Blackstone Earnings Miss Expectations, but Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Blackstone Group's second-quarter earnings weren't spectacular, but they were far from bad. The company reported economic net income of $508.4 million, or $0.43 per share. That was just under the average estimate of $0.47 per share, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters.

The company's distributable earnings -- which fuel its dividend -- rose tremendously, however. Blackstone reported distributable earnings of $1.03 billion, or $0.88 per share -- a 35% increase over the year-ago period. As a result, Blackstone Group announced a distribution of $0.74 per share payable on August 3, 2015.

Making sense of Blackstone's earningsInvestors who are unfamiliar with asset management and partnerships may find the differences between distributable earnings and economic net income confusing. Put simply, economic net income reflects the accrual of earnings, whereas distributable income reflects the earnings that were realized in the current quarter.

As an example, if a fund's value appreciates, the resulting fees will flow into economic net income immediately. When the fund holdings are sold and the fees are realized by Blackstone, that amount flows into distributable earnings. Thus economic net income is a good indicator of future distributable earnings but a poor measurement for tracking the current distribution.

Blackstone's distributable earnings soared year over year in part because it monetized large portfolio companies including Nielsen, Pinnacle Foods, in addition to sales of stock in a legacy asset -- Hilton Worldwide Holdings.

Fueling the distribution going forwardEarlier in the week I discussed one of the most important metrics for Blackstone's distributions, its accrued performance fees. This is how much Blackstone stands to collect in fees earned in prior periods when it cashes in on investments for its fund investors. Currently, this amount stands at $4.47 billion, down slightly from $4.91 billion, as a direct result of its asset sales in the current quarter. That equates to $3.80 per share in the current quarter, down from $4.17 last quarter.

Needless to say, with significant accrued fees, Blackstone has plenty of firepower behind its dividend in the short run. In the long-run, however, what matters is Blackstone's ability to grab more fee-earning assets under management and generate market-beating returns for its investors.

This quarter, Blackstone noted that it recorded gross inflows of $31.3 billion last quarter, bringing its assets under management up to a new record of $332.7 billion. This was a 19% increase over the prior year, when Blackstone had $278.9 million in total AUM.While all strategies have performed well, its "star students" -- real estate and private equity -- have both raised new multibillion-dollar mega funds in 2015. The company pointed out that its latest private-equity fund received $16.7 billion of commitments in the current quarter.

Blackstone can continue to drive earnings without new funds. The company revealed that its newest real estate fund is now included in fee-earning assets, whereas its newest private-equity fund is not. Its "undrawn capital" stands at $82.1 billion. Once these assets are deployed, Blackstone can start collecting fees on them.

Ultimately, Blackstone's results will ebb and flow with business valuations. With the market mostly flat for the year, it's no surprise to see Blackstone's economic net income tumbling year over year. But there's nothing to suggest that Blackstone's streak of winning for its clients and investors has come to an end. As its dry powder is deployed and its accrued performance fees are realized, investors can look forward to beefy quarterly distributions for the foreseeable future.

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