RIA stocks continued to have strong performance during the second quarter, with most individual stocks in our indices hovering near 52-week highs today. Performance varied by sector, with alternative asset managers faring particularly well over the last quarter. Our index of alternative asset managers was up 26% during the quarter, reflecting bullish investor sentiment for these companies based in part on long-term secular tailwinds resulting from rising asset allocations to alternative assets. The index of traditional asset and wealth managers rose 15% during the quarter, with performance driven by rising AUM balances and favorable market conditions. The stock price performance of RIA aggregators trailed other categories, with the aggregator index increasing only 6% during the quarter. Weak relative performance for the RIA aggregators may be reflective of mixed investor sentiment towards the aggregator model.
While the opportunity for consolidation in the RIA space is significant, investors in aggregator models have expressed mounting concern about rising competition for deals and high leverage at many aggregators which may limit the ability of these firms to continue to source attractive deals.
The upward trend in publicly traded asset and wealth manager share prices over the last quarter is promising for the industry, but it should be evaluated in the proper context. Many of these public companies continue to face headwinds including fee pressure, asset outflows, and the rising popularity of passive investment products. These trends have especially impacted smaller publicly traded asset managers, while larger scaled asset managers have generally fared better. For the largest players in the industry, increasing scale and cost efficiencies have allowed these companies to offset the negative impact of declining fees. Market performance during the second quarter was generally better for larger firms, with firms managing more than $100B in assets outperforming their smaller counterparts.
As valuation analysts, we’re often interested in how earnings multiples have evolved over time, since these multiples can reflect market sentiment for the asset class. LTM earnings multiples for publicly traded asset and wealth management firms declined significantly during the first and second quarters last year—reflecting the market’s anticipation of lower earnings due to large decreases in client assets attributable to the overall market decline. Multiples have since recovered as prospects for earnings growth have improved with AUM balances.
Implications for Your RIA
The value of public asset and wealth managers provides some perspective on investor sentiment towards the asset class, but strict comparisons with privately held RIAs should be made with caution. Many of the smaller publics are focused on active asset management, which has been particularly vulnerable to the headwinds such as fee pressure and asset outflows to passive products. Many smaller, privately held RIAs, particularly those focused on wealth management for HNW and UHNW individuals, have been more insulated from industry headwinds, and the fee structures, asset flows, and deal activity for these companies have reflected this.
The market for privately held RIAs has remained strong as investors have flocked to the recurring revenue, sticky client base, low capex needs, and high margins that these businesses offer. Like the public companies, value likely declined during the first quarter of last year, but these were largely paper losses (not many transactions were completed based on value during the height of the downturn). Likely, not more than a quarter or two of billing was impacted last year by the market downturn. Since then, revenue and profitability have recovered rapidly, and value has likely improved as well similar to the publicly traded asset/wealth managers.
The outlook for RIAs depends on a number of factors. Investor demand for a particular manager’s asset class, fee pressure, rising costs, and regulatory overhang can all impact RIA valuations to varying extents. The one commonality, though, is that RIAs are all impacted by the market.
The impact of market movements varies by sector, however. Alternative asset managers tend to be more idiosyncratic but are still influenced by investor sentiment regarding their hard-to-value assets. Wealth manager valuations are somewhat tied to the demand from consolidators while traditional asset managers are more vulnerable to trends in asset flows and fee pressure. Aggregators and multi-boutiques are in the business of buying RIAs, and their success depends on their ability to string together deals at attractive valuations with cheap financing.
On balance, the outlook for RIAs has generally improved with market conditions over the last several months. AUM has risen with the market over this time, and it’s likely that industry-wide revenue and earnings have as well. With markets near all time highs, most RIAs are well positioned for strong financial performance in the back half of the year.