U.S. Stocks Claw Back Some Losses As Oil Prices Rebound

Topline: U.S. stocks recovered some losses on Thursday and oil prices soared, though the modest gains were not enough to offset the damage done by a weeks-long sell-off.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.8%, or 170 points. The S&P 500 gained 0.3% while the Nasdaq gained 2.3%.
  • Tech stocks led the way on Thursday, with Amazon up 2.8% and Microsoft up 1.6%.
  • At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said he would consider for companies who receive bailouts under his administration’s proposed $1 trillion stimulus plan.
  • Central banks are also continuing to act in order to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus outbreak: yesterday, the European Central Bank announced an $818 billion bond-buying program and the Federal Reserve said it will act to shore up prime money market funds.

Crucial quote: “Central banks, particularly the Fed, really are playing whack-a-mole with the financial system,” Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein, told CNBC. “Every day, a new area of distress pops up and every day, they’re coming up with a new program or rebooting an old program.” The Federal Reserve is taking extraordinary steps to stabilize the U.S. economy: it has cut interest rates to almost zero, said it’s prepared to inject trillions of dollars into the overnight repo market, slashed bank reserve requirements and agreed to buy short term debt from companies with good credit ratings.

Big number: The price of oil bounced 24% on Thursday, gaining back about half of its losses from Wednesday, when it reached a multi-decade low. According to reporting in the Wall Street Journal citing people familiar with the matter, the Trump administration is considering intervening in the ongoing oil-price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Key background: The Dow dropped 6.3% yesterday, nearly 2,000 points, while the S&P 500 was down 5.2% and the Nasdaq slid 4.7%. It was the eighth consecutive day where the S&P 500 swung more than 4% in either direction—that level of volatility is far worse than the previous record of six days during the Great Depression, according to LPL Financial. Last night, President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill into law. The bill includes free coronavirus testing and paid sick leave, among other measures. The Trump administration is also pushing for a $1 trillion economic stimulus package.

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I’m an assistant editor on Forbes’ Money team, covering markets, fintech, and blockchain. I recently completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Source: U.S. Stocks Claw Back Some Losses As Oil Prices Rebound

U.S. stocks plunged amid anxieties of a free-fall in oil prices and escalating spread of the COVID-19, with all three major indexes declining more than seven percent.  Trading was halted for 15 minutes after the S&P 500 fell by seven percent, and resumed at 9:49 local time (1349 GMT). Subscribe to us on YouTube: https://goo.gl/lP12gA Download our APP on Apple Store (iOS): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cctvn… Download our APP on Google Play (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/de… Follow us on: Website: https://www.cgtn.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChinaGlobalT… Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cgtn/?hl=zh-cn Twitter: https://twitter.com/CGTNOfficial Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/CGTNOfficial/ Tumblr: http://cctvnews.tumblr.com/ Weibo: http://weibo.com/cctvnewsbeijing Douyin: http://v.douyin.com/aBbmNQ/

Dow Drops More Than 1,000 as COVID-19 Outbreak Threatens Economy

Specialist Erica Fredrickson works with a colleague on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. Stocks are opening sharply lower on Wall Street, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 700 points, as virus cases spread beyond China, threatening to disrupt the global economy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped more than 1,000 points Monday in the worst day for the stock market in two years as investors worry that the spread of a viral outbreak that began in China will weaken global economic growth.

Traders sought safety in U.S. government bonds, gold and high-dividend stocks like utilities and real estate. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to the lowest level in more than three years.

Technology stocks accounted for much of the broad market slide, which wiped out all of the Dow’s and S&P 500’s gains for the year.

More than 79,000 people worldwide have been infected by the new coronavirus. China, where the virus originated, still has the majority of cases and deaths. The rapid spread to other countries is raising anxiety about the threat the outbreak poses to the global economy.

“Stock markets around the world are beginning to price in what bond markets have been telling us for weeks – that global growth is likely to be impacted in a meaningful way due to fears of the coronavirus,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.

The Dow lost 1,031.61 points, or 3.6%, to 27,960.80. At its low point, it was down 1,079 points.

