Music

Concord’s Bid for Round Hill Music Royalty Fund Strikes Positive Chords for Music Assets Market

Concord’s $469 million bid for Round Hill Music Royalty Fund, announced on Friday, did more than give Round Hill’s shareholders a tidy premium over the previous day’s closing price. The offer, which must be approved by 75% of Round Hill shareholders at the company’s Oct. 18 general meeting, also provides a vote of confidence in music asset valuations and the ability of the marketplace to seek out value.

Andy Moats, director of music, sports and entertainment at Pinnacle Financial Partners, says Concord’s offer is “a win-win for all parties.” Round Hill, which had been trading at a steep discount to its catalog’s value, was offered a premium over the share price prior to the announcement. Concord gets to pay fair-market value for a catalog of 150,000 songs by the likes of Bruno Mars, The Supremes and Louis Armstrong.

The deal comes as Round Hill’s share price struggled to meet expectations and falls short of it the value ascribed by multiple independent experts. Concord bid $1.15 per share, 11.5% below the per-share net asset value (NAV) ascribed to Round Hill by Citron Cooperman, a leading valuation expert. Round Hill’s shares had been trading at a 47% discount to NAV the prior day and had fallen 11.5% year to date.

But the fact that Concord’s bid is slightly below Round Hill’s NAV shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, says Larry Miller, clinical professor and director of music business program at New York University. “When you see a liquidity event like this at even close to NAV, I think that is a sign of a strong business fundamentals, notwithstanding how some class of investors — in particular investors in alternative assets — might view the value of the catalog to NAV.”

Moats agrees that Concord’s bid should be seen as a positive despite falling short of Round Hill’s recent NAV. “It was consistent with what we’ve seen in the past” in terms of where deals transact, he says. Not all deals close precisely on valuations, Moats says. Some prices are above valuations and some fall below. The Round Hill price is “within range of what I’ve seen over the last five years where something trades relative to its valuation,” he says.

Other people see additional positives in Concord’s bid for Round Hill’s music royalty fund — which still leaves Round Hill with a substantial publishing and recorded music business. To some, the acquisition reflects a functioning market in which Round Hill’s music assets are moving to Concord’s more efficient cost structure.

Roy Salter, senior managing partner at Virtu Global Advisors, says the deal shows the market is working as intended. “Among the major messages symbolized by the Concord transaction is the continuing advancement of music royalty capital market efficiencies, wherein an increasing number of pension and profit-sharing funds, insurance companies, sovereign funds and similar capital market constituents are steadily entering the market in search of predictable, non-correlated investment returns, and business operations which support music royalty administration continue to be enhanced such as enables optimal market-efficiencies,” he says.

For others, Concord’s bid is an important vote of confidence for firms’ NAV models. “The key takeaway from this Round Hill deal is that it affirms the valuation methodologies that have been used for large music portfolios,” says Michael Poster, an attorney with Michelman & Robinson. “For all the negativity that has come out of a handful of analysts around some of these valuation methodologies, at the end of the day, the market tells the story.”

NAV, a measure of an investment fund’s assets minus debts and liabilities, has been a sticking point for Round Hill and the other publicly traded music royalty fund, Hipgnosis Songs Fund, in recent years. Citron Cooperman, FTI Consulting and other valuation experts employ valuation models that calculate music catalogs’ values by estimating their cash flows over a lengthy period of time. A company’s NAV can improve if the valuation expert believes the catalog merits a lower discount rate, for example, or because favorable industry trends suggest previous revenue forecasts are too conservative.

Some equity analysts have raised questions about not just the valuations but the music industry’s tendency to constantly update NAV. Most funds in other sectors hold their new acquired assets at cost “until there are verifiable reasons” — such as a market transaction — “to suggest a change is warranted,” Stiefel analysts wrote in a Jan. 7, 2021, note to Hipgnosis investors.

Over the last roughly two years, a gap between independent valuation expert’s NAV and Round Hill’s trading price had widened dramatically. The discount to NAV stood at 5% on Dec. 31, 2021, when Round Hill’s NAV was $1.12 per share, and peaked at 51.6% on April 3, 2023, when Round Hill fell to $0.615 per share.

To give the market more faith in its NAV, Round Hill commissioned a second valuation report, by FTI Consulting, that put its NAV within 3% of Citron Cooperman’s estimate. This additional valuation supported Round Hill’s view that its portfolio was being “significantly undervalued” by investors, Round Hill CEO Josh Gruss said at the time.

The move appears to have helped some: Round Hill’s share price rose 19.7% over the following month (Hipgnosis shares, not part of Round Hill’s efforts to change investors’ impressions, fell 4% over that period). But whether investors remained concerned with NAV methodologies or motivated by rising interest rates and other macroeconomic factors, Round Hill’s share price remained well below NAV until last week.

Concord’s bid also provided a boost to Hipgnosis Songs Fund shares that have also been trading at a deep discount to NAV. The day before Concord’s bid was announced, Hipgnsosis shares closed at 0.798 pounds ($1.00), a 58.3% discount to the company’s NAV on March 31 of $1.92. Whether investors regained faith in the NAV or expect Hipgnosis to negotiate a similar asset sale, its shares jumped 15.7% to 0.923 pounds ($1.15) the day of the announcement, peaked at 0.962 pounds ($1.20) on Tuesday and closed at 0.93 pounds ($1.16) on Wednesday.

Had Concord’s bid come in significantly less than NAV, there could have been ripple effects that touched everybody from banks to investors. In such a scenario, people would re-think the value of catalogs and their interest in investing in music assets.

But that didn’t happen. Concord and Round Hill, both widely considered to be smart players in the music asset market, agreed to a price tag close to the often-criticized NAV. If the market was looking for a signal about how to value Round Hill, it received a credible confirmation.

“There’s a lot of stability and consistency in this space,” says Moats, “and this transaction provides that.”

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