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Hipgnosis Songs Fund Overstated Revenue, Earnings & Its Stakes in Music Catalogs, Says New Report

Hipgnosis Songs Fund, the troubled publicly traded music royalty company that owns full or partial rights to song catalogs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shakira, Justin Bieber and Neil Young, issued a damning report Thursday (March 28) compiled by a third party that details missteps the fund and its investment advisor made leading to a 26% portfolio downgrade earlier this month.

The London-listed fund, which became the poster child for music as an investable asset class, cut the value of its portfolio earlier this month and told investors not to expect the resumption of dividends “for the foreseeable future” while the company focuses on paying down debts.

Compiled by the board’s lead independent adviser, Shot Tower Capital, the report found that Hipgnosis Song Management, run by Hipgnosis founder and music manager Merck Mercuriadis, materially overstated the fund’s revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) and supported catalog acquisitions with financial analysis that failed to meet “music industry standards.” Hipgnosis Songs Fund itself overstated the scope of its music assets — the kinds of royalties and administration rights it owned and its share of those rights — in disclosures to investors and regulators. And in a pitch last September to investors to sell some 29 catalogs to a sister Hipgnosis company, the fund included a better-than-could-be-expected post-deal valuation, the report found.

In a statement announcing the report, the fund’s board said it is exploring “all options for the future of the company,” and that it will release its strategic review and proposals by April 26.

Hipgnosis Song Management said it was still reviewing the report, which it received late yesterday. “However, there are aspects of the report that HSM strongly disagrees with and considers to be factually inaccurate and misleading,” the company stated.

“Throughout the life of the company, HSM has worked constructively, and in good faith, with the company’s board and other advisers to deliver the best outcome for the company’s shareholders,” the company continued. “Each adviser was recruited by the company’s board to advise on their specific area of expertise and with clear areas of responsibility.”

Investors found heart in the report; at the close of London markets on Thursday, Hipgnosis Songs Fund was trading at 0.69 pounds ($0.87), up 8.3% on the day and 30.43% above its 52-week low of 0.53 pounds ($0.69) set on March 4.

Here are some of the most revealing findings from Shot Tower’s report:

“The Fund overpa(id) for the majority of the catalogs it acquired.”

Hipgnosis Songs Fund, at the investment adviser’s direction, famously paid top-dollar for music assets — more than $2.2 billion overall. Today, those assets are worth $1.948 billion, with 67 of 105 acquisition deals currently worth less than their purchase price.

The investment advisor’s “diligence and underwriting standards” are the reason why.

Hipgnosis Song Management predicted aggressive growth, but three-quarters of its catalogs missed those expectations “by an average of 23% annually” and the overall annual royalties the fund earned from catalogs has fallen to $121.6 million from $134.2 million.

Passive catalogs grew significantly better than catalogs managed by the Investment Advisor.

A significant portion of the rights the fund had in its portfolio included passive rights. However, Mercuriadis and Hipgnosis Songs Fund’s board frequently touted that their industry expertise would be a valuable tool to make these rights outperform passive catalogs.

The fund’s public reports contain disclosures that imply greater ownership control over songs… than would have been the case.”

Multiple reports from the fund presented that it had 100% “interest ownership” in acquired catalogs, which suggests ownership and control. “In fact, a material number of catalogs represent only a fractional, non-controlling income stream in the compositions without any copyright ownership,” the report reads.

Despite promoting itself as a caretaker of artists’ and songwriters’ works, Mercuriadis’ investment advisory group “failed to invest in systems and provide the services required to effectively manage a catalog of 40,000+ songs generating +120 million of royalty income annually.”

Hipgnosis Songs Management has not tracked or managed the catalog at the song level, and its legal bookkeeping included numerous oversights and missing files that could present complications to the collection of royalties.

The report found “multiple areas where fund expenses appear unrelated to the fund and/or are excessive.”

These costly items included $1.5 to $2 million spent annually for awards shows and public relations, “including significant payments to multiple music industry periodicals”; $1.2 million in fees in 2023 from deals the fund ended up not doing; and $5.7 million in fees related to the abandoned deal to sell catalogs to its sister fund, Hipgnosis Songs Capital.

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