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Fortress Investment Group LLC (NYSE:FIG)

Q4 2013 Earnings Call

February 27, 2014 10:00 am ET

Executives

Gordon E. Runté - Head of Public Investor Relations and Corporate Communications and Managing Director

Randal Alan Nardone - Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Principal, and Director

Daniel N. Bass - Chief Financial Officer

Wesley Robert Edens - Co-Founder, Co-Chairman of the Board, Principal, Private Equity Chief Investment Officer, Head of Private Equity and Director

Michael Edward Novogratz - Principal, Co-Chief Investment Officer of Macros and Director

Constantine Michael Dakolias - Managing Director and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Credit Funds

Stuart H. Bohart - President of Liquid Markets, Senior Managing Director of Strategy and Member of Operating Committee

Analysts

Marc S. Irizarry - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Craig Siegenthaler - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

Bulent S. Ozcan - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

Operator

Good morning, my name is Stephanie, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Fortress Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Thank you. I will now turn the conference over to Gordon Runté, Head of Investor Relations. Please go ahead, sir.

Gordon E. Runté

Thank you, Stephanie. And good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Fortress Investment Group Full Year 2013 Earnings Conference Call. We will begin our call today with opening remarks from Fortress' Chief Executive Officer, Randy Nardone; and Chief Financial Officer, Dan Bass. After these remarks, we will save most of our time today for your questions. Joining us for that portion of our call, we have co- Chairman and Head of Private Equity, Wes Edens; Principal and Head of Liquid Markets, Mike Novogratz; co-CIO of Credit, Dean Dakolias; President of Liquid Markets, Stu Bohart; along with other members of our management team.

So just a few housekeeping items before we begin. I'll remind you that statements made today that are not historical facts may be forward-looking statements, and these statements are, by their nature, uncertain and may differ materially from actual results. We encourage you to read the forward-looking statements disclaimer in today's earnings release in addition to the risk factors described in our quarterly and our annual filings.

With that, let me hand off to Randy.

Randal Alan Nardone

Thanks, Gordon, and thanks, everyone, for joining us. I'm happy to report that a strong fourth quarter capped off an outstanding year for Fortress on every major front. 2013 was our best year since our first year as a public company in 2007. With a lot of momentum carrying into 2014, we're feeling good about our prospects. We see ample opportunity to build on last year and to create long-term value for our shareholders. Here's the highlights.

AUM rose to nearly $62 billion, a record high even as we distributed $3.3 billion to LPs. Full year revenues eclipsed to $1 billion. Full year distributable earnings were $434 million or $0.88 a share. That's a year-over-year increase of nearly 70%. For the first time in our history, every one of our alternatives businesses generated over $100 million of DE for the year. As in the past few quarters, embedded value not included in DE continued to grow.

First, unrecognized incentive income, which will add to DE as investments are realized, increased to over $870 million at year end. That's up from $650 million at the end of 2012. Second, net cash and investments on our balance sheet increased to $1.6 billion at year end. That's $3.26 a share compared to $2.40 at the end of 2012. At year end, those investments were carried at about $600 million over basis, and we still see upside from there. That embedded gain will turn into DE as the balance sheet is liquidated.

We closed the year with ample liquidity, and earlier this month, we've put it to good use. Fortress repurchased Nomura's 60 million shares at a price of $6 a share, a 25% discount to our share price at the time, a great value-creation event for our shareholders. Given the strength of our 2013 performance and outlook, our board announced a 33% increase to our base quarterly dividend to $0.08 a share effective for the fourth quarter of 2013.

Those are some of the headlines. Let me give you some more color before I hand it off to Dan. As always, our results and prospects are driven by the returns we generate for our investors. Across virtually all funds and asset classes, we had a strong investment performance in 2013. In our Credit business, net IRRs and our main PE-style funds ranged from 18% to 26% at year end. Our main Credit Hedge Fund, DBSO, recorded full year net returns of 18%. This strong performance led to record gross incentive income of over $300 million for our Credit business.

