August 18, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! While American soccer fans might still be kicking themselves after the USWNT’s defeat, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup comes to a close this Sunday — and the final between England and Spain is expected to attract a record-breaking 2 billion viewers worldwide. Today we're exploring:

  • VinFast debut: Past SPAC performances spell uncertainty.
  • Out-sauced: Sriracha shortage is worrying for hot sauce lovers.
  • Poor aim: Target sales missed the spot.

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Valuation velocity

Vietnamese EV startup VinFast completed its merger with a SPAC on Monday and its shares soared 68% on its first day of trading — catapulting its valuation to $86 billion, above automotive giants like Volkswagen, Ford, and GM. However, by Wednesday its shares had seen a sharp drop of around 19%.

The rollercoaster debut of VinFast is a familiar tale in the world of SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies — essentially, a public company with a big blank check that buys a private one. SPACs offer quicker routes to public markets, while skipping some of the due diligence of the traditional IPO process.

SPACs boomed in 2020/21, when they represented a fashionable way to take Silicon Valley's hottest startups public, with prominent examples including the personal finance app SoFi and electric truck company Nikola. Even the likes of WeWork, after its notorious IPO debacle, managed to find solace in a SPAC, and Buzzfeed, the digital media trailblazer, also embraced the trend.

Buzzworthy blunders

Nevertheless, numerous companies that chose the SPAC route have become noteworthy for high-profile missteps under glaring public scrutiny and ongoing struggles with profitability. Buzzfeed was forced to shutter its Pulitzer Prize-winning news division, Nikola's founder Trevor Milton has faced criminal fraud charges, and Bird, a SPAC-aided electric scooter company, admitted to inflating its revenue figures for over 2 years. But it's the plight of WeWork that has occupied headlines in recent weeks: once valued at a staggering $47 billion, it is now worth <$350 million, teetering on the brink of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, as VinFast navigates the post-merger SPAC road, it will be trying not to skid out like so many of its recent predecessors.


Spice lovers might have to fork out if they don’t want to suffer through more bland meals, as the ongoing shortage of sriracha hot sauce has driven resale prices to eye-watering levels — with the iconic red-and-green bottles going for as much as $70 on eBay and $124 on Amazon.

Huy Fong Foods, which retails the rooster-adorned variety of sriracha sauce, released a statement back in April 2022 detailing how poor weather conditions were causing a “severe shortage of chili”. Since then, Huy Fong has faced another year of production issues as pepper paucities have worsened: heatwaves have caused major droughts in the main areas (Mexico, California, and New Mexico) where Sriracha grows the 100 million pounds of chili peppers it requires to reach an annual ~20 million bottle demand.

And, since Huy Fong reported that they have “no estimations of when supply will increase”, hot-heads across the nation are feeling the pinch: there have even been reports of customers stealing bottles from local restaurants.

Piquant performance

While the price of sauces and gravies in general has increased dramatically in recent years — at the end of Q1 2023, the consumer price index for sauces and gravies was up 41% from 2017 — there is a special place in America’s heart for sriracha, with 40 states preferring the hot sauce to good old-fashioned ketchup.

It seems that, despite the ongoing shortage, there is no substitute for the Thai-derived sauce: Google Search data since 2013 shows that Americans consistently seek sriracha over other alternatives. Interestingly, Google searches for “sriracha” increased in mid-2022, after Huy Fong’s statement release, and peaked this month — clearly, reports of fiery bidding wars aren’t enough to stop sriracha being hot property.

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Target’s sales last quarter slumped for the first time since 2017, as the retailer is still struggling to get cash-conscious consumers to spend on non-essential items, as well as battling backlash over the Pride month merchandise that the retailer offered in May.

CEO Brian Cornell admitted on the earnings call that the “negative reaction” had impacted the company’s Q2 revenue — which sat at $24.8 billion, down from $26 billion for the same quarter in 2022 — but added that the retailer would “continue to celebrate Pride and other heritage moments”, while “applying what [they] learned” from the 2023 fallout.  

Retailing off

Target’s sales have been slowing for some time, though analysts and execs have been quick to point out that, since the retailer’s sales figures rocketed during the pandemic, this latest slowdown may simply be more of a reset than a reason for Target to panic. However, compared to its big-box behemoth competitor Walmart, which yesterday posted impressive earnings that saw revenues rise 5.7%, Target is falling even further behind.

Before sales slumped 5% in Q2, Target had been enjoying a 26-quarter streak reaching back to 2016, in which sales had either improved or stayed the same, as its efforts to cement itself as one of America’s biggest retailers expanded. As might be expected, the peak of that growth came during the pandemic, when revenues increased as much as 25% year-over-year — though, in recent quarters, even single-digit growth has been seen as good for America’s 6th-largest retailer.

More Data

• Sharing is caring: Warren Buffet has donated $27 million to an undisclosed charity, as the investor continues with his plan to give away his immense fortune.

NBA star James Harden sold 10,000 bottles of his own-branded wine on a Chinese livestream…in only 14 seconds.

Margot Robbie, the star and producer of megahit Barbie, stands to make $50 million in salary and box office bonuses after the movie’s astounding success.

• Guards at Paris’ most famous tower got an Eiffel on Monday morning, when 2 American tourists were found sleeping there overnight.


• When Peanut Butter met Jelly: this spread is jam-packed with the history of America’s favorite duo.

Disney Parks still have the magic touch — charting its 2022 relative popularity.

Off the charts: Which musical artist, whose very successful album we were charting back in October 2022, is now the subject of a new psychology course at Arizona State University? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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