Private operating companies seeking a ‘fast track’ stock exchange listing sometimes arrange to be acquired by a smaller listed company (sometimes described as a ‘shell’ company or Special Purpose Acquisition Company or SPAC that is also a ‘shell’ company, especially incorporated (and listed) to serve a reverse acquisition/SPAC Merger). This usually involves the listed company issuing its shares to the private company shareholders in exchange for their shares.
The listed company becomes the ‘legal parent’ of the operating company, which in turn becomes the ‘legal subsidiary’.
A transaction in which a company with substantial operations (‘operating company’) arranges to be acquired by a listed shell company should be analysed to determine if it is a business combination within the scope of IFRS 3.
US GAAP comparison
The registering of securities that are issued by a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) — A Form S-1 may be used for the initial registration and sale of shares of a SPAC, a newly formed company that will use the proceeds from the IPO to acquire a private operating company (which generally has not been identified at the time of the IPO). To complete the acquisition of a private operating company, the SPAC may file a proxy or registration statement. Within four days of the closing of the acquisition of the private operating company, the SPAC must file a “super Form 8-K” that includes all of the information required in a Form 10 registration statement of the private operating company.
Is the transaction a business combination?
Answering this question involves determining:
- which company is the ‘accounting acquirer’ under IFRS 3, ie the company that obtains effective control over the other
- whether or not the acquired company (ie the ‘accounting acquiree’ under IFRS 3) is a business.
In these transactions, the pre-combination shareholders of the operating company typically obtain a majority (controlling) interest, with the pre-combination shareholders of the listed shell company retaining a minority (non-controlling) interest (i.e. a SPAC Merger). This usually indicates that the operating company is the accounting acquirer.
If the listed company is the accounting acquiree, the next step is to determine whether it is a ‘business’ as defined in IFRS 3. In general, the listed company is not a business if its activities are limited to managing cash balances and filing obligations. Further analysis will be needed if the listed company undertakes other activities and holds other assets and liabilities. Determining whether the listed company is a business in these more complex situations typically requires judgement.