The S&P 500 index skidded 111.86 points, or 3.4%, to 3,225.89. The Nasdaq dropped 355.31 points, or 3.7%, to 9,221.28 – it’s biggest loss since December 2018.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gave up 50.50 points, or 3%, to 1,628.10.

Investors looking for safe harbors bid up prices for U.S. government bonds and gold. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell sharply, to 1.37% from 1.47% late Friday. It was at 1.90% at the start of the year. Gold prices jumped 1.7%.

Crude oil prices slid 3.7%. Aside from air travel, the virus poses an economic threat to global shipping.

Benchmark crude oil fell $1.95 to settle at $51.43 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, dropped $2.20 to close at $56.30 a barrel.

The slump in U.S. indexes followed a sell-off in markets overseas as a surge in cases of the disease in South Korea and Europe rattled investors.

Germany’s DAX slid 4% and Italy’s benchmark index dropped 5.4%. South Korea’s Kospi shed 3.9% and markets in Asia fell broadly.

South Korea is now on its highest alert for infectious diseases after cases there spiked. Italy reported a sharp rise in cases and a dozen towns in the northern, more industrial part of that country are under quarantine. The nation now has the biggest outbreak in Europe, prompting officials to cancel Venice’s famed Carnival, along with soccer matches and other public gatherings.

There are also more cases of the virus being reported in the Middle East as it spreads to Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, among others.

The viral outbreak threatens to crimp global economic growth and hurt profits and revenue for a wide range of businesses. Companies from technology giant Apple to athletic gear maker Nike have already warned about a hit to their bottom lines. Airlines and other companies that depend on travelers are facing pain from cancelled plans and shuttered locations.

Technology companies were among the worst hit by the sell-off. Apple, which depends on China for a lot of business, slid 4.8%. Microsoft dropped 4.3%. Banks were also big losers. JPMorgan Chase fell 2.7% and Bank of America slid 4.7%.

Airlines and cruise ship operators also slumped. American Airlines lost 8.5%, Delta Air Lines dropped 6.3%, Carnival skidded 9.4% and Royal Caribbean Cruises tumbled 9%.

Gilead Sciences climbed 4.6% and was among the few bright spots. The biotechnology company is testing a potential drug to treat the new coronavirus. Bleach-maker Clorox was also a standout, rising 1.5%.

Utilities and real estate companies held up better than most sectors. Investors tend to favor those industries, which carry high dividends and hold up relatively well during periods of turmoil, when they’re feeling fearful.

The rotation into defensive sectors has made utilities and real estate the biggest gainers this year, while technology stocks have lost ground.

“The yields have been moving lower all year, so that’s providing a tail wind for utilities, for real estate,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “In the face of this heightened uncertainty, especially if it’s centered overseas, tech is going to bear some of the brunt of that because it’s been so popular, because it’s done so well, and because it has so much exposure to Asia.”

In the eyes of some analysts, Monday’s tank job for stocks means they’re just catching up to the bond market, where fear has been dominant for months.

U.S. government bonds are seen as some of the safest possible investments, and investors have been piling into them throughout 2020, even as stocks overcame stumbles to set more record highs. The 10-year yield on Monday was near its intraday record low of 1.325% set in July 2016, according to Tradeweb. The 30-year Treasury yield fell further after setting its own record low, down to 1.83% from 1.92% late Friday.

Traders are increasingly certain that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates at least once in 2020 to help prop up the economy. They’re pricing in a nearly 95% probability of a cut this year, according to CME Group. A month ago, they saw only a 68% probability.

Of course, some analysts say stocks have been rising in recent weeks precisely because of the drop in yields. Bonds are offering less in interest after the Federal Reserve lowered rates three times last year — the first such cuts in more than a decade — and amid low inflation. When bonds are paying such meager amounts, many investors say there’s little real competition other than stocks for their money.

The view has become so hardened that “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA, has become a popular acronym on Wall Street. Even with Monday’s sharp drops, the S&P 500 is still within 4.2% of its record set earlier this month.

In other commodities trading Monday, wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to $1.61 per gallon, heating oil declined 8 cents to $1.61 per gallon and natural gas fell 8 cents to $1.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $27.80 to $1,672.40 per ounce, silver rose 35 cents to $18.87 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.59 per pound. The dollar fell to 110.74 Japanese yen from 111.62 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.0842 from $1.0858.

