Investors want serious, swift changes to make Hipgnosis Songs Fund more profitable and stable. That was the key takeaway from more than 80% of investors’ votes last week on how the London-listed trust that owns rights to songs by Journey, Bruno Mars and Rihanna should proceed. While the landslide vote opened the door to possibly winding up the pioneering publicly traded music royalty trust, it doesn’t spell an immediate end — more like the long beginning of company-wide rethink to improve the company’s stock price.
More than 80% of Hipgnosis investors voted in favor of the board drawing up “proposals for the reconstruction, reorganization or winding-up of the company to shareholders for their approval within six months,” the board said in a regulatory filing.
“These proposals may or may not involve … liquidating all or part of the company’s existing portfolio of investments.” Adding further uncertainty to the fund’s future is that, while its board devises a plan to restore regular dividends and boost a lagging share price, it must simultaneously find replacements for its chair, Andrew Sutch, and two other members, after those three either resigned or failed to win re-election to the board seats last week.
Sources say Round Hill Music Royalty Fund’s outgoing board chair, Rob Naylor, is being considered to chair of Hipgnosis Songs Fund’s board. Naylor is a former London banker and currently the chief executive officer of Intuitive Investments Group, a fund that invests in high growth life sciences companies. Naylor would have been closely involved in negotiating Round Hill’s $469 million sale of its public fund to Concord, which shareholders approved in mid-October and closed this week.
Jefferies analyst Matthew Hose says one route the board might take would be similar to Round Hill’s sale — Hipgnosis Songs Fund could sell itself to its sister fund Hipgnosis Songs Capital, which is jointly run by Mercuriadis’ investment advisor Hipgnosis Song Management and private equity goliath Blackstone, or it could sell itself just to Mercuriadis’ investment advisor Hipgnosis Song Management.
Although investors soured on an earlier plan to sell about 20% of the Hipgnosis Songs Fund to Hipgnosis Songs Capital, with Blackstone’s backing it remains among the most capable buyers and it knows the portfolio of songs well, analysts agree. There’s also a clause in the investment advisory group’s contract that says if the public fund ends its contract with investment advisor, the investment advisor can buy out the fund. The clause, which was laid out in the fund’s 2018 filings when it went public, was intended to help Mercuriadis reassure artists whose catalogs Hipgnosis acquired that he would always stay on as the relationship manager in charge of their songs and legacy.
While Hose says a sale to Mercuriadis and the investment manager could benefit all parties, “the question is whether this board is able to propose an ‘open’ sale process for the portfolio that extracts this fair value for shareholders, while still honoring the manager’s option, or will the existence of the option simply prohibit any realistic bids?”
Analysts who cover investment trusts like Hipgnosis Songs Fund say that about 80% of the time following a no continuation vote, a fund winds up, either through selling its assets to multiple buyers or all of the portfolio to a single buyer and then distributing those proceeds to shareholders minus any debt repayments.
The deliberation over which direction to take the fund will also rely on an updated valuation of the portfolio, which Hose says will likely see a downgrade since the disclosure in October that the fund’s valuers had inaccurately estimated certain CRB III royalty funds.
“We see the potential for weakness in the portfolio,” Hose says. “An independent valuation of the portfolio by a new valuer that gains the trust of the market … could be crucial here.”