A financial IPO that’s no Blackstone

May 2, 2007, 4:04 PM UTC
Fortune

JMP Group, the eight-year-old niche investment bank in San Francisco, recently set the terms of its upcoming IPO. At an offering range of $10.50 to $12.50, JMP values itself at about $200 million. In other words, JMP is no Goldman Sachs (GS), which has a market cap of $89 billion. It’s also no Blackstone, which also plans to go public soon.

But the firm founded by refugees from the old Montgomery Securities is going public for same exact reason Goldman (as well as Thomas Weisel (TWPG), Lazard (LAZ), Cowen (COWN) and others), did: to get liquidity for its employees. Along with the 6 million shares JMP will offer to the public – with its own JMP Securities unit as lead underwriter – firm insiders are selling 1.92 million shares. First, it always says something about a company’s staying power when insiders sell in the IPO. It also shows how lucrative the securities business is, even for bit players like JMP. At the low end of its intended range insiders will sell $20 million worth of stock, or nearly six times what JMP earned in 2006.

If JMP pulls off the IPO, it will demonstrate that a mid-market firm doesn’t even need to be all that successful for its partners to make money. JMP’s fund-management business saw assets plummet from nearly $600 million at the end of 2005 to about $200 million at the end of last year due to “unsatisfactory performance,” according to the firm’s SEC filings. So its hedge funds were sliced by two thirds because they couldn’t keep up with the market and investors yanked their money. Yet JMP makes its money selling financial advice to others. Go figure.