There is only one word in the English language that comes close to capturing the essence of fintech Better.com’s first day trading on the stock market—bloodbath.
When Thursday finally drew to a close, 93% of investor capital tied up the online mortgage lender had been vaporized in a single trading session.
Founder Vishal Garg, who worked “really, really hard” to reform himself and become a better CEO after infamously sacking hundreds of employees en masse via a Zoom call, probably didn’t expect to enjoy the same fairytale debut VinFast Auto enjoyed this month.
But judging by his own words just earlier that day, it’s a safe bet he didn’t envision stock in his company to spontaneously combust either.
“This is a time for celebration,” he trumpeted, after successfully completing the merger with exchange-listed empty vessel Aurora Acquisition Company. “We’re proud to take a huge step in expanding our capacity to innovate the homeownership process by becoming a publicly listed company.”
Hours later, after the share price went up in smoke, a defeated-looking finance chief took to Yahoo Finance Live to explain the catastrophic plunge. From the company’s perspective, the reverse merger with the Aurora SPAC—a deal more than two years in the making—was in fact a lifesaver, he argued.
Because Better.com locked in its valuation with investors in 2021, during the peak of the speculative bull market, the merger means it can now tap $568 million in cash needed to survive an environment in which the cost of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage has soared to a 23-year high.
“There’s 4,000 mortgage lenders in the United States. If rates stay higher for longer […] I think a lot of those companies are going to struggle and many may go out of existence,” Better CFO Kevin Ryan said in an interview with the online publication. “And we just shored up our balance sheet at a time when nobody really thought anybody in this sector could.”
Moreover no one was treated unfairly—everyone was equally wiped out in Thursday’s crash. That’s because, according to Ryan, no early investors (presumably including financial backer Softbank) used the elevated 2021 valuation from the SPAC deal as exit liquidity to cash out.
All the money raised, he promised, would go directly towards helping the business rather than lining anyone’s pockets.
‘This is just the beginning’
Still, a 93% nosedive on its debut is a far cry from the remarkable success of VinFast Auto, which also skirted the usual rigor of a conventional IPO in favor of an easier path to market via a SPAC.
The Vietnamese startup that sold a grand total of 18,700 EVs in its six-year existence—some so poorly built they now are compensating angry customers—cleverly engineered its August listing to ensure there is barely any free float.
This disrupts the market’s traditional role as an instrument of price discovery, enabling it to achieve on paper a $120 billion market cap that ranks it as the world’s third most valuable carmaker behind only Tesla and Toyota.
In the process, founder and chairman Pham Nhat Vuong’s net worth has skyrocketed virtually overnight. According to Forbes, he is now the 28th richest person on Earth, right behind Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang.
Any hopes that Better’s Vishal Garg might have had at joining the publication’s illustrious list of billionaires are likely dead and buried now.
Just to return to the $10 price the stock started at on Thursday, it would need a 769% surge from its current level. That means Friday’s pre-market rebound of 14% as of press time will only bring it back to $1.31—in other words what traders call a dead cat bounce.
As for his investors left with pennies on the dollar, Better’s Kevin Ryan had these comforting words to offer.
“We’re building long-term value for shareholders,” the CFO said. “This is just the beginning.”