Meet Blackstone, your new roommate

News

One thing to start: Elon Musk’s $43bn bid to take Twitter private is struggling to draw interest from institutions with the financial firepower to pull off such a large deal including Blackstone Group, Vista Equity Partners and Brookfield Asset Management in part due to concerns over whether the social media group can become more profitable.

Elon Musk’s proposal has tantalised many Wall Street groups with the possibility of participating in one of the most prominent tech buyouts of recent times © FT Montage

Blackstone’s latest real estate play

“I love houses,” Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone chief executive, told an interviewer in 2008. In the aftermath of the pandemic, Blackstone is making absolutely sure it owns enough of them.

First came the $6bn deal for Home Partners of America, struck last July, Blackstone’s first big move into the rent-to-own space.

The company, which was set up by Lewis Ranieri of Liar’s Poker fame, presents itself in altruistic terms as a new path for less wealthy Americans to become homeowners.

But many of its tenants end up moving out, leaving behind attractive houses that can be rented out to a new cohort of occupants. It’s now one of the biggest corporate landlords, touting 17,000 homes.

Just days after striking that deal last summer, Blackstone made a play for affordable housing, convincing insurance company AIG to sell a $5.1bn portfolio of apartments that have received government subsidies geared towards low-income families.

Now, Schwarzman’s firm wants to be one of the biggest landlords on campus.

On Tuesday, Blackstone announced it was buying American Campus Communities, a $13bn real estate investment trust that owns a huge portfolio of US student housing near Princeton University, Berkeley and other prestigious institutions.

The purchase of American Campus Communities will give Blackstone an on-campus presence at Princeton University and other US institutions © Getty Images

The deal follows an activist campaign at ACC, which was pressured by its shareholder Land & Buildings Investment Management to look for ways of maximising shareholder value.

For Blackstone, the push into university housing represents a bet that students will keep showing up for in-person learning at leading US universities despite high tuition costs, the rise of distance learning during the pandemic and a long-term decline in enrolment.

That’s not a sure thing. About 2.1mn students embarked on a US university education last autumn, down 22 per cent since 2015.

On the other hand, did we mention Princeton? Ivy League schools accepted only about 5 per cent of the applications they received last year, according to data from IvyCoach.com

And as DD’s Mark Vandevelde reports, monthly room rates at the most popular schools can be eye-watering.

Robinhood gets into UK crypto

A scroll through r/WallStreetBets is not what it used to be. The frenzied posting of 2021 has subsided as the retail trading frenzy cools.

Robinhood, the brokerage app at the centre of last year’s boom, has seen its growth lose steam. Still, on Tuesday it announced an agreement to buy UK crypto company Ziglu, doubling down on its expansion beyond share trading and making a second attempt to push into Britain. (It abandoned a plan to launch a UK stock-trading app in 2020.)

The trading app has offered crypto trading for a while now. Plans to diversify its savings offerings with cryptocurrency wallets were expedited by its disappointing public debut in July, as day-trading fever faded and regulatory scrutiny increased surrounding “payment for order flow”, the broker’s main source of revenue.

Robinhood co-founders Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev © AP

Billionaire Ken Griffin’s market maker Citadel Securities (not to be confused with his $43bn hedge fund Citadel) sold a $1.2bn stake to venture capital firms Sequoia and Paradigm in January. At the time, Paradigm co-founder Matt Huang said the investment would let the market maker expand into crypto — despite Griffin’s earlier dismissal of it as “a jihadist call that we don’t believe in the dollar”.

Robinhood’s British deal comes at a moment when the country’s ruling politicians could scarcely be keener on crypto.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has laid out ambitions to transform the UK into a “global hub” for crypto.

And John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, said in a speech this month that the UK should be “in, and in on the ground floor” of “crypto-technologies” — even as he acknowledged that “some people worry deeply” about crypto’s potential to “provide a platform for illicit activity free from government oversight . . . or drive up carbon emissions”.

(The FT’s Jemima Kelly broke down the whole spiel here — we recommend reading further.)

