Blackstone’s blowout quarter, and where it’s investing next

February 3, 2011, 9:05 PM UTC

The Blackstone Group (BX) today announced year-end 2010 earnings, including that economic net income rose 102% to $1.4 billion. Investors have reacted positively to the news, with the stock currently trading up 3.66% to $17.29 per share. That is its highest price since Lehman Brothers went bust on September 15, 2008.

Unlike most other public companies, Blackstone holds two sets of conference calls to discuss its earnings: One with journalists and one with analysts.

It’s a very smart PR move. Not only because it foments some residual goodwill from those who cover the firm, but also because there is an enormous amount of media ignorance and misinformation about private equity firms (like everything else, it has its positives and its negatives).

Anyway, today’s media call just ended. Here are a few quick notes, mostly based on comments by firm president Tony James:

* Q4 2010 was Blackstone’s best-performing quarter since going public in June 2007.

* Blackstone’s next private equity investment will come out of BCP VI — its predecessor is fully-committed — but the fund still has not yet held a final close. James said that the final closing size still will be around $15 billion.

* Approximately 75% of Blackstone’s private equity investment dollars last year went to Asia. James said that he does not expect a repeat performance in 2011, in part because Blackstone already has a number of large U.S. deals signed and/or closed so far this year. It also has closed on a large European deal, and expects to have more South American activity thanks to its recent acquisition of a 40% stake in Brazilian alternative asset manager Patria.

* Blackstone’s real estate business gained 69% in value last year.

* Credit group GSO “is our fastest growing business.”

* Park Hill, Blackstone’s fund placement group, came “roaring back” last year. This was offset by a slowdown in the firm’s restructuring business, due to the economic recovery (i.e., fewer troubled businesses to restructure).

* “We have invested $4 billion in startups over the last ten years, which is more than any VC firm in the world.” Not so sure he’s right about that, nor am I sure that most VC funds would view such investments as “startups.” More like acquisition platforms…

* Blackstone expects Patria to be profitable “right away,” but says it is small enough that big Patria gains or losses won’t have too much impact on Blackstone’s overall bottom line.

* James: “I believe that the bank investment opportunity has mostly moved away from private equity.”

* James said that Blackstone plans to raise its next real estate fund sometime this year, probably with a target similar to the $10 billion fund which is only “a deal or two away” from being fully committed. Worth noting that Joan Solotar, Blackstone’s public markets chief, walked James’ statements about timing and target back a bit… perhaps so that Blackstone doesn’t get a letter from the SEC about violating solicitation rules.