Moelis IPO Offers Founders Riches Seeking $1.6 Billion Value

Apr 15, 2014 4:09 pm ET

(Updates with closing share prices in eighth paragraph.)

April 15 (Bloomberg) -- Do you want to be buying what Kenneth Moelis is selling?

The Wall Street veteran, who has helped companies from HJ Heinz Co. to NYSE Euronext decide the best time to sell, is taking his seven-year-old Moelis & Co. public today. He’s seeking a valuation of as much as $1.58 billion for the New York-based investment bank, while also structuring the sale to ensure he retains control of the firm.

Ken Moelis, 55, and his partners will reap as much as 80 percent of the initial public offering proceeds in one-time payments, the prospectus shows. Instead of funding growth, investors are being asked to reward Moelis’s rainmakers, said Jeff Sica, president of Sica Wealth Management LLC. While the firm was initially offering shares at a discount to Evercore Partners Inc. and Greenhill & Co., that gap disappeared as shares of both tumbled in the past 10 days.

“You look at this IPO as cashing out,” said Sica, whose Morristown, New Jersey-based wealth-management firm oversees $1 billion in assets. “They’re only as good as the environment they exist in, so bringing in more capital won’t make these models more effective.”

Moelis is scheduled to price the IPO tonight, raising as much as $212 million by selling 7.3 million Class A shares for $26 to $29 apiece, according to its latest regulatory filing. Ken Moelis will hold 97 percent of the voting rights at the company by owning a majority of Class B shares, which are given 10 votes each.

Andrea Hurst, a spokeswoman for Moelis, declined to comment. The IPO will allow Moelis to expand its business by using stock-based compensation to attract employees, according to the filing.

Initial Valuation

When Moelis initially set its terms April 4, the company was seeking a valuation as high as 28 times 2013 earnings of $55.7 million, which are adjusted to reflect the higher tax rate that Moelis is likely to pay as a public company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While that was a discount to Evercore and Greenhill when the terms were filed, it has since narrowed with shares of both tumbling about 10 percent through yesterday, the data show.

Greenhill rose 0.2 percent to $49.37 today, giving the company a market value of $2 billion, while Evercore gained 1.4 percent to $48.05 for a market value of $1.36 billion.

Growing Share

Independent investment banks like Moelis, with a focus on takeover advice and few other business lines, offer a way to profit from a pickup in dealmaking, said Kenneth Leon, an analyst who covers the financial industry for S&P Capital IQ.

With just 317 bankers, Moelis took in $411.4 million of revenue in 2013, a 6.6 percent increase from the year before. For the first-quarter, it projects revenue as high as $115 million, a 92 percent gain from the same period a year ago, filings show. Dealmaking activity in the first quarter had its strongest start to a year since 2007, before the global financial crisis, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The firm ranked 12th among merger advisers in 2013, its highest-ever position, with roles on Heinz’s buyout and the merger of Omnicom Group Inc. and Publicis Groupe SA, which created the world’s largest advertising company with a $35 billion market value, two of the year’s largest deals. Moelis generates revenue through fees for advising on transactions.

“There’s increasing share taken by the independent investment banks and that’s proven from what Moelis has been able to do,” Leon, who covers Greenhill and Evercore, said.

Earnings Risk

Still, the independent banks lack sources of revenue that can offset a decline in takeover activity, according to Erik Gordon at the University of Michigan. Moelis ranks 37th among M&A advisers in 2014, with its largest deal being TIAA-CREF’s $6.25 billion purchase of Nuveen Investments, the data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Evercore and Greenhill illustrate the risks. After its initial public offering in 2006, Evercore posted three consecutive years of losses during the financial crisis. Greenhill’s 2013 earnings were less than half of what they were at the peak in 2007.

“Deals are subject to macroeconomic swings,” said Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business. “If you buy this stock just in time for a downdraft, Moelis could be a lot scarier.”

Ken Moelis will own stock valued at about $386 million, with another $100 million in trust for his family, according to a filing. The company plans to use $141 million of the IPO proceeds to make a one-time payment to partners, while about $35 million will be for general corporate purposes.

“He’s selling a bunch of shares, he’s keeping iron-clad control solely to himself,” said Gordon. “How do you get growth when these guys are willing to take the money now?”

--With assistance from Zeke Faux in New York.