it was founded. But starting in September, only a fifth of their shares could be traded. On Thursday, almost all stockholders got the option to sell as much as they’d like for the first time.

The expiration of a lockup is a volatile time for any company but could be especially so for Palantir, which was privately held for an exceptionally long time and which courts a great deal of controversy. Its co-founder and chairman is Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who backed Donald Trump’s successful bid for the U.S. presidency and became a pariah in Silicon Valley. Palantir, which relocated from the Valley to Denver, works with the military, immigration enforcement and intelligence agencies, all of which draw public scrutiny and howls for surveillance overreach.

Soros Fund Management, which revealed in November it began investing in Palantir in 2012 and owned 18.46 million shares, has said it will sell for ethical reasons. The firm said at the time that it had sold all it was able to and “will continue to sell shares as permitted.”

“SFM does not approve of Palantir’s business practices,” the firm said in a statement last year. “SFM made this investment at a time when the negative social consequences of big data were less understood. SFM would not make an investment in Palantir today.”

Palantir still has plenty of believers. Its tools are used by corporate titans like BP Plc and Merck KGaA as well as governments around the world, nearly a dozen of which are using Palantir to battle COVID-19 and power vaccine distribution. Adit Ventures, which said it holds about US$270 million worth of Palantir, told Bloomberg it will sell few, if any, shares on Thursday. Ditto for PHX Financial, which said it holds more than US$10 million. Ark Invest has also indicated its support.

Palantir’s stock has more than tripled since going public. But the lockup loomed over the company’s quarterly financial report on Tuesday. Despite exceeding analysts’ expectations on revenue and other measures, concerns about growth prospects and the lockup expiration sent the stock falling.

Speaking in a prerecorded video shown to investors Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp walks through snowy woods and discusses the perils of technology companies managing for quarterly expectations and “near-term myopism.”

Cathie Wood, CEO of Ark Invest, backs that philosophy. “Palantir’s attitude is refreshing,” she said in an interview on CNBC. “It’s exactly how we invest. We want our companies to invest aggressively. We don’t want profits now.”

Palantir has now fallen for six consecutive trading days, the longest streak since its September debut.