Blackstone IPO Signals Private Equity Market is “As Good as it Gets”

Throughout history, what has been one of the worst types of investments to buy? If you answered IPOs, you’re correct. Before commenting on the $4 billion IPO of private equity behemoth Blackstone Group, let’s review why exactly IPOs are such bad investments.

Companies sell stock when demand for shares is high, and they buy stock when interest is lacking. If things are going great, demand will be high and an IPO is the preferred way to cash in. The “smart money” as it’s called, sells to the dumb money.

Well, guess what? Steve Schwarzman and the rest of the Blackstone Group gang is very “smart” money. If they want to sell a piece of their management company to you, it’s probably for a good reason. If they thought the bull market in private equity had a few more years left in the tank, they certainly wouldn’t choose to sell now.

This event, unlike the Fortress Investment Group (FIG) IPO (which I don’t think marks a top in hedge funds), signals that the bull market in private equity, and perhaps in the stock market in general, is running thin. Think back to the Goldman Sachs (GS) IPO. Like Blackstone, Goldman refused to go public for years, but when things got so good, they couldn’t resist anymore. In case you don’t remember, Goldman’s IPO was in 1999 and the market peaked less than a year later.

Much like the bull still ran a bit after GS went public, I don’t think the market will necessarily peak coincidentally with the Blackstone IPO. However, it’s important to understand that IPOs are traditionally bad investments for a reason, and it’s that reason and that reason alone that explains why Blackstone has chosen to go public. Also, be aware that Blackstone is selling a piece of its management company, so investors in the IPO are buying ownership of their 2-and-20 fee income. The IPO proceeds is not going to be used to fund more private equity deals.

Of course, the irony is that private equity’s whole game is convincing companies that the public market isn’t worth the trouble and they would be better suited going private. You know if Blackstone wants to go public there is a pretty good reason why. In this case, that reason is dollar bills. Four billion of them, in fact.

Full Disclosure: No positions in the companies mentioned at time of writing