Disruption for SPACs – Debt versus Equity and Possible Restatements

Debt versus equity classification for complex financial instruments has caused more public company restatements over the last 15 years than almost any other issue.  SPACs almost always issue warrants in their original formation and subsequent IPO.  These warrants, as it turns out, frequently have complex features that raise debt versus equity questions.

On April 12, 2021, the Acting Director of the Division of Corporation Finance and the Acting Chief Accountant issued a statement – “Staff Statement on Accounting and Reporting Considerations for Warrants Issued by Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (“SPACs”).”

The Statement notes that the staff has recently evaluated fact patterns surrounding SPAC warrants.  It would appear that this review has found situations where SPACs may not have properly accounted for warrants and may need to restate financial statements.  It is important to remember that this complex issue depends on the specific features of each warrant.  Warrants with very similar features can have very different accounting treatments.

The Statement addresses two areas where, if SPACs did not properly apply GAAP, and the amounts involved are material, restatement would be required.  The issues focus on

  1. whether the instruments are “indexed” to the issuer’s equity, and
  2. whether certain redemption provisions could trigger a cash settlement where all equity holders do not participate equally.

The US GAAP “indexation guidance” requires a close link between the fair values of a SPAC’s warrants and equity securities.  If the warrants have features that break this relationship, they are not “indexed to the company’s stock” and must be classified as liabilities.  This technical and complex determination generally depends on the inputs to the warrant’s fair value computation.

The redemption issue focuses on whether a warrant could require a net cash settlement which is outside the control of the issuer.  This generally would require liability classification.  There is an exception to this requirement that if the holders of the warrants and all the underlying securities would receive a cash settlement, equity classification could still be appropriate.  This can be a very complex and technical determination based on the specific provisions of a warrant.

If a SPAC has issued warrants that involve these issues and did not appropriately classify the warrants as liabilities, restatement would be required if the amounts are material.

The Statement provides reminders about the restatement process, related Internal Control Over Financial reporting issues, potential requirements to file an Item 4.02 Form 8-K and communication issues related to Reg FD.

The number of SPAC restatements and the ultimate market impact will unfold in coming weeks.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

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