Billionaires: Moderna chief sells $1.74m worth of shares before vaccine filing

In our fortnightly roundup, Stephane Bancel’s net worth jumps to $3.1bn after offloading 19,000 shares, while French magnate Xavier Niel seeks consumer sector deals

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna Therapeutics Inc., poses for a photograph at the company's office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. Moderna this week started testing a personalized treatment that teaches the body how to fight cancer.   Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg
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Stephane Bancel

Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel offloaded another $1.74 million worth of shares as the world waited for the biotechnology company to be the second to file its vaccine for emergency use in the US.

The sale comes after Pfizer and BioNTech became the first companies to complete a submission for a vaccine to US regulators.

Moderna was expected to file its vaccine last week, Morgan Stanley analysts said.

Mr Bancel sold 9,000 directly owned shares and 10,000 indirectly owned shares from November 18 at an average price of $91.73, according to the filing.

He and other freshly minted billionaires gained more than $400m about a fortnight ago on the heels of encouraging news of vaccine trials. The rally lifted Mr Bancel’s net worth to $3.1 billion, based mainly on his 6 per cent stake in the business, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Bancel and other Moderna executives have been steadily selling off their stakes throughout the pandemic, mostly through 10b5-1 trading plans. The plans, which allow insiders to sell shares at set times and prices without facing insider trading accusations, have faced increasing scrutiny as of late.

Dow Jones reported that outgoing Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton called for a “cooling-off period” on such trades. Earlier this month, Pfizer executives used such a plan to sell shares.

With Pfizer having already filed for an emergency use authorisation for its vaccine, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Matthew Harrison expect the pharmaceutical company’s shot to be approved in mid-December and Moderna’s shot within a week of that.

Xavier Niel, founder of French broadband Internet provider Iliad attends the presentation of the new set-top box, the Freebox Delta, which combines broadband, television and fixed line telephone services at the company's headquarters in Paris, France, December 4, 2018.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Xavier Niel

French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel plans to raise capital through a blank-cheque company.

Mr Niel and his partners are setting up a new vehicle to make acquisitions in the European consumer sector. They may announce plans for a listing in France in the next few weeks, although the timing could slip into 2021.

Deutsche Bank is leading preparations for the special purpose acquisition company, or Spac, which intends to seek targets with an environmental, social and governance focus. Societe Generale is also working on the deal.

Mr Niel, 53, founded French telecom provider Iliad and is its largest shareholder. He has a net worth of about $7.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In 2016, Mr Niel teamed up with investment banker Matthieu Pigasse and businessman Pierre-Antoine Capton to raise €250m ($300m) for a Spac known as Mediawan. The following year, the company completed its merger with Groupe AB in what it described at the time as “the first successful Spac precedent in France”.

Magnates across industries have increasingly turned to Spacs to quickly raise capital for deal-making. This year, a record $64bn was raised in the US for such vehicles, compared with only $786m across three deals in western Europe.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Andrew Forrest speaks during Monaco Better World Forum Gala 2019 at Westin Grand Central on September 22, 2019 in New York City.   John Lamparski/Getty Images/AFP

Andrew Forrest

Billionaire Andrew Forrest broke into the ranks of the world’s top iron ore exporters and now seeks to make an entry into renewables in about two years under an ambitious plan to produce more energy than companies such as Chevron.

Mr Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group will begin green fuel production in 2022 or 2023 and plans to eventually develop 235 gigawatts of clean energy – equal to about a fifth of the US’s total generation capacity – using wind and solar and moving into hydrogen and ammonia production, according to a Bloomberg TV interview.

“We reached a decision that there was enough renewable energy in the world to last mankind for all time,” said Mr Forrest, Fortescue’s chairman and founder. “We just had to apply the technology and the scale which we have done successfully at Fortescue to make sure renewable fuel competes against fossil fuels.”

The renewable energy industry could be just as big, if not a larger employer of people in Australia than the coal industry

The Perth-based company, which began to export iron ore in 2008 and is now the world’s fourth-biggest shipper, will invest about A$1bn ($732m) in de-carbonisation and hydrogen projects through to 2023.

Mr Forrest’s plan is aimed at becoming an energy supplier to carbon-intensive industry sectors, including steelmaking, that are under increasing pressure from governments and investors to shrink their greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are looking to have a ship leaving our ports about every 30 minutes and to really supply the world’s heavy industry,” Mr Forrest said. “We are all looking for major, regular supply of renewable fuels and Fortescue is on track to supply that.”

At the targeted scale, Fortescue’s energy business is expected to be more valuable than its iron ore operations, which in August posted annual earnings of $4.7bn, according to Mr Forrest.

The company has held talks on power projects in 31 countries and has discussions planned in a further 16 nations, he said. Development of the energy business will include co-operation with the US and China.

An initial focus will be on Australia, where Fortescue is transitioning its iron ore operations to renewable power. It also intends to do the same to its rail, port and shipping networks.

“The renewable energy industry could be just as big, if not a larger employer of people in Australia than the coal industry,” Mr Forrest said. The country’s coal sector has a workforce of about 50,000 people, according to government data.

Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of British petrochemicals company INEOS, poses for a portrait with the Canary Wharf financial district seen behind, ahead of a news conference announcing the launch of a British America's Cup sailing team in London, Britain, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Jim Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, is joining forces with Hyundai Motor in a bid to give hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles the boost they need to become more popular.

Mr Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group will explore opportunities to produce and supply hydrogen to Hyundai, which has been making fuel-cell vehicles in low volumes since 2013.

Mr Ratcliffe may also use Hyundai’s fuel-cell system in the Grenadier, the sport utility vehicle similar to the Land Rover Defender that Ineos announced last year and plans to bring to market in 2021.

Makers of cars and chemicals are finding common ground in their pursuit of hydrogen projects.

Targets are being set globally to phase out the combustion engine and decarbonise industrial production.

Ineos, which makes 300,000 tonnes of hydrogen annually, could play an instrumental role in helping set up the infrastructure Hyundai needs for models such as the Nexo SUV to catch on in Europe.

For Mr Ratcliffe, 68, helping to spur the hydrogen economy would open up more attractive uses for his company’s output of the gas.

While the relative growth of battery-powered electric cars has cast some doubt on the future of fuel-cell vehicles, Hyundai and Toyota Motor still believe there is enormous potential in their technical advantages.

Hydrogen tanks can be refilled faster than batteries recharge, and fuel cells can offer greater driving range, particularly in heavier vehicles.

The South Korean car maker intends to capture as much as 15 per cent of the hydrogen-fuelled SUV market in European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands by 2030. The company shipped its first batch of such SUVs to Switzerland earlier this year and plans to produce 1,600 units by 2025.

Collaborating with Hyundai may also give Ineos’s plan to enter the car market a boost. Mr Ratcliffe is worth $25.9bn according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.