Major Acquisitions of Alternative Asset Managers Signal Continued Outperformance

Alternative Assets

As we wrote in our most recent investment manager sector highlight, Public Alt Asset Managers Have Nearly Doubled in Value Over the Last Year, alternative asset managers have outperformed all other investment manager sectors in the RIA post-pandemic rebound. According to Institutional Investor, eight of the world’s ten largest investment management firms by market capital are now alternative asset managers. Most notably, the private equity firm Blackstone surpassed the world’s largest investment management firm by AUM, Black Rock, as the most highly valued stand-alone investment management firm back in September of this year.

The demand for investment management firms continues to reach new highs and has culminated in a number of prominent acquisitions over the past year. In the past month alone, three deal announcements of alternative asset managers by larger, traditional asset management firms and diversified financial institutions suggest the sector remains bullish.

  • Franklin Templeton to acquire Lexington Partners acquisition – Nov. 1, 2021. At the time of the announcement, Lexington Partners managed $34.0 billion in AUM primarily in secondary private equity investments and co-investment funds. The deal marks Franklin Templeton’s second private equity acquisition in the past three years after acquiring Benefit Street Partners in 2019.
  • T. Rowe Price to acquire Oak Hill Advisors – Oct. 28, 2021. The alternative credit provider, Oak Hill Advisors, currently manages about $52.0 billion in AUM. The $4.2 billion acquisition marks T. Rowe Price’s first in more than a decade.
  • Macquarie Asset Management to acquire Central Park Group – Oct 21, 2021. Central Park Group is a private equity and real estate investment firm located in New York and has AUM of approximately $3.5 billion.

Demand Drivers for Alternative Assets vs. Demand Drivers for Alternative Managers

The deals listed above are indicative of strong demand for both alternative assets and the firms that manage them. While the niche investment expertise and narrow market presence of alternative asset management firms can sometimes complicate transactions, traditional investment managers are nevertheless finding value in the alternative asset management models which have proven to be highly profitable, resilient, and may be bolted on to existing asset management teams. Below, we look at several factors driving investor demand for alternative assets and for alternative asset management firms.

Alternative Asset Demand & Performance Drivers:

  1. A low yield environment. When interest rates fall, investors are encouraged to take higher degrees of risk to maintain prior levels of return. Certain alternative assets such as private equity and venture capital are generally considered higher risk, higher reward investments. Interest rates have remained at historic lows since the Great Recession and dipped further during 2020.
  2. Heightened volatility. In times of heightened market volatility, investors flock to real assets and private equity which is less prone to price swings. Additionally, certain options-heavy investment firms are also positioned to benefit as the volatility on the underlying is directly related to the options value. The historic market volatility throughout the pandemic era has benefited hedge fund performance and left investors flocking to “safer” asset classes.
  3. Robust exit activity. While markets have been exceedingly volatile over the past year and a half, they have more than recovered from the lows at the onset of the pandemic. Asset inflation has run rampant, particularly in the private equity and venture capital space which is now well positioned to benefit from strong exit activity in the coming years.
  4. Inflation. According to data from Trading Economics, annualized inflation in October 2021 was 6.2%, the highest level in decades. Certain alternative asset classes are widely considered to be inflation hedges. Real assets such as commodities and private real estate traditionally outperform in times of high inflation because returns are tied to capital appreciation.

Demand Drivers for Alternative Asset Manager Acquisitions:

  1. Positive Fund Flows. According to PWC’s midyear outlook for private equity, investor appetite for private equity has outpaced traditional investment manager fund flows over the past five years. Sector AUM increased nearly 20% in 2020 alone, and the trend seems to be gaining momentum. Currently, PE dry powder is at an all-time high at $150.1 billion, which is reflective of strong fundraising and investor demand.
  2. Fees. Alternative asset managers seem to be somewhat immune to fee compression which has been one of the strongest headwinds for asset management for over a decade. The widespread consensus among money managers is that alternative assets justify premium fees due to purported diversification benefits, higher return, and expertise needed to execute such strategies. The opaque nature of the investment strategies and asset classes employed by alternative asset managers may also help these firms avoid fee compression.
  3. Diversification. Implicit in most asset management models is operating leverage. Because revenues are directly tied to the performance of the market and expenses remain somewhat fixed to compensation and overhead, diversifying firm exposure by broadening product offering may smooth out the bottom line. For this reason, alternative asset management firms can make strong acquisition targets for traditional asset managers.

While fund flows may taper off if systemic tailwinds subside, alternative asset managers will likely remain strong acquisition targets for traditional asset managers due to diversification benefits and superior fees. Additionally, demand for alternative asset managers from other financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies looking to gain exposure to the investment space will also likely remain strong.