Will Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a trailblazer in making music an alternative asset class in the financial world, fight to see another day? The sale of catalogs for $465 million, announced Thursday, is meant to help Hipgnosis Song Fund’s sagging share price and bring it closer to the company’s per-share net asset value (NAV). But it also intends to give investors a reason to vote for a five-year continuation in the annual meeting that’s likely to be held in October.
Given its need to shore up investor support, the catalog sale didn’t come as a surprise. Board chair Andrew Sutch said at a July 13 investor presentation that the board was pursuing options to boost shareholder value, and Hipgnosis has said that many of its largest shareholders favor share buybacks and partial debt repayment to help the struggling share price. This transaction provides the capital for those measures: Hipgnosis intends to use $180 million for share buybacks and $250 million to pay down the revolving credit facility.
Whether the deal ultimately succeeds depends on investors’ belief they are getting a good deal on the sale — the majority of which is to a sister company, the Blackstone-backed Hipgnosis Songs Capital (a joint venture with the royalty fund’s investment advisory, Hipgnosis Song Management, led by Merck Mecuriadis). Hipgnosis Songs Fund has long traded at a steep discount to its per-share NAV. That could partly be explained by higher interest rates that make the royalty fund, launched when interest rates were lower, a relatively less attractive investment to safer bonds. A larger factor could be investors’ lack of faith in NAV. Hipgnosis, which has argued the share price does not accurately reflect the value of its catalog, is now giving the market a transaction to help prove its point.
In the days following the announcement, some analysts have shown concern about the deal’s terms, transparency and related-party buyer. Investec analysts criticized the deal for valuing the assets “as being little more than the IPO price” in an investor note on Friday (Sept. 15) and stated, “there is substantial value leakage to related parties that again sadly raises significant corporate governance concerns.”
Numis predicts that Hipgnosis investors’ views will be “mixed, particularly given the Round Hill offer,” analysts wrote in a Sept. 14 investor note. In that deal, announced Sept. 8, Round Hill Music Royalty Fund — a royalty fund listed on the London Stock Exchange like Hipgnosis Songs Fund — received a buyout offer from U.S. music company Concord. Unlike the Hipgnsosis deal, Concord bid for the entire publicly traded company — at a price 11.5% below Round Hill’s net asset value. It’s a more straightforward transaction than Hipgnosis’ proposed partial catalog sale.
Numis believes that Hipgnosis’ share price’s discount to NAV “may persist for some time,” which could mean the board and the investment advisor, Hipgnosis Songs Management, “will continue to come under pressure.”
Analysts at Stifel, who have long been critical of Hipgnosis and Round Hill’s music royalty funds’ valuation methodologies, focused on the value Hipgnosis Songs Fund was extracting from Hipgnosis Songs Capital. The $465 million transaction consists of two parts. The first disposal worth $440 million, which accounts for 95% of the purchase price, is 17.5% below the fair value and 26% above the catalogs’ acquisition price.
Little is known about the smaller, second disposal that amounts to a $25 million slice of a catalog acquired from Kobalt Music in 2020 for $323 million. Hipgnosis Songs Capital is not the buyer of the second disposal.
Adding to the deal’s complexity, Hipgnosis Songs Fund is on the hook for bonuses and other payments under the original acquisition agreements; the company believes that will amount to $5.5 million, and it will be capped at $30 million. In addition, Hipgnosis Songs Capital is due royalties on the acquired catalog earned going back to Jan. 1 — about $15.3 million through Sept. 14.
“The complex nature of the deal suggests that it is hard to say the NAV has been validated,” wrote Stifel analyst Sachin Saggar.
If the share price is any gauge of investors’ initial reaction to the deal, opinions aren’t good. Shares of Hipgnosis Songs Fund dropped 6.5% on Thursday and another 7% on Friday. The 13% two-day decline eliminated nearly all of the 15.7% bump the share price received on Sept. 8 following news of Concord’s bid for Round Hill.
If investors are considering what Hipgnosis Songs Fund has left after the sale, they will find many jewels remaining in its catalog, including Neal Schon of Journey, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182, Neil Young, Blondie, Steve Winwood, Rodney Jerkins, Chrissie Hyde of the Pretenders, RZA, Teddy Geiger and The Chainsmokers. Five of those names — Journey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182, Fleetwood Mac and The Chainsmokers — rank in the year-to-date top 500 recording artists ranked by global on-demand audio streams, according to Luminate. Two of them, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fleetwood Mac, are in the top 100. It’s also keeping Walter Afanasieff, co-writer of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which is a No. 1 song in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada every November and December.
Hipgnosis is giving up some quality, though: The 29 catalogs in the first portfolio include 21 of 473 songs in Spotify’s Billions Club, five of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs, and five of YouTube’s 30 most-viewed music videos. They include some older music by Barry Manilow and Rick James as well as newer artists like Poo Bear, RedOne, Martin Bresso and Colombian star Shakira, who ranks No. 55 in global audio on-demand streams. But, on average, these are younger songs with less proven royalty histories than the average song in Hipgnosis Songs Fund’s portfolio. In general, younger songs are less valuable than older, more established songs. Shareholders will vote on the sale at the annual general meeting.
The second disposal represents “non-core” assets worth $25 million that represent a small portion of the 33,000 songs acquired from Kobalt Music for $323 million in 2020. That deal also included the 18,000-song publishing catalog of Canadian music company Nettwerk. Hipgnosis Songs Fund said at the time it paid Kobalt an 18.3 times net publisher share multiple for the catalogs.
Hipgnosis believes the two disposals achieve multiple aims. The $465 million price tag is “the smallest possible that would provide the required capital” for share buybacks and debt repayment, the company stated in a press release. Also, the catalogs the company chose to sell leave intact “the fundamental investment case for Hipgnosis Songs Fund….by protecting the strength of the remaining portfolio.” Come October, we’ll see what investors are thinking.