Ziglu is the third UK crypto company with approval from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority to be the target of dealmaking this year. Austrian exchange Bitpanda acquired London-based fintech Trustology in February. In March Binance and Singapore-based crypto exchange Eqonex, which owns an FCA-registered unit, announced a partnership.

With the highest echelons of Britain’s establishment sounding supportive of the crypto industry, and with one speculative trading boom calming down, DD can see why dealmaking in crypto-land is looking more attractive than ever.

Big Law’s financial engine room

As the war for legal talent rages, elite US firms are making more use of a certain tool: the role of “partner in name only”. 

They are promoting a growing number of associates to be salaried partners, who do not share in a law firm’s profits.

It’s a way to offer faster promotion to associates, and a stepping stone in the gruelling slog to make partner, the FT’s Kate Beioley reports.

These two-tier partnerships would once have been unthinkable at so-called “white shoe” New York law firms, where being a partner was a job for life.

But firms are under pressure to keep profit per equity partner high. Salaried partners can in theory drum up more business than associates — and law firms can charge them out at higher rates.

America’s top firms have witnessed how Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, which has taken on the Manhattan establishment to become the world’s highest-grossing law firm, has used its large pool of “non-share” partners as a financial engine room.

Unlike its equity partners, who took home $7.4mn each on average last year, the non-share partners earn just six figures.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have both introduced the new rank in the past few years.

At Simpson Thacher, where equity partners took home almost $6mn last year on average, partner headcount has shot up significantly since the firm brought in salaried partners in 2019.

Recruiters say the roles help law firms manage potential dilution of their equity pools as lawyers retire later.

But the move risks frustrating some lawyers who feel that the introduction of a new rank merely lengthens the road to becoming an equity partner.

Job moves

  • Hannes Ametsreiter will step down as chief executive of Vodafone Germany and a member of the unit’s executive committee to pursue new career opportunities at the end of June. He will be replaced by Philippe Rogge, Microsoft’s former president of central and eastern Europe.

  • China Merchants Bank, the country’s third-largest lender by market value, announced the sudden removal of its president Tian Huiyu, per Nikkei Asia. Chief financial officer Wang Liang will assume his responsibilities.

  • Goldman Sachs has hired Chua Hui Yin, a senior JPMorgan Chase banker in Singapore and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp’s head of Singapore coverage Andrew Teo to boost its presence in the city-state, per Bloomberg.

  • Wilson Sonsini has hired Jason Breen as a partner in its M&A practice, based in Los Angeles. He joins from Goodwin Procter.

  • The New York Times has promoted veteran journalist Joseph Kahn to succeed Dean Baquet as executive editor.

Smart reads 

MAGA money Former Bridgewater chief executive David McCormick has established himself as a frontrunner in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, having embraced Donald Trump’s agenda and an avalanche of cash from Goldman Sachs executives, Bloomberg reports.

Questions asked UK cyber security start-up Arqit listed via Spac and soared to a multibillion-dollar valuation, saying its encryption system can’t be broken by quantum computers. But some have questioned the relevance of its technology, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

Smile, you’re on camera Israeli spyware firm NSO Group’s controversial surveillance technology has made it a target for lawsuits, blacklisting and the wrath of Big Tech. It remains on the warpath nonetheless, The New Yorker writes.

News round-up 

Bain pledges ‘no break-up’ of Toshiba in buyout offer (Nikkei Asia)

LG Energy signs $9bn EV supply chain deal in Indonesia (FT)

Putin calls time on foreign listings in fresh hit to tycoons (BBG)

UK fraud agency under scrutiny as probe into Unaoil fiasco nears end (FT)

Stellantis halts operations in Russia as it suspends remaining production (FT)

Thai energy company Gulf forays into crypto market via Binance tie-up (Nikkei Asia)

UK construction and outsourcing groups still prone to audit failures (FT)

Netflix sheds subscribers for the first time in a decade (FT)

Musk’s bid will change Twitter even if it fails (FT Opinion)

Deezer: Pinault and Blavatnik wield Spac to whack Spotify (Lex)

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