Private equity was Blackstone’s big winner in 2014

Blackstone Group is finally getting the benefit of yesterday’s earnings beat, up more than 1% in trading this morning and setting a new record price since the firm went public in 2007 (currently trading at $37.47). Blackstone had beaten market expectations yesterday, it had even surprised bulls like Sterne Agee analysts Jason Weyeneth and Samuel Ross, but concerns that the gains had been too reliant on unsustainably low compensation during the fourth quarter had held back the usual price jump following a positive surprise.

While the unusually low fourth quarter compensation surprised people, full-year compensation grew at a reasonable 3.4%. The biggest year-on-year change at Blackstone was in the private equity division, where revenues nearly doubled from $1.46 billion in 2013 to $2.72 billion in 2014, and economic income more than doubled, jumping from $715 million in 2013 to $1.82 billion in 2014. In fact, 4Q14 economic income for the division were almost as high as the entirety of 2013. Of course there’s no guarantee that Blackstone will have so much success in private equity this year since it depends both on what businesses they have in the pipeline and whether the environment is good for IPOs and other deals.

Blackstone financial advisory services also had a strong year, growing revenues from $420 million to $434 million in 2014, and expenses for the division fell from $345 million to $319 million because of a $32 million drop in base compensation. Between the moderate growth and solid cost-cutting, economic income jumped from $76 million in 2013 to $115 million last year. And unlike Blackstone as a whole, the lower base compensation was for the entire year, not just the final quarter, so it could be sustainable.

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Hedge fund solutions had moderate revenue growth, from $649 million in 2013 to $658 million in 2014, but again lower compensation saved the day. In this case it was performance fee compensation, which fell by $26 million year-on-year, so the division reported economic income up 5.6%.

For Blackstone’s credit division, even $110 million in cost-cutting couldn’t make up for the $138 million drop in revenues, falling to $743 million for the year, pulling economic income to $331 million from $358 million in 2013. Similarly, the real estate division cut its expenses from $1.14 billion to $1.11 billion, but revenues fell from $3.21 billion in 2013 to $2.99 billion in 2014, bringing economic income down to $1.88 billion for the year.