Investment managers who expected the Square IPO to settle the debate on high private equity valuations have been, so far at least, thoroughly disappointed. Square, Inc. went public on November 17 at just $9 per share and opened debate in a venture community wary of high valuations on whether or not investment terms can compensate for high prices. In other words, do special investor provisions designed to protect late round investors from frothy PE valuations do more harm than good? In our last post on IPOs, we discussed the current imbalance between the public and private markets, in which an exuberance of private equity capital has driven up private valuations and created a dislocation between the privately established value of the firm and the publicly achieved value available at IPO. As a consequence of this phenomenon, IPO activity fell to new lows in the third quarter, as 16% of IPOs downsized their debuts. Square is one of a growing number of companies resorting to equity protections in order to attract late-stage investors, often at the expense of employees and earlier investors.
RIA Valuation Insights
A weekly update on issues important to the Asset Management industry
As the dust settles in the aftermath of the third quarter, we take a look at several earnings calls from pace makers in the RIA industry. Changes in the character of the financial markets is driving change in firm business models, and out of this we see a few common themes that we expect will play a role in shaping the industry going forward.
Concurrent with Madeleine Harrigan’s post last week about IPOs being the new private equity downround, the financial reporting group at Mercer Capital published an interview with the head of the group, Travis Harms, on the difficulties mutual funds face in valuing level 3 assets (think Square). The following is an excerpt from that interview.
There’s something about nature that abhors a vacuum. Right now that vacuum seems to be the imbalance between the public and private markets, with the latter attracting maybe too much interest since the credit crisis, at the expense of the former. Blame fair value accounting or Sarbanes-Oxley or the plaintiff’s bar, but it has been some time since being public was actually considered a good thing. With interest running high in the “alternative asset space” and cheap debt for LBOs, the costs of being public have not been particularly worthwhile. This situation is not sustainable, and was never meant to be. Family businesses can stay private forever, but institutional investors eventually need the kind of liquidity that can only come from the breadth of ownership afforded by established public markets. Valuations are never really proven until exposed to bids and asks.
The shorthand method of valuation in many industries has long been some kind of “rule of thumb,” usually a multiple of some measure of gross scale or activity. In this post, we consider the pitfall of relying strictly on a rule of thumb.
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