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Blank check IPOs are back

Amy Scott Sep 5, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Here’s an interesting trend. More companies are raising money on Wall Street without telling investors what they plan to do with it. They’re called blank check IPOs. They’re not illegal. But there’s word today regulators are looking into them. Marketplace’s Amy Scott has more from New York.

AMY SCOTT: Marshall Reynolds wants to buy a company. Maybe something in the energy services field . . . or maybe another industry. He’s not sure. Apparently that doesn’t matter. His reputation as a printing and banking tycoon is enough. In the last three months he says investors have ponied up between $50 million and $60 million.

MARSHALL REYNOLDS: An awful lot of investors have made a lot of money in projects that I’ve been involved in.

Reynolds’ company is what’s known as a blank check, or blind pool. They disappeared in the early 1990s after a few scandals. But Thomson Financial says at least 30 such companies have launched since last year. And today Bloomberg reports that Wall Street regulator NASD is investigating.

ROBERT TEITLEMAN: This is operating out there on the frontier, these things, and stuff happens out there.

Robert Teitleman edits The Deal magazine. He says many of the new blank checks are led by business legends like Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak or former Blockbuster CEO Steven Berrard. And Teitleman says people want what they’ve got.

TEITLEMAN: In eras where people are making a lot of money, individuals become godlike. And I think, you know, is it prudent? Not particularly. But this is just one of those periods of time.

Blank check investors are better protected now. Shareholders get to vote on acquisitions. And they get refunds if a deal doesn’t happen within a year and half. But unlike a hedge fund, a blank check company is open to any investor. And regulators worry some could get burned again.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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