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Blackstone is the largest alternative asset manager, with over $1 trillion in assets as of the end of last year. According to FactSet, Blackstone has a 19.7% revenue share of the diverse alternative investment market.

In total, it has stakes in 230 companies and around 12,500 real estate assets. While high interest rates and a significant slowing in IPOs and dealmaking have hurt many financial stocks, alternative asset managers are an exception, with a 45% gain in 2023, outpacing the S&P 500’s 24% increase. Blackstone climbed nearly 70%.

Blackstone is bullish in 2024 as it sees a bottom in real estate and an improved environment due to the Fed cutting rates. However, it doesn’t see a V-shaped recovery. Instead, the firm anticipates a longer period of bottoming out when there could be more dislocations. 

Weakness in real estate is reflected in Blackstone’s results, as 2023 earnings were down 23% from the previous year. Real estate revenue was down 51%. Its two major real estate funds were down 6% and 4% for the year, respectively. As a result, the firm only spent $15 billion on real estate investments, down from $47 billion the previous year. 

Finsum: Blackstone is the leading alternative investment manager in the world. Its stock was up nearly 70% in 2023, despite a double-digit drop in earnings. The company is bullish in 2024 due to the anticipation of a bottom in real estate and improved conditions with lower rates.  

Thursday, 21 March 2024 12:05

UBS Late to Wealth Management M&A

This time last year, UBS was embarking on its takeover of the distressed Credit Suisse. Understandably, this slowed its pursuit of other M&A targets. However, the bank is now ready to target larger wealth management firms.

UBS CEO Sergio P. Ermotti recently spoke at the Morgan Stanley European Financials conference. He sees the bank targeting US wealth managers for acquisitions in an effort to boost the profitability of this division. His goal is to narrow the gap between UBS and its rivals following a 72% decline in the unit’s Q4 earnings. 

However, many are skeptical about UBS’ strategy given the aggressive moves made by competitors in the last few years. According to Larry Roth, the managing partner at RLR Strategic Partner, “UBS could be late to the M&A party, which already has significant, well-run firms that are having success in this area.” Further, attractive targets are likely to have multiple bidders and rich valuations. 

Another concern is that there is no guarantee that these large acquisitions will work. A recent example is UBS’ attempted purchase of Wealthfront for $1.4 billion in January 2022 with the intention that it could help the bank recruit Wealthfront’s younger clients. The deal was scrapped by regulators and shareholders. 

Acquisitions are essential for UBS to fuel growth, given its challenges in retaining talent. UBS's advisors generate more than $1 million in average annual revenue and fees. This makes them an appealing target for RIAs or independent broker-dealers with more earnings potential. 

Finsum: UBS is betting on a more aggressive M&A strategy to bolster its US wealth management division. Yet, many believe that the bank’s efforts may not succeed given higher valuations for attractive targets and recruiting challenges.

On January 10, the SEC approved 11 spot bitcoin ETFs. Vanguard quickly made the decision to not offer a bitcoin ETF. The decision has been met with resistance from customers. Recently, CEO Tim Buckley provided more insight into this decision, given that this has been a constant source of inquiry.

Overall, the firm doesn’t believe that bitcoin is a suitable investment option for a retirement plan, given the asset’s volatility and speculative nature. Buckley also rejects the notion that bitcoin is a 'store of value’, pointing to its severe declines in the past and correlation with equities. For example, bitcoin dropped from $69,000 to $16,000 between 2021 and 2022, while the S&P 500 was down 21% during this period from peak to trough.

Buckley added that he doesn’t believe that Vanguard will offer a bitcoin ETF until something significantly shifts in the asset class. In contrast, Vanguard only invests in asset classes with underlying cash flow. With equities, this refers to the future earnings of a company. For bonds, it can be calculated through a bond’s coupon and principal. Since bitcoin has failed to function as an effective ‘store of value’ and generates no cash flow at the moment, it remains purely a speculative asset, which makes it inconsistent with Vanguard’s principles and ethos. 

Finsum: Vanguard is not offering a bitcoin ETF, unlike many of its major competitors. CEO Tim Buckley shared why bitcoin is more of a speculative asset and unfit for long-term investing. 

2024 has been underwhelming so far for REITs, as evidenced by the iShares US Real Estate ETF’s YTD 4.5% decline, while the S&P 500 is up 9% YTD. Two major reasons for this underperformance are continued struggles for the office segment and less clarity about the outlook for monetary policy, following a series of stronger than expected labor market and inflation data.

However, the intermediate-term outlook for the sector remains favorable due to attractive yields and earnings growth despite a challenging, near-term environment. Further, most segments are in good shape. According to Steve Brown, the senior portfolio manager at American Century Investments, “The REIT industry is very diversified among different sectors like data centers, towers, and industrial, and office is only about 4 or 5 percent of the index. So while office has issues, many other property sectors have pricing power and can raise rents greater than inflation.” 

He also favors public REITs over private REITs, as public REITs are cheaper while offering more liquidity. He notes that many private REITs are still trading at or just above net asset value (NAV), while public REITs are trading at an average 20% discount to NAV. Overall, he sees a much more benign environment in 2024, especially once the Fed starts cutting rates.  

Finsum: REITs have had a rocky start to the year. However, the fundamentals for the sector continue to improve, while many of its challenges are already reflected in depressed valuations.

Wednesday, 20 March 2024 04:58

Clients Want Authenticity

Navigating social media poses considerable challenges for financial advisors, firm executives, and other professionals, where every post and interaction can potentially impact their professional reputation. However, there's a new strategy emerging, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing the personal aspect first, according to April Rudin, founder and CEO of The Rudin Group.


 This shift represents a departure from previous conventions that primarily emphasized showcasing professional backgrounds. Rudin suggests that delving into personal beliefs, passions, and backgrounds can serve as effective conversation starters and entry points for new business opportunities and recruitment efforts. 


While maintaining professionalism remains paramount, there's an increasing recognition of the value in showcasing one's personality and individuality within the confines of firm guidelines. As social media continues to play an integral role in professional networking and client engagement, Rudin's advice underscores the importance of authenticity and human connection in the digital realm.

Finsum: Standing out in a world of increased AI and robo advisors could mean putting more personality into your practice. 


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