SPACInsider contributors Anthony Sozzi and Sam Beattie this week compiled their three favorite potential SPAC targets among companies in South and Southeast Asia. We look at why they are compelling and why each could be a fit for a blank-check merger.
All expectations are for a busy end to 2022 with a huge backlog of searching SPACs approaching transaction deadlines and growing incentives to either lock down a deal or liquidate before the start of the new year.
And, if this past month is any guide, a large amount of these deals are going to be with international targets. Of the 25 business combinations announced thus far in October, 12 have been overseas targets, five of which are based in Asia. With macro conditions being what they are, proportionately more Asian deals could be on the way.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has projected that economies in its region are set to grow by 5.2% both this year and next. The Asian Development Bank, meanwhile, has projected inflation on the continent will sit at 4.5% this year and hit 4% next year. That is not ideal, but looks eye-wateringly attractive with much of North America and Europe expected to experience double those rates over the same period of time.
Therefore, while Asian growth companies are going to see much more value in their future trajectories, they are also set to be more hard up for cash. With monetary tightening and a risk-off mentality stacking up in developed markets, developing markets are set to see bigger drop offs in investment.
SPACs have an opportunity to step in the region at a time when the doors to private capital may be nearly as closed as the IPO door.
Many countries in the region just now are cultivating their first wave of unicorns and while many have driven hot valuations by dint of their early promise, a much smaller group has managed to scale to dominant positions in their sectors.
Bangkok-based Ascend belongs to this smaller group, with a constellation of fintech and ecommerce service brands that have been capturing customers faster than the rates of overall digital adoption in the region. It expects to have about 35 million users in Thailand by 2023 and its transaction volume in Cambodia is equal to about 10% of the country’s GDP.
The company registered 2.2 billion transactions for $14 billion in total volume in the wider ASEAN region with year-on-year increases in each category at 64% and 40%, respectively. This was most pronounced in Thailand where its payment volume increased 84% to $9.8 billion that year.
Ascend is also working to create a stablecoin version of the Thai baht for online payments and other transactions. This brush with crypto may raise eyebrows with some regulators, but Ascend benefits from the fact that these efforts are being done hand-in-hand with the Thai Central Bank, which sees benefits in the project for speeding up ecommerce, foreign transactions and tourist spending in the country.
The company’s last capital raise was a $150 million Series C in September 2021 that earned Ascend its unicorn status at a post-money valuation of $1.5 billion. This was designed not just to fuel its existing programs, but also fund its move deeper into India and Pakistan, where another potential user base of up to 1.5 billion is up for grabs.
Bengaluru, India-based Meesho is moving in the opposite direction as a growing regional player in overall ecommerce. Its platform is a mix of the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) “everything store” and eBay’s (NASDAQ:EBAY) approach making it easy for individual resellers to transact.
During the month of September, which is India’s heavy shopping season similar to December in the US, Meesho surpassed Amazon in order volume, accounting for about 21% of all ecommerce sales during the holiday spending spree. Walmart-owned Flipkart beat out both during the month, however.
Flipkart has been long pushing for an IPO valued at $60 billion to $70 billion, but it appears that its plans will be pushed into 2023 due to market conditions. But, while Flipkart and its massive parent can be patient, Meesho may want to strike first.
Co-founded by Eduardo Saverin, who earlier co-founded Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:META), the company has had no problems raising venture funding with over $1 billion raised to date, achieving a post-money valuation of $4.9 billion in September 2021. These investors run the gamut of SoftBank, Temasek and Fidelity to Meta itself.
Meesho was reportedly working on the compliance necessary to be public-ready earlier this year and was open to multiple possible routes to market. A SPAC deal could help Meesho stay sharp as Amazon hits some bumps in the road and Flipkart plays a waiting game.
And, even if a Meesho debut into the choppy 2022 market waters may not immediately zoom it to the moon, it could structure an earnout to capture the value upside that Flipkart may spend another year or longer waiting for.
Another company looking to maintain pace is Trax.
The Singaporean unicorn has developed a suite of computer vision solutions for the retail industry aimed at more accurately tracking inventory in real time and maintaining up-to-date analytics and stock-up orders. It does this by having workers or robots scan every shelf and allowing machine-learning algorithms provide tools to optimize local workflows, pricing and orders.
Trax has grown the platform to a $2.2 billion valuation since 2010. Its last capital raise came about 18 months ago in April 2021 and it made SoftBank the company’s largest shareholder.
Trax has spent the intervening months beefing up its AI suite and adding executives with public company experience. In February, it hired former Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) AI leader Barak Turovsky to serve as its chief product officer.
In August, the company also tapped Regi Vengalil to serve as CFO. Vengalil previously served in the same role at car insurance startup Metromile. Metromile, one might recall, had an ill-fated combination with INSU II that finished with the company being acquired by Lemonade (NYSE:LMND) for effectively $3.44 per share eight months after close.
But, Vengalil also previously served as CFO of Egencia, Expedia’s (NASDAQ:EXPE) corporate travel division, and oversaw its sale to American Express Global Travel (NYSE:GBTG) a month before the latter announced a combination with Apollo Strategic Growth. In case the pattern wasn’t already clear, Vengalil also serves as an independent director at de-SPAC Porch (NASDAQ:PRCH).