RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry

Margins and Compensation

Look out below! As capital market valuations apex, so too will RIA margins

Few industries are as susceptible to market conditions as the typical RIA. With revenues directly tied to stock indexes (in the case of equity managers) and a relatively high percentage of fixed costs, industry margins tend to sway with market variations. While the concept of operating leverage is not new to anyone in the asset management industry, it is easy to forget how easy it is for margins to collapse in a market downturn.

Alternative Assets

Valuation concerns mark Southern Capital Forum

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.

Alternative Assets

Unicorn 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.

Alternative Assets

Rules for the Modern Investment Manager

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.

Asset Management Practice Management

The Valuation of Asset Management Firms

In this week’s blog, we present a new whitepaper with some summary thoughts on the valuation of RIAs. Understanding the value of an asset management business requires some appreciation for what is simple and what is complex. On one level, a business with almost no balance sheet, a recurring revenue stream, and an expense base that mainly consists of personnel costs could not be more straightforward. At the same time, asset management firms exist in a narrow space between client allocations and the capital markets, and depend on revenue streams that rarely carry contractual obligations and valuable staff members who often are not subject to employment agreements. In essence, RIAs may be both highly profitable and prospectively ephemeral. Balancing the particular risks and opportunities of a given asset management firm is fundamental to developing a valuation.

Industry Trends

Death Week (for Active Management?)

Mercer Capital’s asset management valuation practice is run from our main office in Memphis, Tennessee, and this time of year here means one thing: Death Week. Every year since his death on August 16, 1977, the city of Memphis spends a week memorializing Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. From all the press lately, you would expect that a similar wake was being held for active management, and with it, much of the RIA community. Elvis is dead, and so too must be active management. We live in the age of auto-tune and robo-advisors, a time when big vocal chords and beating the market have become anachronisms – or are they?

Industry Trends Margins and Compensation

Does Size Matter for RIAs?

Smaller asset managers outperformed their larger brethren over the last year. Still, it’s important to remember that our smallest sector of asset managers (AUM under $10 billion) is the least diversified and therefore most susceptible to company-specific events. Its strength is more attributable to DHIL’s (~80% of the market-weighted index) outsized gain in market value rather than any indication of investor preference towards smaller RIAs.

Current Events Transactions

Simmons First National Acquisition of Ozark Trust and Investment

On April 29th, 2015, Simmons First National Corporation.(NASDAQ ticker: SFNC), announced it has entered into an asset-purchase agreement to acquire Ozark Trust and Investment Corporation (OTIC) and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Trust Company of the Ozarks (TCO), a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) headquartered in Springfield, Missouri. The Trust Company of the Ozarks administers over $1 billion in client assets for over 1,300 clients with a 16% AUM compound annual growth rate. Simmons First National Corporation has agreed to a purchase price of $20.7 million, with a consideration of 75% stock and 25% cash. The deal is to close in quarter 3 of 2015. Unlike most acquisitions of closely held RIAs, the terms of the deal were disclosed via a conference call and investor presentation; the details of which are outlined here.

Investment Management

Mercer Capital provides RIAs, trust companies, and investment consultants with corporate valuation, litigation support, transaction advisory, and related services