Vietnam's VinFast chairman gets $39bn richer as company shares surge 255%

Pham Nhat Vuong is now worth $44.3bn after VinFast debut

VinFast electric vehicles at a store in Los Angeles, California. Reuters
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Its electric cars have been dogged by poor reviews and it’s on pace to make fewer sales this year than General Motors does in a week.

Yet that hasn’t stopped VinFast Auto from becoming the latest beneficiary of speculative fervour around newly minted Spac deals – many of which end up tumbling over the long-term.

The Vietnamese auto maker’s shares surged 255 per cent on Tuesday when it debuted on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, pushing the company’s market capitalisation above that of industry giants GM and Mercedes-Benz Group.

It added $39 billion to the net worth of chairman Pham Nhat Vuong, whose fortune now stands at $44.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

It’s the latest example of a thinly traded company soaring on its debut after completing a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company.

Many have experienced eye-popping rallies that ended a few trading sessions after the merger closed, as traders look to make a quick profit on companies with limited shares – meaning the jump in Mr Vuong’s wealth may be short-lived.

De-Spacs – the term for firms that go public via a Spac merger – that have made their debut this year have seen a median slump of about 45 per cent, with 18 of them wiping out more than 70 per cent of their value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Regulatory filings show Mr Vuong, Vietnam’s richest man, directly and indirectly controls 99 per cent of the company’s outstanding shares, mostly through his conglomerate, Vingroup.

That large stake limits the shares available for other investors to trade, meaning the stock is prone to large swings. The Bloomberg Billionaires index hasn’t previously included Vuong’s stake in the car maker, which he founded in 2017.

If VinFast can hold on to its gains, it will be in a somewhat unique position given the dismal performance of other electric car makers taken public via Spacs, including Lordstown Motors, Nikola and Faraday Future Intelligent Electric, all of which lost more than 90 per cent of their market value since their mergers.

VinFast, though, has been weighed down by operational problems.

In May, it recalled all the electric sport utility vehicles shipped to the US over a software malfunction and there have been some negative reviews. The company also cut some of its US workforce, sales have been modest and its net losses are widening.

“There have been some negative reviews,” VinFast chief executive Le Thi Thu Thuy told Bloomberg Television Tuesday.

“We take them very close to our heart, we reflect on the feedback from those reviews and we make our vehicles better.”

In the six years it has been operating, VinFast has taken in $9.3 billion of financing to cover its operating and capital expenditures, much of it coming from Mr Vuong’s other businesses.

Still, the company, which began building a factory in North Carolina last month, forecasts sales will reach 45,000 to 50,000 this year and Mr Vuong predicts it will break even by the end of 2024.

VinFast had been planning a normal initial public offering, but scrapped that and opted for a Spac listing after investor appetite for money-losing start-ups waned over the past year. Instead, it agreed to merge with blank-check company Black Spade Acquisition, founded by casino mogul Lawrence Ho.

Mr Vuong, who studied geoeconomic engineering in Russia, made his fortune in the 1990s in Ukraine with a business making instant noodles. The Hanoi-born businessman sold it to Nestle in 2010, nine years after he had returned to Vietnam.

By that time, he’d already established publicly-traded Vingroup, focused on real estate, resorts, schools, shopping malls and more. The firm booked revenue of $4.4 billion last year, and remains a major shareholder in VinFast.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 5:25 AM