In Private Equity, name fund valuations increased by over 14% for the year. This translates to over $2.3 billion in value created in 2013 and nearly $11 billion since the low in 2009. Funds III and IV gave up some ground in the fourth quarter mostly due to the decline in Nationstar's share price which we think is overdone given our assessment of the company's value and prospects. Fund V recorded substantial gains driven in large part by Springleaf's performance following its IPO. The key point here is that we see a significant valuation upside across our portfolio.

In Liquid Markets, our main funds delivered another year of top-tier returns. Fortress Macro returned -- recorded net returns of 14% for the year. Asia Macro delivered net returns of over 17%. These funds generated gross incentive income of $150 million, our strongest full year of Liquid Markets incentive since 2007. Had a disappointing January, but with 11 months remaining, there's a lot of runway to make up lost ground and deliver solid returns again for the year.

At Logan Circle, performance remained strong with 15 of 16 strategies outperforming benchmarks since inception. Of course, strong performance supports capital formation efforts and increases demand for existing and new strategies. At the end of 2013, we're managing more capital on behalf of more investors than ever before. We raised $6.5 billion in alternatives, including $1.4 billion of equity raised in our permanent equity vehicles. Net inflows at Logan Circle approached $5 billion.

In Credit, we had $500 million in new commitments to DBSO, and we launched the Japan income fund in December. In Private Equity, we raised $1.1 billion for our second mortgage servicing rights fund and over $600 million for a new Italian NPL strategy. We also continued to build our permanent equity platform with 2 spinouts from Newcastle: New Residential which, had its IPO in May, followed by New Media just 2 weeks ago. To put our progress here in context, Newcastle had a market cap of about $9 million, that's million with an m, at the trough in 2009. Today, Newcastle, New Resi and New Media have a combined market cap of over $3.5 billion.

Moving to Liquid Markets. We raised $2.5 billion in 2013 and nearly $900 million in additional commitments already this year. Subsequent to year end, we also announced the launch of an affiliated managers platform, which will allow us to take an economic interest in high-potential managers and to generate additional revenue through a fee-for-services model. We believe our own Asia Macro team transitioning out of this platform will provide strong proof of concept.

So across our businesses, we've maintained a lot of momentum on the capital raising front. And just as important, with New Resi, New Media, Italian NPL, Japan income, affiliated managers, we're introducing new growth engines for which we have high expectations.

Our business and our revenue streams are more diverse and more balanced than ever before. Our results in 2013 began to reflect the upside that can come from strong investment performance. With over 120% of DE over the past 2 years put towards dividends and accretive buybacks, our commitment to optimizing shareholder value is clear.

We believe our businesses are very well positioned to continue generating strong cash earnings. We also expect an increase in realizations of our balance sheet investments. As we've said before, we intend to return this value to shareholders as we liquidate the balance sheet. These are fundamental elements of a compelling value proposition. We had a great year in 2013. We have high expectations for 2014, and we see tremendous upside potential for Fortress and our shareholders.

With that, let me hand it off to Dan.

Daniel N. Bass

Thanks, Randy. Good morning, everyone. We had a record fourth quarter that provided a great close to a very good year for Fortress. Strong investment performance drove our results, and we've demonstrated growth in all key financial metrics during the year.

Pre-tax DE was $121 million or $0.24 per share in the fourth quarter, making it our highest fourth quarter of EPS on record. DE grew 86% compared to the third quarter and 13% compared to the fourth quarter of last year. This brought pre-tax DE for the full year to $434 million or $0.88 per share, again, a 70% increase per share over 2012 and our second highest year of DE.

Let me now discuss some of the drivers of those results. Four key metrics stand out as we assess our current and future performance. These include AUM, capital raised, NAV eligible for incentive income and undistributed incentive income in our funds. As I said to open, all exhibited growth last year.

