CryptocurrencyInvestingBanksReal Estate

Fresh off its Nikola bombshell, short-seller Hindenburg issues blistering report on celebrity-backed Clover Health

February 4, 2021, 5:34 PM UTC

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.

Short-sellers took a beating in last week’s epic GameStop rally, resulting in one of the elder statesmen of the trade, Andrew Left of Citron Research, stepping away from the high-risk practice of betting against stocks.

But don’t count the shorts out just yet.

On Thursday, short-activist research firm Hindenburg Research published a blistering report targeting Clover Health, the health-tech startup backed by prominent venture capitalist and so-called King of SPACs, Chamath Palihapitiya. The health insurer also counts Google parent Alphabet as an investor; Chelsea Clinton sits on the board.

Hindenburg, best known for its takedown last year of EV startup Nikola, charges Clover Health “and its Wall Street celebrity promoter, Chamath Palihapitiya, misled investors about critical aspects of Clover’s business in the run-up to the company’s SPAC go-public transaction last month.”

Specifically, the report accuses the Nasdaq-listed Clover Health (ticker: CLOV) of failing to disclose “that its business model and its software offering, called the Clover Assistant, are under active investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is investigating at least 12 issues ranging from kickbacks to marketing practices to undisclosed third-party deals, according to a Civil Investigative Demand (similar to a subpoena) we obtained.”

Shares in Clover Health fell 15% at the open of trading today, about an hour after the Hindenburg report went public, before recovering some.

Asked by Fortune to address the allegations in the report, Clover Health said it would provide a comment “in the next few hours.” A spokesperson for Palihapitiya, meanwhile, did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

@Chamath

Palihapitiya has become something of a populist hero to retail investors, particularly the Reddit brigade. Sure enough, Clover Health investors and stock watchers took to Twitter on Thursday to urge Palihapitiya to give his side of the story, ostensibly to support the stock price amid a free fall. They also sought to martial investor support from fellow day traders to buy into the stock, evidently to trigger a rally, and squeeze out the shorts.

There was one big problem with that tactic: Hindenburg has zero exposure to Clover Health at the moment.

“We have no position (short or long) in Clover Health because we think in this moment for public markets, it is more important for people to understand the role short sellers play in exposing fraud and corporate malfeasance,” Hindenburg wrote in the report. The point: In this climate of hostility between retail investors and the short investor community, Hindenburg would rather send a message than pad out its portfolio.

That curveball seemed to unsettle some of the Twitter masses. “You state you have no position in $CLOV,” one Twitter user replied to Hindenburg’s tweet about the report. “What is your motivation to put so much money and time into such a report?”

The loss-making Clover Health went public on Jan. 8. after the company was acquired by Palihapitiya’s special purpose acquisition company, Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings III last autumn. Clover Health is the third of Palihapitiya’s SPACs to go public.

Supporting the little guy

Palihapitiya, the former Facebook executive and serial investor, has emerged as a prominent voice in support of retail investors, repeatedly warning his 1.2 million Twitter followers that they are right to be wary of Wall Street. He’s also used his platform to go on the offensive against short-sellers, another target of day traders’ ire.

In Thursday’s report, Hindenburg pointed out in numerous places where it shares the same philosophy as Palihapitiya, writing:

“Chamath has expressed views we wholeheartedly agree with: 1. Wall Street is a corrupt cesspool…2. When things go south, bankers and executives cry for bailouts and regulation to stack the deck…3. People should not be censored.”

Where Palihapitiya and Hindenburg founder Nathan Anderson remain far apart is on the value of SPACs.

Lesser-scrutinized SPACs have become the favored vehicle to raise big money on the quick in a bull market. According to Goldman Sachs, SPACs have outnumbered traditional IPOs in both number and heft so far this year—that’s after a record 2020. “During the first three weeks of 2021,” Goldman wrote in a recent research note, “SPAC IPO proceeds have totaled $16 billion across 56 new SPAC IPOs while just $4 billion was raised across nine traditional IPOs.”

Anderson told Fortune last year he worries that the billions raised in the SPAC boom could create an investment climate where dodgy businesses go public and unwitting investors get burned.

Hindenburg alleges one such company is Clover Health.

“While Chamath has seemingly taken every opportunity available to present himself as a beacon of rigorous due diligence and Wall Street know-how, our 4-month investigation led us to conclude that Clover Health’s culture is rooted in deception and has taken every opportunity to push or break the rules to mislead its customers, investors, and Medicare,” Hindenburg writes.

More must-read finance coverage from Fortune: