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.
RIA Valuation Insights
A weekly update on issues important to the Asset Management industry
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.
In the two short years since Aileen Lee introduced the term “unicorn” into the VC parlance, the number of such companies has steadily increased from the 39 identified by Lee’s team at Cowboy Ventures to nearly 150 (and growing weekly) by most current estimates. Pundits and analysts have offered a variety of explanations for the phenomenon, with some identifying unicorns as the sign that the tech bubble of the late 1990s has returned under a different guise, others attributing the existence of such companies to structural changes in how innovation is funded in the economy, and the most intrepid of the group suggesting that the previously undreamt valuations are fully supported by the underlying fundamentals given the maturity and ubiquity of the internet, smart phones, tablets, and related technologies.
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