First, on AUM. AUM grew by another 7% in the fourth quarter, finishing the year at a record high of $61.8 billion. This pushed AUM growth to over $8 billion or an increase of 16% for the year. Our alternative assets grew by 11%, and our traditional assets grew by 23%. It marked the second consecutive year of double-digit AUM growth and pushed our 5-year CAGR for AUM to over 16%. It's important to note that this AUM growth does not include substantial dry powder in our funds. At year end, we had $5 billion of dry powder on Credit PE Funds and an additional $2 billion in our Private Equity Funds, and of that total, about $5 billion is available for general investment purposes. And this is all after putting nearly $3 billion of work across all our funds in 2013.

Next on capital formation. This is -- for the year, we raised $6.5 billion of capital, including another $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter. For 9 straight quarters now, we have raised more than $1 billion of capital each quarter. Of that $6.5 billion raised last year, roughly half was in hedge fund structures and the other half in PE Funds and permanent capital vehicles. And in just the first 2 months of 2014, we had already raised another $1 billion of alternative capital. All of that was added to our AUM in the first quarter.

Included in the quarter is $740 million raised in our Asia Macro Fund, $110 million in FMF and $145 million in DBSO. Additionally, after the spinout of New Media, we currently have 4 publicly traded permanent capital vehicles. These vehicles have $3.5 billion of AUM and are all eligible to raise capital in 2014 and beyond, so a promising outlook on capital raising front as we start the year.

Now moving to incentive-eligible NAV. At the end of the year, we had nearly $22 billion of capital eligible to generate incentive income. This is up 30% from last year and has doubled over the past 2 years. And finally, at the end of the year, we had $876 million of gross undistributed incentive income in our funds. This amount grew by 35% in 2013 and has now nearly tripled over the past 2 years.

Now let me switch to the balance sheet. Let me make 3 points here. One, the value of our balance sheet continues to grow. In less than 4 years, the value of our net cash investments has more than doubled to $1.6 billion or $3 and 26% -- $3.26 per share as of the end of the year.

Second, we see a potential for large realizations in the next few years based upon the profile and vintage of our investments. Around 70% of our $1.3 billion of balance sheet investments is investment -- is invested in funds with vintages of 2007 or earlier or in direct public equity investments.

And finally, balance sheet earnings have started to become a material part of our distributable earnings. For the year, we recognized $31 million or $0.06 per share of earnings from our balance sheet compared to just $1 million in 2012.

Now let me talk briefly about the financial impact of the Nomura transaction. Our dividend-paying share cap -- count after the buyback is approximately 435 million shares, a decrease of approximately 12% from year end. So looking at last year on a pro forma basis, this transaction would have added about $0.11 to our 2013 after-tax earnings. This demonstrate that the buyback should have a significant economic impact both now and in the future, with immediate effect in the first quarter of 2014.

Finally, a few quick points on taxes. For the full year 2013, our tax rate for DE purposes was 9%. This puts our after-tax DE at $0.80 per share. For 2014, we still expect our tax rate to be a percentage in the upper teens or low 20% range, including a small benefit from the share repurchase.

Let me share some final thoughts before we get to Q&A. First of all, in my now 10-plus years here at Fortress, I have never felt more confident about our business. AUM is at an all-time high and continues to grow. We continue to raise a significant amount of capital. The embedded value, both on our balance sheet and in our funds, is substantial. And over the past year, we have put in place new engines for expected growth in all of our businesses.

Finally, our actions should have made very clear that we are committed to deploying cash to the greatest economic benefit of our shareholders. In 2 separate transactions, we have deployed over $540 million to repurchase nearly 112 million of our outstanding shares. Following these transactions, our share count is now down nearly 20% from its peak midway through 2012. And at a weighted average cost of $4.85 per share, these were enormously accretive transactions that will continue to deliver substantial and ongoing value for our shareholders. In addition, today we raised our quarterly dividend by another 33%, this following a 20% increase last year. Taken together, these decisions underscore our continuing commitment to create value for our shareholders in various forms.

