Thursday, July 05, 2007

Blackstone Hi-jinx

Having appointed former PM the RH Brian Mulroney to the board, Blackstone the private equity hedge fund went public with an IPO. In the two weeks it has made no money on its posting in the stock market, but had paid off its CEO handsomely. This week it offered to buy out Hilton Hotels, with a bid that led to cries of insider trading. If any fallout occurs then Blackstone can always call on Mulroney to bail them out as he did with ADM.

Since the close on its first full day of trading on June 22nd, Blackstone Group (BX) has not finished a single session in positive territory.

Blackstone, whose founder Stephen Schwarzman pocketed $677 million from his IPO's proceeds.

Shares of Hilton Hotels Corp. rose 6.44% to close at $36.05 Tuesday -- ahead of the announcement of the company's sale to the Blackstone Group for approximately $20 billion in cash. After the close, Blackstone said it would pay $47.50 per share for Hilton, a 32% premium. The pre-news rise -- the shares' strongest surge since 2005 -- has prompted calls of insider trading.

Although much of the attention on Blackstone has centered on CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, it is Hamilton "Tony" James who runs the firm, his hand on everything from private equity deals to real estate transactions to advisory work.

As Blackstone's No. 2, the pressure is on James to lead the firm through its new chapter as a public company and steer the massive money machine through the rough waters facing private equity firms.

With the private equity industry booming, James earned more than the CEOs of Goldman Sachs (GS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and JPMorgan (JPM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) combined last year and his stake in the firm is currently worth $1.55 billion after its June IPO -- a huge amount considering his riches have come neither as a chief executive nor a company founder.

The billions Blackstone's top executives raked in through the $4 billion IPO however, attracted the scrutiny of lawmakers, who proposed legislation to jack up the firm's tax bill.

"I'm worried about the fact that private equity has grown so quickly and so fast that it's made itself a natural target for speculation and resentment," James said at the Reuters Investment Banking Summit in November. "It has made a lot of money."

Also worrying are investor doubts about Blackstone's high valuation and a pullback in the credit markets, factors that have sent shares of the company lower since their debut.


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