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(In)Famous Securities Lending Transactions - Episode 5: Nikola Corporation

From the desk of Jeroen Bakker,

Benelux Consulting Lead, Pierpoint Financial

In the fifth episode on (In)Famous Securities Lending Transactions, we change our perspective from retrospective to prospective. In previous blogs in this series, I have looked back and commented on what happened with the stock in relation to securities lending fee and utilisation, what caused the interest and whether there were any ’winners’.

This episode delves deeper into a recent IPO on the NASDAQ, the zero-emission vehicle company Nikola Corporation. Nikola has been frequently in the news lately for different reasons; however I will get to that later. First, with the securities lending data provided by FIS Astec Analytics, I am going to have a look at the stock price movements, securities lending fee and utilisation around this IPO.

Nikola NKLA - a short selling target
Nikola - high flier or falling to earth?

Initial Public Offering (IPO)

An initial public offering is a process of offering shares of a private company to the public via a new stock issuance resulting in new capital for the company. Usually, the stock price during an IPO is very volatile and therefore interesting for short-sellers and intraday traders. As a result, securities lending fees are typically inflated during the first weeks after an IPO. This in combination with a low supply of stock available for loan as investors build their positions, makes for an excellent opportunity enabling early investors and lenders to generate revenue.


Nikola stock started trading on the NASDAQ on June 4, 2020, and after three weeks the company was valued at $27bn with 360.9mn shares outstanding.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Throughout the months of June and July, there was high volatility in the stock price with highs of around $80 and lows of around $30, but in general, a trading range between $30 and $50 materialised after July.

From a securities lending perspective, utilisation is instantly high after the IPO at close to 100%, for two reasons:

  • Not a lot of stock available – many agent lenders don’t know if their clients have subscribed to the IPO as the original settlement of the stock will not have taken place immediately.

  • Many short sellers want to benefit from a potentially over-subscribed IPO and therefore potentially overheated stock price

From a securities lending fee perspective, I have used the fee on the date of the IPO as 100 and indexed the fee accordingly. Fee levels spiked within two weeks after the IPO peaking at around 800% for a month, followed by a rapid drop by the end of July.

All in all, a relatively straightforward image of an IPO stock. End of story or not?

As said earlier, Nikola has lately been frequently in the news with regard to potential malpractice or fraud. On September 10 Hindenburg Research published a report that calls “Nikola an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies over the course of its Founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton’s career”.

In short, the Hindenburg report’s research analyst makes allegations including:

  • Trevor Milton misled investors on the proprietary technology

  • The video “Nikola One in motion” was staged

  • Inexpensive hydrogen, which is key for the development, has not been produced at -81% of the costs, as the company claims

  • An electricity cable was linked to one of the trucks claimed as fully functional

  • The order book is filled with “fluff”.

As a result of the report, the share price of Nikola dropped 35% resulting in a market capitalisation of $11.8bn, more than $15bn less than at its early peak price. In the days following the report, at least one investor filed a lawsuit in the US against the company based on the information produced by Hindenburg.

Source Yahoo Finance

The latest securities lending figures show that there is an uptick in both levels and utilisation which means short-sellers have found their way to Nikola. At the time of writing this blog (16 September) utilisation is still rather low at around 25%, but fees are creeping up to the 5% mark.


Conclusion? There is no conclusion….yet, but we can draw a potential picture of two model scenarios whereby a short seller puts on a short of 1mn shares of NKLA US as we write this article.

Scenario 1 – NKLA price rises in 6 months from $32 to its year high of $80 – SBL fee to drop to 50bps and collateral cost are 50bps per annum

Scenario 2 – NKLA price drops in 6 months from $32 to $1.00, SBL fee increases to 10% and collateral costs are 50bps per annum

For both examples, I used a straight line from the initial share price to the close-out share price.

Nikola: the next Wirecard or no actual directional play at all? Time will tell, so watch this space.

Let me know if you have any particular stocks or arbitrages you want to learn know more about. Here at Pierpoint Financial Consulting, we are always happy to dig into situations and see if we can give an explanation.

P.S. In between writing and posting this blog further developments have taken place. On Monday 21 September it was announced that founder Trevor Milton will step down as executive chairman and be replaced by Stephen Girsky, a former vice chairman of General Motors. Shares in Nikola fell almost 30 percent in early trading on Monday.

Maybe the six months timeframe of the above mentioned example is too long……

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