The Deal: M&A Up For Alternative Asset Managers

NEW YORK ( The Deal) -- Alternative asset management is earmarked as a sector ripe for deal activity, as banks restructure and private equity players diversify.

Dealmakers say regulation such as the Volcker Rule (which restricts banks from certain speculative investments) along with higher capital requirements, have prompted many banks to divest their alternative asset businesses.

By contrast, private equity firms and players unencumbered by tougher regulation have been broadening their mandates. Yet advisers say activity is steady rather than a flurry, given the difficulty in valuing performance fees and hedge fund businesses.

Sandler O'Neill + Partners managing director in investment banking Chris Browne said asset management was mostly a buyer's market. "It's not as easy to go to market with a sell-side mandate, unless that business is a very differentiated long-only manager or an alternative manager," he said.

Browne noted approximately 37% of all asset manager sector deal activity in the first half of the year involved alternative managers. He cited Fidelity and Franklin Templeton as examples of managers seeking to boost their investment offerings with fund-of-hedge-fund products.

There were 73 asset management deals in the first half of 2013 according to Sandler O'Neill, a 10% decrease from the first half of last year.

And for the second quarter of 2013, targets accounted for $641 billion of asset under management versus $671 billion in the first quarter.

Banks continue to divest alternative asset units-- Credit Suisse ( CS) last week announced the sale of its $20 billion private equity business to Grosvenor Capital in a deal said to be worth more than $200 million. Bankers said such sales typically attracted higher multiples than for a core banking business, making divestments an efficient way to generate capital rather than conduct a fund raising.

Many private equity firms are willing buyers of these assets. Seward & Kissel partner Jim Abbott noted the transformation of large PE players--which traditionally focus on leveraged buyouts--into full service investment managers, investing in debt, CLO management and alternatives.

"A number of PE firms are doing minority and majority deals taking stakes in hedge fund managers with more to come" he said.

Recent sector deals include Dyal Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by Neuberger Berman Group, acquiring a 20% stake in $2.4 billion hedge fund manager Capstone Investment Advisors in June.

Earlier in the year, Aquiline Capital Partners and Genstar Capital Partners agreed to acquire Genworth Financial Wealth Management and Altegris--an alternatives business--from -- Genworth Financial ( GNW) for around $412.5 million.

Abbott said hedge funds offered an annuity-like fee stream to potential acquirers, while new regulatory costs for alternative managers, which are now overseen by the SEC, had lifted the appeal of partnering to boost distribution. Many PE firms take stakes of less than 25% in hedge fund managers for regulatory reasons--and a proportional cut of fees.

Dealmakers said many bank clients were seeking wealth management businesses for their steady revenue streams. Royal Bank of Canada ( RY), the country's largest lender by assets, has said it will consider acquisitions of as much as C$5 billion ($4.8 billion) while Wells Fargo ( WFC) has voiced enthusiasm for the sector.

American banks have largely moved away from wealth businesses that oversee funds under specific managers to an open architecture model, using financial advisers to recommend third party products.

Written by Jane Searle.

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