Thank you. We will now take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Marc Irizarry with Goldman Sachs.

Marc S. Irizarry - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Wes, maybe you can help. Just give us some perspective on the Private Equity portfolio performance. Maybe the -- we think about the pace of realization and sort of the forward outlook there, any color in terms of how you're seeing the sort of harvesting environment for your investments?

Wesley Robert Edens

Thanks, Mark. So last year, the Private Equity Funds were up 14.4%. This is kind of the fifth straight year of increase. In the average, just under 20% a year for each one of those years. So it's been of very consistent string of good performance numbers, and I think we are very much moving into a cycle of realizations. Last year, we had a modest amount of activity. We got a little busy at the end of the year at some of the distribution. So I think the total of the year was about $1.2 billion. I think it's likely to be a significant multiple of that is what we anticipate seeing this year. We've got a lot of investments that have been terrific, that are in the end stages of where we think we can add value and where we belong. So without being able to provide a specific number, we just think [ph] that this will be a pretty productive year on the distribution out there.

Marc S. Irizarry - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

And then the balance sheet's in great shape here. Obviously, the transaction and the dividend raise is welcome. As you think about the $1.3 billion of investments and the harvesting of your own balance sheet, how should we think about that, the return of capital there? Are you going to stick with the annual true-up distribution? Or maybe what -- how should we think about the return of the -- as those investments come in, where are you going to redeploy that balance sheet capital?

Wesley Robert Edens

Well, I mean I'll take that. I think that we've been really clear. Dan and Randy have been very clear in signaling we think we've got more capital on balance sheet, more investments that we need to run our business productively. Dan said we've had 2 really terrific opportunities to take capital and buy back stock at what we think are terrific levels. I think that the balance sheet is in great shape right now. And to the extent that we get a lot of liquidations, I think our goal will be to return capital to shareholders. We always reserve the right to buy back stock. We think that's sensible or make investments in businesses or assets, maybe not [ph] that sensible. But I think in general, my expectation is that we will have -- we do have the kind of liquidation to anticipate that will -- there will come a lot of capital coming back to shareholders on kind of an asymmetric basis, right? So as we make -- we have the ordinary course earnings to distribute that form of income, payout and dividends and then the true-up and whatnot, but there's the idiosyncratic liquidation that we think could produce lots of capital and send that back when we get it. So...

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Craig Siegenthaler with Crédit Suisse.

Craig Siegenthaler - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

First question here, just maybe for Mike or Stu, on 1/19, you talked about how recent conversations have gone with clients given January Global Macro performance. And maybe any perspective on the potential impact to capital raising redemptions here in the first half of '14, maybe also full year '14.

Michael Edward Novogratz

Sure. Listen, no one's happy when you lose 5% in a month. And clients have been spectacularly supportive. We've been in touch with most of them if not all of them. The next 6 months, of course, is important for us. We're coming off 2 very strong years. We were a top quartile macro performer, and so we've built up a lot of goodwill with our clients. This was a bad month, but it wasn't a catastrophic month. We've made some of that money back already. And so our goal is pretty straightforward. You spend the first 4 months of the year getting back to 0, and then you have an 8-month year. And we've done that in the past, and I think our clients have confidence we'll do it. Certainly, we continue to see a pretty robust pipeline of inflows. It would be logical for some of that to slow down until clients see us regaining some momentum. And so I think it probably slows the capital raising some but not dramatically.

Craig Siegenthaler - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Helpful. And then a question for Pete. I'm just wondering if January and February was enough to get you at least a little bit interested in several of the credit markets, especially looking at several of the emerging markets in Eastern Europe. I'm just wondering if we could see you start to pull in the large uncalled capital balance this year. Just his thoughts there, please?

