Shares of mortgage firm Better tank in debut

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By Dan Sears

Shares in Better, the company whose CEO fired 900 workers by Zoom in 2021, plummeted more than 95% on Thursday as investors snubbed the online mortgage lender, which went public via a blank-check company merger just as mortgage rates have hit two-decade highs.

SoftBank-backed Better completed its combination with special purpose acquisition company Aurora Acquisition Corp on Thursday, a deal that was first announced in 2021 but delayed amid regulatory scrutiny and layoffs, regulatory filings show.

Aurora went public in March 2021.

Shares in Better Home & Finance Holding, the newly merged entity, fell as low as 77 cents in early trading, and closed down 93% at $1.15.

SPACs are shell companies that raise funds through a public listing with the goal of acquiring a private company and taking it public. Investors in the SPAC typically have the option to redeem their shares before the merger.

In Better’s case, 95% of Aurora shareholders redeemed their shares, leaving the SPAC’s trust account with roughly $24 million at the end of June from about $283 million at the end of last year, filings show.

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Typically, a small amount of publicly available shares makes a stock prone to volatility.

Better CEO Vishal Garg fired 900 workers by Zoom in 2021.
Better CEO Vishal Garg fired 900 workers by Zoom in 2021.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the share price move.

The completion of Better’s merger with Aurora will provide the mortgage lender with an infusion of $550 million from SoftBank, which it will use to expand its mortgage product offerings, CEO Vishal Garg told Reuters in an interview earlier this week.

Better is going public as mortgage rates continue to surge, with the popular 30-year fixed rate last week hitting the highest level since December 2000, helping drive mortgage applications to a 28-year low, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday.

That came after yields on US government bonds that influence home-loan rates surged to the highest since the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Better logo
Better is going public as mortgage rates continue to surge.

Better enjoyed huge growth during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when mortgage rates cratered, notching more than $850 million in revenue in 2020, filings show.

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But it has struggled as rates have risen, reporting a net first quarter loss of $89.9 million in July.

The company, however, expects a boom in demand for refinancings next year, when the Federal Reserve is expected to start cutting interest rates, which in turn would cause Treasury bond yields and mortgage rates to fall.

“We think that this is a really great time for us to be out there, capitalized with an additional $550 million from SoftBank that will enable the company to continue to innovate and serve its customers,” CEO Garg told Reuters.

Better Home & Finance began trading on the Nasdaq on Thursday.
Better Home & Finance began trading on the Nasdaq on Thursday.

Amid ultra-low interest rates, the SPAC market exploded in 2021, but quickly drew scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission, concerned some investors were getting a raw deal.

Since then, Federal Reserve interest rate hikes aimed at taming inflation and an SEC crackdown have put a damper on the SPAC market, and redemption rates have risen.

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