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This day in buyout history: Blackstone closes its biggest fund ever—for now

Blackstone is currently raising its eighth flagship private equity fund, a monstrous pool of capital that’s already collected more than $22 billion in commitments and could ultimately total $25 billion, according to reports. When the vehicle closes, it might be the largest in the history of the private equity industry—and it will almost certainly be the biggest fund Blackstone has ever raised.

But for the moment, at least, a different vehicle holds that title. And it’s done so for exactly a dozen years, ever since August 8, 2007, the date the firm announced a final close for Blackstone Capital Partners V on $21.7 billion.

It was auspicious timing for multiple reasons. One was that the fund close came less than two months after Blackstone went public, raising more than $4.1 billion in a closely watched IPO that’s proved to be a transformative event in the firm’s history. Another was that it came shortly before the global economy began to turn, joining a wave of mega-funds that swept across the private equity industry in the months leading up to the financial crisis, including a $20 billion vehicle from Goldman Sachs.

And when you compare Blackstone’s fifth flagship effort with the vehicles that came before and after, it seems clear that the firm got at least a little caught up in the fundraising frenzy. It was a remarkable step-up in size of more than 3x from Blackstone Capital Partners IV, and both the firm’s fifth and sixth funds fell well short of that $21.7 billion figure. That’s contrary to the general industry trend of firms raising more cash for each successive flagship fund, particularly among private equity’s biggest players.


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Apollo nears Arconic mega-deal

In June 2017, a malfunctioning refrigerator sparked a fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London. The blaze quickly engulfed the 24-story structure, ultimately resulting in 72 deaths and one of the largest residential disasters in recent British history.

Later government investigation attributed the rapid spread of the flames to the building’s poorly made cladding, a type of siding, which later tests showed was so combustible that it essentially turned the apartment into one giant, deadly tinderbox. The company that made that cladding was Arconic.

It perhaps wasn’t a surprise when, less than a year later, Arconic announced a strategic review, with reports indicating that it could sell the building products unit that made the aluminum panels involved in the Grenfell Tower disaster. Within months, prompted in part by continuing activist pressure from Elliott Management, talk turned to a wholesale takeover of the company.

It perhaps also wasn’t a surprise that several private equity firms showed interest—despite a number of looming lawsuits, criminal investigations and potential liabilities that could hamstring the business in the future.

Blackstone, The Carlyle Group and KKR were among the heavyweights to sniff around the building products unit, with Arconic describing the potential mega-deal as an effort to refocus its operations on building aluminum components for aerospace and auto companies rather than the construction market. But when the subject changed to a full buyout, Apollo Global Management emerged as the front-runner, with a potential price tag reported to be some $11 billion (or up to $20 billion including debt).

While Arconic’s direct involvement in a tragic, avoidable disaster that cost dozens of innocent lives is almost surely one factor behind the sale, another very obvious one is the presence of Elliott. The hedge fund won representation on Arconic’s board in early 2017 after a pitched battle and the ouster of former CEO Klaus Kleinfeld. The aluminum company’s stock price has continued to slide throughout 2018, which in Elliott’s mind seems to only cement the need for a complete leadership overhaul.

Apollo’s management thought a deal with Arconic could have been signed as soon as December, according to a New York Post report from the final day of 2018. But the buyout’s final hurdle is proving to be the continued tightening of global debt markets, raising doubt as to whether banks would be able to finance a deal as large as what Apollo and Arconic have in mind. Apollo is also believed to be considering a $40 billion move on the GE’s aviation leasing business, an even larger deal that will surely encounter similar concerns. A lack of available funding could very well endanger prospective Apollo deals worth $60 billion in total.

The role Arconic’s shoddy products played in the horrific events at Grenfell Tower make it painfully clear that major changes of some sort are needed at the company. Whether a private equity firm is the correct group to make those changes could be a matter for debate. But if the debt markets cooperate, then Leon Black and Apollo seem poised to be the ones navigating the transformations, lawsuits and reckonings that are almost surely ahead.


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Blackstone cashes in on Versace’s $2.1B sale to Michael Kors

From real estate to retail to financial services, Blackstone’s mammoth portfolio of businesses and buildings reaches into about every industry imaginable. But the New York-based buyout firm ventured beyond its extensive comfort zone in 2014, when it paid €210 million (about $287 million at the time) for a 20% stake in luxury fashion brand Versace, valuing the Italian company at €1 billion.

Four-and-a-half years later, the firm founded by Stephen Schwarzman is poised for a nice return on that investment. On Tuesday, fashion brand Michael Kors agreed to purchase Versace for an enterprise value of €1.83 billion, or $2.12 billion, with Blackstone exiting its entire investment as part of the transaction. That price would seem to value Blackstone’s 20% stake at some $424 million.

Stock in Michael Kors (NYSE: KORS) dropped more than 8% Monday, when reports of a deal first emerged, before inching back up 2% on Tuesday. As part of its takeover, the company announced plans to open roughly 100 new Versace stores, increase the brand’s online offerings and expand its reliance on accessories and footwear, all in an effort to grow Versace’s annual revenue from $850 million to upward of $2 billion. Michael Kors, which will be renamed Capri Holdings upon the closing of the transaction, also hopes to shift a portion of Versace’s portfolio away from North and South America and into Asia.

It’s been a good year for Blackstone when it comes to high-profile exits. In June, the firm agreed to sell 15.8 million shares of hotel chain Hilton Worldwide for some $1.3 billion, per Bloomberg. Overall, it’s believed the firm realized about $14 billion in profit from its initial 2007 investment in Hilton, marking what’s reportedly the most profitable exit in private equity history.

That news came a month after the buyout divisions of Blackstone and Goldman Sachs agreed to sell Ipreo, a provider of financial analytics focused on the stock market, to data firm IHS Markit for $1.86 billion. Ipreo’s valuation nearly doubled from when the two firms bought the company for some $975 million in 2014.


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