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.