By Sudip Kar-Gupta
PARIS (Reuters) – Former UniCredit boss Jean-Pierre Mustier is teaming up with France’s richest man Bernard Arnault to launch a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) aimed at European financial deals, as a boom in blank cheque vehicles spreads from the United States.
French investment firm Tikehau Capital SCA is sponsoring the SPAC alongside Mustier, Financiere Agache, a group belonging to Arnault, as well as banker Diego De Giorgi, formerly of UniCredit and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (NYSE:).
The four of them will be equal partners in the venture, said a source familiar with the situation. The SPAC will be listed in Amsterdam, and is the first of several being planned by this group, the source said.
A SPAC is a shell company that raises money in an initial public offering (IPO) to merge with a privately held company, that then becomes publicly traded as a result.
SPACs have emerged as a popular IPO alternative for companies, especially in the United States, providing a path to going public with less regulatory scrutiny and more certainty over the valuation that will be attained and funds raised.
Overall, 144 SPACs have raised $45.7 billion so far this year, based on data from SPAC Research, with backers including high-profile investors, politicians and sports personalities.
In Europe, Amsterdam is emerging as the destination of choice, as regulations there are closest to the United States, where protections for SPAC investors are better than in many jurisdictions.
“Amsterdam listing rules for SPACs are very similar to the U.S. – shareholder redemption rights are very much ingrained, for example. For those raising SPACs and listing them in Europe, Amsterdam will be an attractive option,” James Palmer, head of EMEA equity capital markets for Bank of America said at a recent video conference.
Amsterdam regulations allow investors to redeem their investment if the target eventually identified is not to their liking.
Palmer’s comments were not connected to the Tikehau Capital SPAC.
In the financial services arena, other big name sponsors are also emerging. Former Credit Suisse (SIX:) CEO Tidjane Thiam is also launching a SPAC that will list in New York and focus on financial services, while Martin Blessing, a former chief executive officer of Commerzbank AG (OTC:), is planning one listed in the Netherlands.
The Tikehau SPAC will target areas such as financial technology or fintech, fund management, insurance and other diversified financial services.
This follows the first one launched in France in December by Xavier Niel, former Lazard (NYSE:) banker Matthieu Pigasse and entrepreneur Moez-Alexandre Zouari, aimed at deals in the health and food industries.
Mustier, who also had a spell running French bank Societe Generale (OTC:)’s investment banking arm, left UniCredit this month.
In nearly five years at the helm, Mustier rebuilt UniCredit’s capital reserves and cleaned up its balance sheet, but failed to find sustained profit drivers or lift the bank’s depressed stock price.
Arnault is best known as the founder of luxury goods group and Louis Vuitton owner LVMH. His personal holding company, Financiere Agache, is a long-standing investor in Tikehau, the investment firm said.
Richard Branson and Barry Sternlicht were among more than two dozen investor groups that filed with U.S. regulators last week to raise new blank-check acquisition companies, setting a new record, and underscoring their appeal on Wall Street.