What Is a Reverse Merger?

By Anna Davies · June 29, 2023 · 8 minute read

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What Is a Reverse Merger?

In a traditional merger, a company may acquire another that is in a similar or complementary business in order to expand its footprint or reduce competition. A “reverse merger” works quite differently, and investors are eyeing the assets of a private company.

The acquiring company in a reverse merger is called a public “shell company,” and it may have few to no assets. The shell company acquires a private operating company. This can allow the private company to bypass an initial public offering, a potentially lengthy, expensive process. In essence, the reverse merger is seen as a faster and cheaper method of “going public” than an IPO.

Reverse Merger Meaning

As mentioned, the meaning of the term “reverse merger” is when a group of investors takes over a company, rather than a competing or complementary business acquiring or absorbing a competitor. It’s a “reverse” of a traditional merger, in many ways, and appearances.

A reverse merger can also act as a sort of back door in. It can also be a way for companies to eschew the IPO process, or for foreign-based companies to access U.S. capital markets quickly.

What Is Investors’ Motivation?

Investors may purchase units or shares in a shell company, hoping their investment will increase once a target company is chosen and acquired. This can be good for values of stocks when companies merge, netting those investors a profit.

In other cases, investors may own stock in a publicly traded company that is not doing well and is using a reverse merger to boost share values for shareholders through the acquisition of a new company.

In either case, shareholders can vote on the acquisition before a deal is done. Once the deal is complete, the name and stock symbol of the company may change to represent that of the formerly private company.


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How Do Reverse Mergers Work?

A shell company may have a primary purpose of acquiring private companies and making them public, bypassing the traditional IPO process. These types of companies can also be called special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) or “blank check companies,” because they usually don’t have a target when they’re formed.

They may set a funding goal, but the managers of the SPAC will have control over how much money they will use during an acquisition.

A SPAC can be considered a sort of cousin of private equity in that it raises capital to invest in privately traded companies. But unlike private equity firms, which can keep a private company private for however long they wish, the SPAC aims to find a private company to turn public.

During its inception, a SPAC will seek sponsors, who will be allowed to retain equity in the SPAC after its IPO. There’s a lot to consider here, such as the differences and potential advantages for investors when comparing an IPO vs. acquisition via SPAC.

The SPAC may have a time limit to find a company appropriate to acquire. At a certain point during the process, the SPAC may be publicly tradable. It also may be available for investors to buy units of the company at a set price.

Once the SPAC chooses a company, shareholders can vote on the deal. Once the deal is complete, managers get a percentage of the profits from the deal, and shareholders own shares of the newly acquired company.

If the SPAC does not find a company within the specified time period — or if a deal is not voted through — investors will get back their money, minus any fees or expenses incurred during the life of the SPAC. The SPAC is not supposed to last forever. It is a temporary shell created exclusively to find companies to take public through acquisition.

Are Reverse Mergers Risky?

Investing in a SPAC can be risky because investors don’t have the same information they have from a publicly traded company. The lack of transparency and standard analytical tools for considering investments could heighten risk.

The SPAC itself has little to no cash flow or business blueprint, and the compressed time frame can make it tough for investors to make sure due diligence has been done on the private company or companies it plans to acquire.

Once a deal has gone through, the SPAC stock converts to the stock of the formerly private company. That’s why many investors rely on the reputation of the founding sponsors of the SPAC, many of whom may be industry executives with extensive merger and acquisition experience.


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What Are the Pros and Cons of Reverse Mergers for Investors?

For investors, reverse mergers can have advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a rundown.

Pros of Reverse Mergers

One advantage of a reverse merger — being via SPAC or some other method — is that the process is relatively simple. The IPO process is long and complicated, which is one of the chief reasons companies may opt for a reverse merger when going public.

As such, they may also be less risky than an IPO, which can get derailed during the elongated process, and the whole thing may be less susceptible to the overall conditions in the market.

Cons of Reverse Mergers

Conversely, a reverse merger requires that a significant amount of due diligence is done by investors and those leading the merger. There’s always risk involved, and it can be a chore to suss it all out. Further, there’s a chance that a company’s stock won’t see a surge in demand, and that share values could fall.

Finally, there are regulatory issues to be aware of that can be a big hurdle for some companies that are making the transition from private to public. There are different rules, in other words, and it can take some time for staff to get up to speed.

Pros and Cons of Reverse Mergers for Investors

Pros

Cons

Simple Homework to be done
Lower risks than IPO Risk of share values falling
Less susceptibility to market forces Regulation and compliance

An Example of a Reverse Merger

SPACs have become more common in the financial industry over the past five years or so, and were particularly popular in 2020 and 2021. Here are some examples.

Snack company UTZ went public in August 2020 through Collier Creek Holdings. When the deal was announced, investors could buy shares of Collier Creek Holdings, but the shares would be converted to UTZ upon completion of the deal. If the merger was successful, shareholders had the option to hold the stock or sell.

But sometimes, SPAC deals do not reach completion. For example, casual restaurant chain TGI Fridays was poised to enter a $380 million merger in 2020 through acquisition by shell company Allegro Merger — a deal that was called off in April 2020 partially due to the “extraordinary market conditions” at the time.

Allegro Merger’s stock was liquidated, while the owners of TGI Fridays — two investment firms — kept the company.

Investor Considerations About Reverse Mergers

Some SPACs may trade in exchange markets, but others may trade over the counter.

Over-the-counter, or off-exchange, trading is done without exchange supervision, directly between two parties. This can give the two parties more flexibility in deal terms but does not have the transparency of deals done on an exchange.

This can make it challenging for investors to understand the specifics of how a SPAC is operating, including the financials, operations, and management.

Another challenge may be that a shell company is planning a reverse merger with a company in another country. This can make auditing difficult, even when good-faith efforts are put forth.

That said, it’s a good idea for investors to perform due diligence and evaluate the shell company or SPAC as they would analyze a stock. This includes researching the company and reviewing its SEC filings.

Not all companies are required to file reports with the SEC. For these non-reporting companies, investors may need to do more due diligence on their own to determine how sound the company is. Of course, non-reporting companies can be financially sound, but an investor may have to do the legwork and ask for paperwork to help answer questions that would otherwise be answered in SEC filings.

Investing With SoFi

Understanding reverse mergers can be helpful as SPACs become an increasingly important component of the IPO investing landscape. It can also be good to know how investments in reverse merger companies can fit financial goals.

Many investors get a thrill from the “big risk, big reward” potential of SPACs, as well as the relatively affordable per-unit price or stock share that may be available to them.

Due diligence, consideration of the downsides, and a well-balanced portfolio may lessen risk in the uncertain world of reverse mergers. If you’re interested in learning how they could affect your portfolio or investing decisions, it may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional.

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FAQ

What is an example of a reverse merger?

A SPAC transaction is an example of a reverse merger, which would be when a SPAC is founded and taken public. Shares of the SPAC are sold to investors, and then the SPAC targets and acquires a private company, taking it public.

Why would a company do a reverse merger?

A reverse merger can be a relatively simple way for a company to go public. The traditional path to going public, through the IPO process, is often long, expensive, and risky, and a reverse merger can offer a simpler alternative.

How are reverse mergers and SPACs different?

The term “reverse merger” refers to the action being taken, or a company being taken public through a transaction or acquisition. A SPAC, on the other hand, is a vehicle or business entity used to facilitate that acquisition.


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