Oct 16, 2017

Blackstone's big questions on infrastructure and retail investors

Ng Han Gua / AP

Earnings call for listed private equity firms are usually sleepy affairs, but this The Blackstone Group's phoner this Thursday could be different. Two big questions:

  1. Will Blackstone's mega-infrastructure fund ambitions be hampered by Trump-related changes since it was first announced?
  2. Can Blackstone really scale its retail investor base by lowering its wealth threshold?

Infrastructure: Blackstone in May announced that it was raising up to $40 billion for its first-ever infrastructure fund, including a $20 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia. Now we've got a Bloomberg report that the vehicle won't begin investing until it secures around $10 billion in outside commitments — which would temporarily reduce the Saudi check, given that it's basically a 1:1 match.

  • The earnings call question will be how fundraising has been affected by what appears to be a stalled U.S. infrastructure plan that was supposed to heavily leverage public-private partnerships. Back in May, the Trump Administration was still talking about infrastructure as a 2017 priority, and Blackstone boss Steve Schwarzman was still leading a presidential council of CEOs. Neither of those are still operable.

Retail: The WSJ has a front-pager today about how Blackstone is lowering its threshold for individual investors to participate some affiliated feeder funds, from $5 million in liquid assets to $1 million: "There were 7½ times more U.S. households with $1 million to $5 million in assets at the end of 2016 than there were households with $5 million to $25 million, according to market research firm Spectrem Group."

  • The earnings call question will be how Blackstone plans to attract these investors at scale, in an era in which low-fee index fund have become conventional gospel. Particularly given increased competition within this niche, with The Carlyle Group and Oppenheimer today announcing the launch a joint venture that will offer access to global private credit opportunities for those with at least $1 million in liquid assets. And, if it doesn't really scale, is this just viewed as the price of stage-setting for (maybe) someday being allowed to access the defined-contribution market?

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