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When did the Renaissance end? While some epochs in history are very definitively punctuated (the Roaring Twenties, for example, by Black Tuesday), others tend to decline and fade more gradually, the dramatic moments more signposts than endpoints, more symbolic than certain. So, when did the Renaissance end? With the Bonfire of the Vanities? Da Vinci crossing the Alps? The sack of Rome? The founding of the Inquisition? Or with all of them and none?

We ask this question because we have been keen observers and scholars of an era through which we’ve all been living. We speak, of course, of the Ackmanaissance, the dramatic revival of fortune for Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management that began about three years ago. But when will it end? Indeed, has it already begun to end? Or will we look back on this moment in time and say that it had in fact already ended, our musings on it a mere echo of its former greatness?

For like the Renaissance, the Ackmanaissance brought with it new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. For instance, does a special purpose acquisition vehicle really need to be a vehicle for an acquisition with a special purpose, specifically the purpose of taking a private company public without the hassle and bother of an IPO? Could it be both simultaneously more and less than that? The artist Ackman asked these questions, and like his forebears in fifteenth century Florence, asked them in a big way, with the biggest-ever SPAC. But the Savonarola of securities regulation, Gary Gensler, and his team of Inquisitors at the SEC, has a bluntly brutal answer: No.

The billionaire investor Bill Ackman said Monday that he had pulled back from a plan to use his jumbo-size SPAC to purchase a stake in Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record label, after the Securities and Exchange Commission raised concerns about the complex transaction…. The S.E.C. was concerned whether it qualified as a SPAC deal at all….

We underestimated the reaction that some of our shareholders would have to the transaction’s complexity and structure,” Mr. Ackman wrote.

Oof. That sounds like a pre-Ackmanaissance Ackman, a Dark Ages Ackman, explaining just what went wrong at Herbalife or Valeant, and not the golden god of finance we’ve come to rediscover.

Pershing Square Tontine now has 18 months to find and close a new deal, unless shareholders give it more time, and “our next business combination will be structured as a conventional SPAC merger,” Ackman added.

Bill Ackman drops SPAC deal with Universal Music. [NYT]
Bill Ackman’s Deal Machine Must Try Again [DealBook]

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