Traders on the New York Stock Exchange
Traders on the New York Stock Exchange. Companies that join the Russell 3000 often receive a bump in their share prices © REUTERS

Dozens of companies that entered US markets through deals with blank-cheque vehicles in the past year are set to graduate into the Russell 3000 index on Friday evening, giving a potential boost to the fortunes of electric vehicle developers and other speculative ventures.

FTSE Russell, which maintains the popular benchmark, is conducting the annual refresh of its indices this month, adding and removing companies based on their market capitalisations and other factors.

Companies that join the Russell 3000 — a gauge that tracks about 98 per cent of the investable US stock market — often receive a bump in their share prices, while gaining exposure to a wide swath of investment managers and inclusion in passive funds that track the indices. The reconstituted indices come into effect before markets open on Monday.

Investment vehicles with $9.1tn of assets either track or are benchmarked to Russell indices, according to FTSE Russell.

This year, the additions to the Russell 3000 index are set to include a number of early-stage electric vehicle companies that went public through special purpose acquisition companies, whose shares first soared and then declined as wild investor enthusiasm gave way to concerns about regulatory scrutiny of the sector.

Among them are Canoo, Lordstown Motors and Nikola, companies that have dealt with the departures of key personnel and face investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission over their disclosures to investors. All three have said they are co-operating with regulators. 

Other notable additions will include the sports betting business DraftKings, healthcare company Multiplan and 3D sensors manufacturer Velodyne Lidar, according to a preliminary list published by Russell.

More than 20 per cent of the companies joining the Russell 3000 index this year will have gone public through Spacs, according to Steven DeSanctis, an equity strategist at Jefferies.

“You’re opening yourself up to a much larger audience,” DeSanctis said. “You should see an increase in trading volume for a lot of these stocks.”

Unlike the S&P 1500 index, which is collated by rival S&P Dow Jones Indices and includes companies on the blue-chip S&P 500, the Russell 3000 welcomes companies that have not reported recent profits. Neither the S&P 1500 nor the Russell 3000 include Spacs themselves; companies enter only after they have been acquired by the blank-cheque vehicles.

The index reconstitution could add fuel to critics of Spacs, who argue the vehicles provide a less rigorous route to public markets compared with regular initial public offerings.

“The danger is that these companies went public without that vetting process,” said Usha Rodrigues, a professor of law at the University of Georgia who has researched Spacs. “There’s more of a risk to each shareholder in those individual companies and, to the extent that there’s a lot of them, to all the holders of the Russell 3000.”

An index of Spacs maintained by IPOX has fallen more than 20 per cent from a peak in the first quarter, as investors sour on the structure following a deluge of new offerings. The SEC has issued a series of warnings about Spacs to investors and the companies themselves, particularly concerning their sales and profit projections.

Several high-profile short-sellers have targeted companies that have come to market via a Spac and will now be added to the Russell indices — but retail traders on Reddit forums have cheered the index reconstitution as a positive signal for popular stocks.

The Russell index changes go into effect after the close of trading on Friday; the session is usually one of the busiest trading days of the year as investors and index funds reshuffle portfolios in anticipation.

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