France’s billionaire Pinault family joins European Spac push

France’s billionaire Pinault family is joining the growing line of sponsors of European Spacs, aiming to raise as much as €300m for a blank-cheque company that will focus on the entertainment and leisure industries.

The special purpose acquisition vehicle, named I2PO, is being launched in Paris on Wednesday. It is also backed by Centerview Partners banker Matthieu Pigasse and will be headed by former WarnerMedia executive Iris Knobloch.

Spacs are investment vehicles that list on the stock market and then hunt for a private company with which to merge. Wall Street is the centre of the Spac mania that has swept through stock markets over the past 18 months.

Advocates say they are an easier and cheaper way for companies to go public, but they have recently drawn regulatory scrutiny in the US over their often dazzling financial projections. The vehicles’ sponsors often receive 20 per cent of the Spac’s shares for a nominal fee.

Just three Spacs were launched in Europe last year, raising $500m, according to Refinitiv data. That compared with 244 in the US that tapped investors for more than $80bn.

Activity in Europe has picked up in 2021, although the US remains the busiest market. So far this year, 21 Spacs have raised $5.4bn in Europe; in the US, 365 Spacs have raised $106bn, according to Refinitiv.

I2PO will target acquisitions in the range of €1bn to €2bn in areas such as music and video streaming, gaming, media services or platforms for booking travel and entertainment.

“We are here to build a European champion in the sector,” Knobloch told the Financial Times. “I really think the world has changed . . . Scale matters and size matters. That’s why I see a huge opportunity to consolidate a fragmented market and to go beyond Europe into other markets.”

The three backers are Knobloch; Artemis, the Pinault family holding company that has €40bn under management and controls luxury group Kering; and Pigasse’s financial holding company Combat Holding. Artemis will be represented on the board of the new investment vehicle by François-Henri Pinault and Alban Greget.

“It’s the first Spac that Artemis has done as a sponsor, the first Spac that is founded and run by a woman, and the first Spac in Europe that is focused on entertainment and leisure,” said Knobloch, I2PO’s chair and chief executive.

Knobloch stepped down last month from a senior European role at WarnerMedia to take up the job. She also sits on the boards of AccorHotels, Lazard and Kering rival LVMH.

Pigasse, the former head of Lazard in France, is behind Mediawan and 2MX Organic, the first two Spacs launched in the country, and is also a shareholder in media such as Le Monde daily newspaper.

Earlier this month the Zaoui brothers, founders of investment banking boutique Zaoui & Co, teamed up with leading European executives and raised €300m in Amsterdam for a Spac called Odyssey Acquisition that will invest in healthcare and technology businesses.

In February LVMH founder Bernard Arnault, Tikehau Capital and former UniCredit boss Jean Pierre Mustier raised €500m in the Amsterdam listing of a blank-cheque company called Pegasus Europe to invest in European financial companies.

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