NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The Blackstone Group (BX) - Get Report timed the top of the market perfectly with its initial public offering in June 2007; is the planned spinoff of its advisory unit, PJT Partners, a signal that the market is cresting?
"It's a great question. We're certainly long in the tooth in terms of the bull market," said Mac Sykes, an analyst at Gabelli.
Blackstone isn't the only deal adviser tempted to cash out. Houlihan Lokey is also considering an IPO, according to a report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, and there has been speculation Perella Weinberg would also aim to go public. Another boutique that has won several plum advisory assignments of late, Centerview Partners, also looks like a logical IPO candidate. And TPG Capital appears much closer to going public. TPG is apparently well along in raising its first fund after several prominent deals blew up during the financial crisis.
"They've established that investors still like them, and when you go public, you want to put your best foot forward," said Kevin Albert, a longtime private equity fundraising executive who is currently managing director at fund-of-funds giant Pantheon.
Houlihan Lokey and Centerview executives did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Perella and a TPG representative declined to comment.
Blackstone spokesman Peter Rose wrote via e-mail that the PJT spinoff "has nothing to do with a view of the market, but everything to do with unshackling our advisory business from conflicts and creating the premier independent advisory firm for the 21st century."
Rose added that Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman "has not sold any of his units since the IPO, so he has faith that there is still upside."
Blackstone shares priced at $31 on June 21, 2007. They soared to a high of $45 on June 22 but haven't regained that level since. As of Friday, they were at $38.01. Blackstone has also distributed $8 per share in dividends since its IPO.
If Blackstone makes it through a window that closes before rivals pass through, it wouldn't be the first time. The Carlyle Group LP (CG) - Get Report, Apollo Global Management LLC (APO) - Get Report and Oaktree Capital Group LLC (OAK) - Get Report were some of the prestigious private equity firms that had to wait until the market reopened after the crisis to go public.
That history notwithstanding, many market watchers believe the outlook is bright for advisory businesses like PJT, Perella, Centerview and Houlihan. While many banking operations have been subjected to price cuts, advisory fees "have held solid for decades," according to Rafferty Capital Markets analyst Dick Bove. He said the business of advising on deals has better prospects at the moment than any of the other banking-related industries he follows.
"Companies are paying fair prices, financing deals cheaply, putting excess cash to work, saving money on taxes and all of this is combining to give good stock price performance. So as long as those pieces are in place, we don't see anything that's going to derail this M&A cycle," Barclays' equity strategist Jonathan Glionna said at a media breakfast Thursday.
And even if the cycle does turn, Houlihan and PJT appear well positioned. They were the number one and two restructuring advisors in 2014 in terms of announced deals, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Still, if history is any guide when it comes to Blackstone's leaders, it's probably wiser to focus less on what they say and more on what they do.