William Ackman Needs a Soothing Pitch After Universal Music Drama

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Pershing Square Tontine Holdings had planned a $4 billion purchase of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group.



Photo:

Bing Guan/Bloomberg News

William Ackman’s

blank-check company picked a good target but a poor deal structure. To keep investors happy, both need to be right on a second attempt.

On Monday,

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings

PSTH -1.36%

’ $4 billion purchase of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group was called off. The world’s biggest record label will be spun off from its French owner

Vivendi

and listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange in September. The SPAC’s investors were offered early exposure to an attractive business at a low valuation.

The deal’s complexity has been part of its undoing. After spending 72% of the SPAC’s cash on the Universal stake, $1.6 billion would be left over for another acquisition. Investors also would get warrants to buy into an additional blank-check deal. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is scrutinizing SPAC deals more closely these days, said that as more than 40% of its assets would be in a minority stake, Pershing Square Tontine risked becoming an unregistered investment company.

The SPAC’s workaround caused a headache for investors. The Universal shares were to be locked up in a trust for four months, which would trigger a fall in Pershing Square Tontine’s share price—bad news for a sizable chunk of the SPAC’s shareholders who bought the stock on margin. The final nail in the coffin was the SEC’s opinion that the Universal stock purchase wouldn’t meet the New York Stock Exchange’s SPAC rules.

Mr. Ackman still gets his hands on the record label because the

Pershing Square Holdings

PSH -4.85%

hedge fund will buy the stake instead. This way, though, he will tie up a lot more capital in Universal than initially planned. Under the original deal, his fund would have owned a 3% stake but that number could now be closer to 10%.

More pressing is the need to pacify institutional investors and family offices that liked the idea of a stake in Universal and missed out. The deal also was supposed to showcase what the hedge-fund billionaire could accomplish with future blank-check vehicles. It hasn’t been a good start.

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings’ shares are down almost one-fifth since the Universal deal was announced and now trade just in line with their net asset value. Its founder has learned the lesson to keep things simple; the SPAC will do a conventional deal next, according to an investor letter Monday. Investors will be harder to impress the second time around.

Write to Carol Ryan at carol.ryan@wsj.com

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