QuantumScape drops 15% after short-seller report calls it a ‘pump-and-dump SPAC scam by Silicon Valley celebrities’ and compares it to disgraced startup Theranos

NYSE trader
  • QuantumScape fell as much as 15% on Thursday after short-seller Scorpion Capital compared the company to Theranos and called it a “pump and dump SPAC scam by silicon valley celebrities.”
  • The report is based on interviews with former QuantumScape employees and alleges that many of the battery startups claims are false.
  • “Our research indicates that QuantumScape can’t even reliably make test cells that work,” the short report said.
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QuantumScape fell as much as 15% on Thursday after the battery startup was the subject of a scathing short-report from Scorpion Capital.

The report, titled “A pump and dump SPAC scam by silicon valley celebrities, that makes Theranos look like amateurs,” say that QuantumScape’s technical claims on its highly guarded battery technology are misleading, exaggerated, or fraudulent.

The report is based off of interviews with former QuantumScape employees, as well as battery experts and current Volkswagen employees that are focused on the auto company’s electric vehicle battery efforts.

QuantumScape is working to make a scalable solid-state battery that would promise quicker charging times, longer range, and lower costs for electric vehicles, relative to today’s lithium-ion batteries.

The company has partnered with Volkswagen, which has invested $300 million in QuantumScape over the past few years, but Scorpion Capital is skeptical that the battery startup can deliver on its promises.

“Our research indicates that QuantumScape can’t even reliably make test cells that work,” the report said, adding that “red flags around scaling and manufacturability render QuantumScape’s cells a pipe dream.”

Volkswagen and QuantumScape are targeting a production start of 2025 for the solid-state batteries. But Scorpion Capital doesn’t think that goal will be met. The short-seller believes Volkswagen is an unwitting partner that lends credibility to QuantumScape, similar to how General Motors partnered with Nikola, or Walgreens and Safeway partnered with Theranos.

“A key feature of the largest frauds is often the backing of a famous investor or corporate partner, in this case VW – ‘the smart money’ – that lends credibility to the scam,” Scorpion Capital said.

Scorpion Capital is short shares of QuantumScape, meaning it stands to profit if the stock moves lower.

Read more: BTIG identifies 14 beaten-down stocks poised to dominate the market this earnings season and extend their track record of crushing expectations

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QuantumScape tumbles 41% in first day of 2021 trading after spiking 745% last year

QuantumScape CEO Jagdeep Singh
QuantumScape CEO Jagdeep Singh

  • QuantumScape tumbled as much as 41% in its first day of 2021 trading on Monday after staging a 745% rally in 2020.
  • QuantumScape has lost more than half its value in the past week with no official news attributable to the decline, signaling that the stock’s eye-popping rally was too far, too fast.
  • The firm, which develops next generation batteries for electric vehicles, filed with the SEC to offer 306 million shares by selling shareholders on Thursday. 
  • Watch QuantumScape trade live here.

Shares of high-flying QuantumScape tumbled as much as 41% in its first day of 2021 trading on Monday. The sharp decline comes after the recently debuted SPAC IPO surged 745% in 2020.

QuantumScape went public via a SPAC in September and is developing next generation batteries for electric vehicles. The company has been backed by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire investor Bill Gates.

While there was no official news attributable to Monday’s decline, QuantumScape filed with the SEC to offer 306 million shares by selling shareholders on Thursday. The company will receive up to $209 million from the exercise of all warrants attached to the offering, and lockup restrictions for part of the offering lasts until May 21.

QuantumScape’s valuation peaked at nearly $50 billion in late December, and has since tumbled to $18.6 billion as of Monday afternoon. The company has lost more than half its value in the past week, signalling that the stock’s dizzying rally was overextended. 

Read more: GOLDMAN SACHS: Buy these 37 stocks that could earn you the strongest returns without taking on big risks in 2021 as the recovery and vaccine distribution get underway

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Legendary investor Jeremy Grantham made an accidental $265 million profit on a SPAC deal after previously criticizing blank-check companies

Jeremy Grantham
  • Jeremy Grantham’s early stake in battery producer QuantumScape has surged following the firm’s merger with a special-purpose acquisition company, but Grantham still isn’t sold on the blank-check IPO trend.
  • Grantham invested $12.5 million into the company seven years ago. That stake now stands at roughly $278 million thanks to a SPAC merger and QuantumScape’s subsequent stock rally.
  • The position is “by accident the single biggest investment I have ever made,” Grantham told the Financial Times.
  • Still, the investor sees SPACs as a “reprehensible instrument, and very very speculative by definition,” largely due to their lack of listing requirements and overall regulation.
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The very kind of dealmaking that Jeremy Grantham previously deemed “reprehensible” netted the famous investor a $265 million profit.

Grantham, who founded investment management firm GMO and serves as its long-term investment strategist, invested $12.5 million in battery producer QuantumScape seven years ago as one of several stakes in early green-tech companies, according to the Financial Times. The position swelled after Kensington Capital Partners announced plans to merge QuantumScape with a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in September.

The deal valued QuantumScape at $3.3 billion, and shares traded at more than four times their listing price when the acquisition was completed on November 30. The company’s stock rallied another 31% on Tuesday alone, valuing Grantham’s stake at roughly $278 million.

Yet the legendary investor isn’t convinced Wall Street’s SPAC frenzy will last. The QuantumScape position is “by accident the single biggest investment I have ever made,” Grantham told the FT, partially fueled by the so-called blank-check companies’ lack of regulation.

“It gets around the idea of listing requirements, so it is not a useful tool for a lot of successful companies. But I think it is a reprehensible instrument, and very very speculative by definition,” he added.

Read more: We spoke with Wall Street’s 9 best-performing fund managers of 2020 to learn how they crushed the chaotic market – and compile the biggest bets they’re making for 2021

Grantham’s profit stands to climb even higher. QuantumScape soared as much as 37% in early Wednesday trading. Should the rally hold into the market close, it would add another $100 million to his total gains. 

SPAC firms raise capital through an initial public offering with the intention of using the cash to acquire a firm and take the merged entity public. The last two years have seen market favorites including Virgin Galactic, DraftKings, and Nikola go public through such deals.

Blank-check IPOs exploded in 2020 as firms looked to take advantage of a surge in participation from retail investors and hopes for an economic recovery. More than $74 billion has been raised across 218 SPAC debuts in 2020, according to data from SPACInsider.com. That compares to just $13.6 billion raised across 59 deals in 2019.

Wall Street’s obsession with the vehicles could be a sign of unsustainable market optimism, Grantham told the FT, rivaling the overwhelming bullishness seen during the 1920s and the late-1990s tech bubble.

Tesla’s meteoric rise through the year has made electric-vehicle SPACs – and any SPAC related to the EV market – particularly popular. QuantumScape lands in that basket. The firm produces solid-state batteries used in electric cars and has backing from industry giant Volkswagen.

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