Last week brought the news that PE firm Hellman & Friedman acquired a controlling interest in mega wealth manager Edelman Financial. Edelman is headed by radio-show personality Ric Edelman and manages about $15 billion for over 28,000 clients. While terms of the deal were not officially disclosed, the Wall Street Journal reported the transaction valued Edelman at a number north of $800 million, a nice pickup on Edelman’s going private deal in 2012, which transacted the company at $263 million. The financial press was practically hyperventilating over the price last week, but a little analysis on the number reveals pricing that is more normal than most would imagine.
RIA Valuation Insights
A weekly update on issues important to the Asset Management industry
A particularly rocky quarter for the equity markets precipitated huge market cap losses for most of the publicly traded hedge funds and PE firms. The lone bright spot and only sector component to generate a positive return over the last year is Blackstone, which benefited from strong performance fees on its portfolio company investments earlier this year. Still, the stock is down over 20% since its peak in May, which shows just how volatile the industry can be, particularly during times of market distress.
Q3 was an especially bad quarter for asset managers, with the group losing over $40 billion in market capitalization during a six week skid. Given the sector’s run since the last financial crisis, many suggest this was overdue and only pulls RIA valuation levels closer to their historic norms. The multiple contraction reflects lower AUM balances and the anticipation of reduced fees on a more modest asset base.
Few industries are as susceptible to market conditions as the typical RIA. With revenues directly tied to stock indexes (in the case of equity managers) and a relatively high percentage of fixed costs, industry margins tend to sway with market variations. While the concept of operating leverage is not new to anyone in the asset management industry, it is easy to forget how easy it is for margins to collapse in a market downturn.
Mercer Capital had a great time sponsoring the Southern Capital Forum on Lake Oconee last week. The annual gathering of the venture community is a favorite to check in with many of our clients and get a read on capital markets from some intentional listening. Beautiful weather and the bucolic surroundings of Reynolds Plantation helped, and on the second day of the conference, Janet Yellen kept her foot on the cost of capital. So what’s not to like? Despite the generally upbeat attitude of the sponsor community, and plenty of planned fund raisings, we heard one theme repeated over and over again that threatens the broader asset management world: stretched valuations.
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