Is Blackstone too big? That is the question on observers’ lips this week following its move for assets sold out of GE Capital’s real estate unit.
GE last week said it is offloading most of its GE Capital Real Estate unit to Blackstone and Wells Fargo for $23bn (€21.7bn).
The decision to focus on its industrial businesses came at a time of increased regulation. GE had been given systemically important financial institution (SIFI) status by the Financial Stability Oversight Council in the US.
The firm said the business model for “large, wholesale-funded financial companies has changed, making it increasingly difficult to generate acceptable returns going forward”.
As the deal goes through the motions, with closure expected by the third quarter, attention turned to Blackstone, which has more than $310.5bn of assets of under management, which in its first quarter results today said makes it the ”first alternative asset manager to eclipse the $300bn milestone”.
In its last annual report, the firm acknowledged the SIFI conjecture, saying it does not envisage being designated one.
BREDS, Blackstone’s real estate debt fund, will take on GE Capital’s performing first-mortgage loans in Mexico and Australia for $4.2bn.
Blackstone is also paying $3.3bn for GE Capital’s US equity assets on behalf of its Blackstone Real Estate Partners VIII fund.
Blackstone’s European real estate fund, Blackstone Real Estate Partners Europe IV, will pay $1.9bn for GE Capital’s office, logistics and retail assets, largely in the UK, France and Spain.
But market commentators suggest any fears around Blackstone’s size posing a threat to financial stability are largely unfounded.
The notion that Blackstone now needs to be treated differently is “seriously misguided,” says Roger Barris, former Bank of America Merrill Lynch real estate principal and founder of Peakside Capital.
“What you had with GE Capital, and what Blackstone is today, are two different things,” he says.
GE Capital, says Barris, ran a “huge maturity mis-match”, pointing to the firm’s reliance on short-term debt coupled with long-term investments.
“But if you look at Blackstone’s funding, it comes from a wide range of investors and is fully matched to the term of the assets. So what’s going to happen in the event of a downturn? The answer is nothing.
“There’s no chance of Blackstone facing liquidity problems that could have systemic repercussions.”
Will Rowson, a partner at Hodes Weill and former CIO of CBRE Global Investors, says the fact that Blackstone has raised capital globally makes it less of a risk.
“You’d have to look at the share Blackstone has of the overall US real estate market and how much of their capital has been raised from US institutions. I would be surprised if either of those figures are at levels to concern the market.
“With a major corporate like GE or one of the major US banks, if they stumble, the whole market stumbles. But if Blackstone stumbled, it would surprise the market – but it wouldn’t instil the same level of concern through it.”
Real estate accounts for $92.8bn of Blackstone’s entire assets under management, according to its first quarter results, released today.