Apollo Global Gets Higher Price Target, but No Respect

Publicly traded private equity firm Apollo Global Management Inc. (NYSE: APO) received a boost to its price target Tuesday morning when analysts at Jefferies raise the target from $17 to $20 a share while maintaining a Buy rating on the stock. Apollo recently announced take-private deals for The Fresh Market Inc. (NASDAQ: TFM) and ADT Corp. (NYSE: ADT). A third health care acquisition brings Apollo’s total recent spending spree to around $9.4 billion.

So why is Apollo trading below its April 2011 initial public offering (IPO) price of $18 a share? In fact, since Fortress Investment Group LLC (NYSE: FIG) became the first private equity firm to come public in 2007, six of the eight top firms are trading below their IPO prices.

The Financial Times reported Monday that investors appear to have taken private equity (PE) firms at their own word. The firms, that have rebranded themselves as “alternative asset managers,” have thrived on finding undervalued companies, buying them cheap and then generating cash flow. At some point the rejuvenated company is either offered in an IPO or sold outright.

But are investors really undervaluing firms like Blackstone Group L.P. (NYSE: BX), KKR & Co. L.P. (NYSE: KKR) and Carlyle Group L.P. (NASDAQ: CG)? Profits for the firms and their investors come when assets are sold, not when they’re acquired.

According to IPO ETF manager Renaissance Capital, over the past three years, PE-funded companies that have completed IPOs have dropped from 68 in 2013 and 71 in 2014 to just 39 in 2015.  The total dollar value of these IPOs has dropped from $24.5 billion and $25.0 billion to $11.3 billion in the same time span.

Only one of 2015’s PE-backed IPOs raised more than $1 billion — KKR’s launch of First Data Corp. (NYSE: FDC) — and that stock now trades 24% below its IPO price after raising $2.6 billion in the IPO.

Of last year’s 39 IPOs, 14 were PE-backed leveraged buyouts, and they averaged gain of just 3% while 25 IPOs backed by growth equity averaged a loss of 3%. Another seven big leverage-buyout IPOs, including Neiman Marcus and Albertsons, were pushed forward into 2016.

Apollo CEO Leon Black called his firm’s stock price “an absurdity” and announced a $250 million share buyback plan. Carlyle has announced a similarly sized buyback.

KKR will repurchase $500 million in stock, but it cut its quarterly dividend to $0.16 and will keep the bulk of profits, which it plans to invest in its own investment funds.

Investors have effectively told the PE firms that future performance fees are no longer going to be included in the price they pay for a share of PE company stock. Management fees run around 2% for the firms, but the real money comes from the incentive performance fees known as carried interest, which can jump to 20% of the profits after rising above a low bar.

Between 2013 and 2015, the PE firms delivered big profits on a cycle that began years earlier. Now, they argue, they are once again building their assets as the next cycle begins. That does not hold a lot of appeal for many investors who are looking for some help to improve returns that have been very small in recent months and have only a modest prospect of getting better anytime soon.

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