Alternative investment managers took off in the wake of the financial crisis when investors flocked to risk mitigating strategies and uncorrelated asset classes; however, during 2015 and 2016 these businesses floundered against a backdrop of strong equity market performance. Alt managers bounced back in 2017, and over the last twelve months, have continued to perform well. Despite improving performance over the last two years, the industry continues to face a number of headwinds, including fee pressure, expanding index opportunities, and relative underperformance.
While we put off writing about bitcoin, the attention that cryptocurrencies received in late 2017 got our attention as a barometer for trends that will buffet the investment management industry in 2018. In this post, we highlight five reasons bitcoin matters to all investment managers.
Our colleagues down the hall who focus on the portfolio valuation side of our services to the asset management community have an extensive new study on the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s guidance for recognizing the fair value of corporate venture capital, or Accounting Standards Update 2016-01.
We think performance fees will likely continue to fall (in one form or another), but, like active management, never be totally eliminated. So on balance, a modestly improving outlook for the sector is probably justified after a rough 2015 and 2016 for most industry participants.
The stock market rallied in the first five months of the year, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 reaching record highs and continuing to climb. Nevertheless, IPOs remain scarce compared to prior years.
With the rapid rise of corporate venture capital and increasing pressure to jump on board with startups, it seems that many companies across the industry spectrum are making venture investments.
Over the past decade, we have been retained by several investment funds to assist them in responding to formal and informal SEC investigations regarding fair value measurement of portfolio investments. Reflecting back on those engagements yields a couple observations and reminders for funds and fund managers as they go through the quarterly valuation process.
Just a few days ago, the largest publicly traded hedge fund, Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, agreed to pay $413 million to settle federal charges that it disbursed more than $100 million in bribes to African government officials. Even before this announcement, the hedge fund industry was in quite the slump.
After a steady build up since the end of the credit crisis, it appears that 2016 is going to be marked as the year when the venture capital industry lost momentum, although not for a lack of investors. The birth rate of new unicorns has slowed considerably since their 2015 baby-boom, even as the VC market remains dominated by tremendous inflows of capital in late-stage companies. Money has continued to pour in as riskier VC investments are still expected to outperform listed alternatives due to volatile public markets, higher multiples, low interest rates, and the less-than-stellar performance of the global economy. The source of new capital has changed, however, as the venture industry saw a marked increase in nontraditional investors – including pension plans, hedge funds and mutual funds.
Earlier this month, Mercer Capital had the pleasure of helping sponsor the Southern Capital Conference, an annual gathering of venture capital and private equity GPs, as well as the LPs who invest with them. If you believe everything you read about this segment of the investment community, you might expect a fair amount of groaning from the General Partners, with private equity managers under pressure to improve performance, negotiate fees, and increase transparency. The reality was very different.
Unfavorable IPO market conditions have led many companies to alternative exits such as M&A, but a growing number of venture capital firms have also turned towards another source for cheap cash: debt.
In for a Dime, In for a Dollar
Recently, SEC Chair Mary Jo White gave a keynote speech to attendees of the SEC’s and Rock Center’s Silicon Valley Initiative, an event bringing together regulators, academics and entrepreneurs to discuss issues affecting venture capital and private equity within Silicon Valley. Although the audience may have been targeted, White’s speech provides insight into the SEC’s concern over the lack of transparency, governance and oversight in the PE and VC industries.
Value Play or Falling Knife?
Last week, Affiliated Managers Group (ticker: AMG) announced the completion of its investment in three alternative asset managers – Capula Investment Management LLP, Mount Lucas Management LP, and Capeview Capital LLP. This post discusses this transaction against the dim alternative asset management market environment.
As mutual fund flows continue to favor passive strategies, some active fund managers are beginning to look to alternative asset classes to augment returns and generate sustainable alpha. Since open-end funds need to calculate NAV on a daily basis, the inclusion of illiquid venture capital investments in liquid funds shines a brighter spotlight on fair value measurement.
2015 was a peak for private equity, but as 2015 unfolded, so did a growing imbalance between the public and the private markets. In this post, we consider recent trends and wonder – what’s next for VC?
Barring Basis Risk, Barron’s is Bullish
Despite 195 nations signing onto the Paris Climate Conference commitment to clean energy last week, it looks like Santa will be stuffing most asset managers’ stockings with coal this Christmas. Hopefully it’s at least low-sulfur.
December has been a rough slog for the RIA space. So far it’s mostly been attributed to the cracks in high yield credit. With junk bonds stumbling shortly after Thanksgiving, managers with large high yield offerings are feeling the Grinch. One standout example: WDR. Waddell & Reed’s Ivy High Income Fund has suffered huge outflows this year. Pile outflows with asset devaluation and WDR’s stock has gotten crushed, losing almost a quarter of the company’s equity market cap so far this month (!).
The International Private Equity and Venture Capital Valuation (IPEV) Guidelines were developed in 2005 to set out recommendations on best practices in the valuation of private equity investments. The IPEV Board is made up of leading industry associations from around the world, including the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council (PEGCC) in the United States. In October 2015, the IPEV Board published draft amendments to the existing guidelines that, if approved, will go into effect at the beginning of 2016.
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.
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.
Are VC trends the canary in the RIA coal mine?
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.
What’s Obvious Isn’t Real, and What’s Real Isn’t Obvious
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.
On May 20, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed new rules and amendments to modernize and enhance information reported by investment companies and investment advisers. The proposed rules would be applicable to most investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and all investment advisers registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
Our process when providing periodic fair value marks for venture capital fund investments in pre-public companies is described. This process includes examining the most recent financing round economics, adjusting valuation inputs the measurement date, measuring fair value, and reconciling and testing for reasonableness.