Constantine Michael Dakolias

Hey, it's Dean. Pete's not on the phone, but I don't think much has changed in terms of our perspective on the geographies that we invest in. We still think it's a better environment for selling versus buying. That said, we are seeing pockets within Europe where we are finding interesting transactions. We have not gone further than developed markets in terms of our business into the emerging markets where you mentioned before. So our business traditionally has been focused on the developed markets, North America, Europe, Japan, Australia. So again, cautious, not a great environment to invest, so still -- that theme is still consistent.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Robert Lee with KBW.

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

I have a couple of questions. Maybe looking at the new hedge fund platform in the Asia fund, I just maybe wanted maybe clarify a couple of things around that. I guess the first thing is with the spinout of the Asia fund, can you just maybe briefly talk about what financial impact that is? I'm kind of assuming it's probably neutral to some extent, but can you maybe update us on that? And I'm also assuming there's no consideration for the majority state that's being spun out. And then how does this also impact your appetite to create in-house, new hedge fund strategies? I mean, you went through the trouble of building this. It was successful, and now, you have to give up majority stake in it. So is it -- should we think going forward you're more likely not to create new liquids strategy in house and more likely to try to find outside managers you can put on the platform?

Daniel N. Bass

So I'll take the first one. It's Dan, and then I'll hand it off to Stu to deal with the second question. Our view is that it's going to -- this is going to be real no significant reduction here. In fact, we think it has a lot of upside from your due to the growth in this platform. So at the end percentage ownership, we feel like this is going to be a positive for us.

Stuart H. Bohart

And on the second question, keep in mind that our in-house teams have a high degree of alignment through synthetic equity or points so that even though we've spun Adam out, he's giving up some internal points in order to get more equity into external. As we go forward, we'll focus both on the opportunities with external managers through the affiliated managers platform. And the goal there is to track great managers who are independent but need help in building out their back office and accessing clients. So by partnering with Fortress, we can commercialize our back office for a fee and be profitable on the infrastructure. We have a tremendous infrastructure here. And two, we can get an additional path for our growth and diversity by embracing external managers who need to partner. I'll point out our platform is intended to have permanent partnership. Unlike some of the other platforms you read about, funds that have been raised where the manager has to buy back the stake later with after-tax compensation they've received, we have, we think, a much better plan, real partnership in perpetuity, supporting their development of the back office or taking over the back office but leaving the PM position to focus on their performance while we help them raise assets. It does not mean we're focused solely on that. We want to be open for growth and diversity in the Liquid Markets business in multiple ways. And certainly, having new funds inside of Fortress is important to us, and we will find those funds. That will take, I think, second place to focusing on the Fortress Macro Fund, which can certainly grow. It's been a terrific fund, and it's performing well in February. We think there's a lot of room for that fund to grow and continue to contribute like it did last year. But you'll see us focus on growth and diversity in both ways: internal funds and the new affiliated managers platform.

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

Okay, great. And maybe just on some fundraising outside the Liquid products. I know you mentioned in the press release you had a $600 million first close on the Italian NPL fund, and then there's the Japan income fund. Could you maybe update us kind of what your general targets are for those 2 funds and maybe any other funds you may have in the market or expect to be in the market soon?

Wesley Robert Edens

Well, the Italian NPL fund, we have a cap. I don't know if we can disclose what our cap is. So...

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

But we're still fundraising.

Wesley Robert Edens

Yes, we're still in the process of fundraising. I think we are very confident that we'll be oversubscribed and kind of at the cap given the level of activity in the market and kind of the dominant position we have in Italy. There seems like -- the opportunities out there -- I was over there a week ago. The opportunities out there seems tremendous. So we have great hopes for that business both in our Private Equity side as well as the Credit side, because we think there's lots of opportunities to go around over there. The other capital formation I can talk about is on the permanent capital side, which as Randy said we've gone from being a modest part of our business. We're -- plus or minus, we're around $4 billion in capital on the permanent side. I think -- we think in the natural course of events, we'll roughly double that over the course of the year if things play out as we expect. And those are lofty expectations, but there are 6 different vehicles that are being -- in the market raising capital and on a periodic basis. So we think there's a lot of potential there, so Dean?

