Hipgnosis Songs Fund capped off an eventful 2023 by lowering the value of its music catalog amidst internal conflict over exactly what the company’s star-studded catalog is worth.
The publicly listed royalty fund said its operative net asset value per share declined 9.2% to $1.74 on Sept. 30 from $1.92 on March 31, according to its half-year earnings report on Thursday (Dec. 21). The sharp decline stemmed primarily from a “material reduction” in expectations for CRB III and CRB IV income.
The company’s self-reported valuation has long exceeded the value implied by its share price and estimates of equity analysts. In recent months, Hipgnosis Songs Fund has proposed and completed partial catalog sales at discounts to their net asset values.
New board chair Robert Naylor‘s statement to investors described a strained relationship with the fund’s investment advisor, the Merck Mercuriadis-led Hipgnosis Song Management, over the valuation of the five-year-old company’s catalog that includes stakes in songs by Neil Young, Journey and Fleetwood Mac.
Two days earlier, the board postponed the release of half-year earnings after the investment advisor produced a “heavily caveated” opinion on the catalog valuation provided by independent firm Citrin Cooperman that was “materially higher than the valuation implied by proposed and recent transactions in the sector.”
Internal conflicts continued while the results were delayed. According to Naylor, the board’s request of Hipgnosis Song Management about “the matter to be published on the Company’s website in order to provide transparency for shareholders” was rebuffed “under the confidentiality clauses of the Investment Advisory Agreement.”
On Thursday, Naylor urged Hipgnosis Songs Management to provide an opinion on the valuation of Hipgnosis Songs Fund “without caveats” to provide greater transparency to shareholders. In the absence of a caveat-free opinion, the board urged investors to use “a higher degree of caution and less certainty” than normal when considering its fair value and operative NAV.
Hipgnosis Songs Fund shares fell 1% to 0.70 GBP on Thursday.
Gross revenue from continuing operations declined 26.9% to $63.2 million from $86.4 million in the six-month period ended March 31, 2023.
Net revenue from continuing operations declined 29.7% to $54 million from $76.8 million. About half of the decline came from a $11.9 million reversal of accrued royalties in October. Excluding those accrued revenues, net revenue grew 14% to $65.8 million.
Pro-forma annual revenue (PFAR), which measures gross royalties received and excludes revenue accruals, grew 10.4% to $64.9 million.
Following shareholders’ vote against continuation at the annual general meeting on Oct. 26, Hipgnosis Songs Fund transformed its board of directors by naming Naylor to succeed Andrew Sutch as chairman and adding Francis Keeling, a former Universal Music Group executive, and Christopher Mills, CEO and investment manager at North Atlantic Smaller Companies Investment Trust, to replace Andrew Wilkinson and Paul Burger, both of whom left prior to the annual general meeting.
The new board undertook a strategic review and named Shot Tower Capital as lead advisor to conduct due diligence on the catalog. On Thursday, Naylor said he was pleased with the strategic review’s progress thus far. “This process will help the new Board bring forward proposals for delivering value to shareholders,” said Naylor.
But Naylor also described “ongoing failures in the financial reporting and control process” since he joined the board. “Whilst we consider substantial progress has been made in identifying and rectifying these issues,” Naylor added, “we have had to suspend the dividend for at least the remainder of the year in order to ensure compliance with our banking covenants.”