Sternlicht Sees Clover Health as Sign SPACs Need Reining In

Property billionaire Barry Sternlicht said special purpose acquisition companies need more oversight from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and pointed at Clover Health Investments Corp. as a sign of a bubble.

“The stock market is detached from reality,” he said in a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday at Bloomberg’s Qatar Economic Forum. “Clover Health Care is basically a fraud, is trading at $16 a share, and it keeps going up. The more you say it is going out of business, the higher the stock goes.”

Franklin, Tennessee-based Clover was taken public last year with the help of SPAC advocate Chamath Palihapitiya. The company has since drawn criticism from short seller Hindenburg Research and is the subject of a probe by the SEC.

Sternlicht Sees Clover Health as Sign SPACs Need Reining In

“Barry’s comment regarding Clover is unfounded and libelous,” Clover spokesman Andy Robinson said in an emailed statement. “Our mission is to improve every life and create shareholder value along the way.”

Clover shares jumped 12% to $14.12 at 10 a.m. in New York trading. The stock is down 16% this year.

Sternlicht has been involved in at least five SPAC deals since the beginning of last year, and said that he hoped the trend had peaked.

“There is a trickle of deals getting done,” the 60-year-old founder of Starwood Capital said. “I hope it remains a trickle. I doubt it will remain a trickle until the SEC tightens the process up because the projections that are in these -- there has to be someone saying they are reasonable because they are really misleading investors.”

SPACs exploded in popularity last year as an easier and less-scrutinized way to go public compared with an initial public offering. Companies could pitch projections about future earnings without fear of regulatory censure, making it easier to sell unproven concepts like space tourism and self-driving vehicles to investors.

“If you could breathe you could raise a SPAC,” said Sternlicht, who has been both a regular critic of the practice as well as a beneficiary.

Last week a Sternlicht SPAC, Jaws Juggernaut Acquisition Corp., raised $240 million in its U.S. initial public offering. The company will now hunt for acquisitions in the wireless communications industry.

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