Constantine Michael Dakolias

Yes. Japan income, we're just starting that process. We have a great franchise in Japan, have raised and invested to private equity-style funds there and this is really an offshoot, kind of a natural progression of our business in Japan as it matures. So we see a load of opportunities for that fund and -- but just early stages and the capital raising for that.

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

I'm just -- sorry, just one follow-up. Is the Japan fund, is that an incentive-generating fund or is that mainly the management fee?

Daniel N. Bass

Does it generate incentive?

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

Yes.

Daniel N. Bass

Yes, it generates incentive.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your next question comes from the line of Bulent Ozcan with RBC.

Bulent S. Ozcan - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

I just had a question regarding Newcastle post the New Media spinoff. Could you give us a sense of what you want to do next I think about collapsing the CDOs? Are you -- or are you thinking about spinning off the senior living facilities?

Wesley Robert Edens

Yes. Actually, we have an earnings call tomorrow. So probably wait for that earnings call to go through it in detail. But the answer is there continues to be tons of activity there. And we have a bunch of specific thoughts on it, but I think we'll hold off until tomorrow, at our regular scheduled time to talk about that. So you just tune in for that, please.

Bulent S. Ozcan - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

Okay. And then my second question will be on the distributions. I'm just thinking absent this repurchase of the Nomura shares at a 25% discount, which was a great deal, how should we have thought about the distribution? You paid $0.08 in the quarter. Should we have assumed that about $300 million would have gone to paying off dividends in the current quarter just to kind of project what might happen in the fourth quarter of 2014?

Randal Alan Nardone

This is Randy. I think I'll take a whack at that. So the Nomura buyback was about $360 million, and there's more. So over the past couple of years, we've paid out, in both dividends and buybacks, about 120% of total DE. We raised our quarterly dividend from $0.06 to $0.08, and our quarterly dividend is intended to approximate what we think is a reasonable net management fee. There's still some room there, but given our prospects for the year and the year we had, we decided to raise our quarterly dividend. And as Wes mentioned, as balance sheet is liquidated, we'll revisit episodic payouts with respect to balance sheet proceeds.

Bulent S. Ozcan - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

And my final question, with Logan Circle. Could you give as an update on the growth equities franchise? What is happening there?

Randal Alan Nardone

Yes, it's Randy again. Logan Circle, as you know, 2 businesses, fixed income and growth equities. Fixed income kind of turned the corner, and right now, we're at a run rate of breakeven there. AUM is about $26 billion, $27 billion and good pipeline on that business and lots of activity. On the growth equity side, the portfolio they're running has performed well, pipeline for new investors still robust, haven't closed the first investor in yet, first outside investor. They're optimistic that something will happen soon, but it hasn't happened yet.

Operator

Your next question is a follow-up from Robert Lee.

Robert Lee - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

One last -- another question on the balance sheet. Just in terms of cap -- near-term capital priority, I know I think you said in the press release you did draw down about $75 million of debt I assume to fund some of the share repurchase. So at least in the short term, I mean, well, since you were debt free at least for 1 year or so, I mean, how do you currently feel about that level? Is there a desire to kind of get back down toward 0? Or are you kind of comfortable running with that kind of level of debt, not that it's that much but running with any debt for a couple of years or some period of time?

Daniel N. Bass

Yes. We view that debt to be really insignificant, and we anticipate it's really just a short-term borrowing and will be paid down over the course of the next couple of quarters.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] At this time, there are no additional questions in the queue. I will now turn it back over to management for closing remarks.

Randal Alan Nardone

Thanks. Thanks, everyone, for your questions and your interest in Fortress. It's a great year at Fortress and great year for the shareholders. We're well positioned to build on our performance so far and have high expectations for 2014 and the years ahead. We look forward to updating you on our progress on our first quarter call about 8 weeks from today. Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.

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