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Newport Beach’s Engaged Capital LLC remains bullish on the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, method of taking companies public. See Peter J. Brennan’s story on this page for more on the activist investor’s plans.

Not all SPAC transactions are getting completed. Notably, Irvine microinvesting fintech Acorns Grow, best known for its spare-change investing and checking account app, last week scrapped its bid to go public via a reverse merger with SPAC Pioneer Merger Corp.

The duo announced their deal last May. Acorns had a pre-money valuation of $1.5 billion, according to reports.

Acorns is paying Pioneer at least $17.5 million to get out of the deal, regulatory filings indicate.

Based on Acorns’ willingness to walk away from the deal and pay the fee, it suggests the fintech company might have its eyes on a much higher valuation.

Earlier this month, a report that Acorns was developing a direct stock investing feature sent down shares of a potential fintech trading competitor, Menlo Park’s Robinhood Markets Inc. (Nasdaq: HOOD), by some 7%. Robinhood, which went public via an IPO last year, is still valued around $12 billion.

Acorns officials told the Business Journal last week that it was still in growth mode, and news reports suggest the company is now considering a traditional IPO of its own. See next week’s print edition for more.

Is there an end in sight for the omicron variant in OC? Recent data from the Orange County Health Care Agency and other sources is providing some reasons for optimism.

“It looks like our peak may have been earlier this week or late last week and we now may be coming down, albeit coming down from an extremely high level,” Dr. Susan Huang, epidemiologist at UCI, told the Business Journal late last week.

Two years ago, the Business Journal called the $50 million gift from Lido Isle’s Frank and Joan Randall to preserve the nearly 400-acre Banning Ranch wetlands and coastal bluffs that straddle West Newport Beach and Costa Mesa “a career capper” for the longtime backers of environmental causes.

It turns out the couple—who made their money through stock investments and real estate deals largely in Los Angeles—was just getting started.

Around the beginning of the year, another $50 million gift from the Randalls was announced, to the Nature Conservancy, for the creation of what the nonprofit calls its largest nature preserve in California, a 72,000-acre area that spans multiple topographies in the Southern Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi Mountains.

The preserve, about 100 miles north of downtown L.A., is now known as the Frank and Joan Randall Preserve. Its establishment means that 28 sensitive species across California have the best chance of survival, according to the nonprofit.

As for Banning Ranch’s conservation, progress is being reported following the couple’s late 2019 donation, the largest reported in OC that year. The city of Costa Mesa last week approved the $97 million purchase of the land from current owner Newport Banning Ranch.

The Business Journal’s listing of 2021’s Largest Charitable Gifts runs Feb. 14. See page 4 for more details.

Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.

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