AP Business Writer Stan Choe contributed.

By Elaine Kurtenbach / AP February 24, 2020

Source: Dow Drops More Than 1,000 as COVID-19 Outbreak Threatens Economy

All three major stock market indexes plummeted Monday amid fears of rising inflation and increased interest rates. At its lowest point, the Dow fell 1,600 points and closed down 1,100 points. It was the largest one-day point loss in the market’s history. CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger joins CBSN to explain what is affecting the markets.

Morgan Stanley’s Record Results Boosted By Massive Private Equity Coup In China

Morgan Stanley sign in New York

With Trump’s Phase 1 trade deal with China now complete after a lengthy signing ceremony on Wednesday cheered on by Wall Street luminaries such as Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman, hedge funders Ken Griffin and Nelson Peltz, and Mary Callahan Erdoes of JPMorgan, investors now have a new reason to try and play growth in the country. Record earnings released by investment bank Morgan Stanley the morning after trade negotiations wrapped up reveal the profits that can be made by smartly investing in the world’s second-largest economy.

Morgan Stanley’s fourth-quarter earnings revealed strength across the firm. Revenues surged 27%, propelled by growth across important divisions such as trading, underwriting and wealth management. Overall, Morgan Stanley posted $10.8 billion in revenues for the quarter and $2.2 billion in profits, and for the full year, the investment bank generated a record $41.4 billion in revenue and a $9 billion profit, underscoring the success CEO James Gorman has had in managing its vaunted investment bank, building up its wealth management operations and refitting its trading desks to boost profits.

One line item in the results, however, uncovered a new story for Wall Street watchers to follow. Morgan Stanley’s investment management division booked an almost unprecedented investment windfall in Asia, which reflects the potential China and the rest of the region holds to both the firm and its Wall Street peers in banking and private equity.

Related image

In 2013, Morgan Stanley’s Asian private equity division helped take Chinese baby-milk producer Feihe International private, working with the company’s controlling family, led by CEO Leng Youbin. The company, founded in 1962, had listed American Depositary receipt shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 2008. After generally languishing in the wake of the listing, shareholders like Youbin and his family trusts looked to privatize the business, working Morgan Stanley’s Asian private equity arm on a $147 million deal to buy out the public shares listed on the NYSE. Morgan Stanley contributed $28.1 million of equity on behalf of its limited partners, Feihe’s CEO ponied up a further $8 million, and the consortium raised $50 million in debt financing from Wing Lung Bank Limited and Cathay United Bank to get the deal done.

This past fall, they re-listed Feihe, now the leading baby-milk seller in China, by selling 893 million shares in Hong Kong and raising about $900 million to pay down debt and make acquisitions. Since the listing, China Feihe’s shares have skyrocketed from about HK$7.5 to KK$10.98, per Sentieo data, as investors gained interest in its 15% market baby formula share and revenues and profits of $1.5 billion and $317 million, respectively.

For the participants, the 2013 deal has turned into one of the big windfalls of this era. The Leng family’s shares are now worth $5.2 billion according to Forbes calculations and Morgan Stanley’s shares are worth some $2.3 billion. When Morgan Stanley released full-year earnings, the deal even moved the needle for the 60,000 worker investment bank.

The firm’s investment management division saw revenues more than double to $1.4 billion, led by $670 million in quarterly investment revenue versus $82 million in the year prior. Of the windfall, Morgan Stanley said its investment revenues “increased from a year ago on accrued carried interest related to an underlying investment’s initial public offering, subject to sales restrictions, within an Asia private equity fund managed on behalf of clients.” The carry and gains appear have boosted the firm’s overall earnings by at least 15% for the quarter. Typically half of private equity investment fee revenue will go back to employees in the form of earned carried interest.

On a conference call with analysts, CFO Jonathan Pruzan elaborated about China Feihe, “The company has been quite successful and grown quite nicely. … To give you some sort of context around the round numbers, the investment that we made was less than $50 million, and the current investment value is approximately $2 billion.” (Morgan Stanley declined to comment further.)

China is the preeminent driver of wealth in the world. When Forbes released its 2019 list of China’s wealthiest people, reporters uncovered 60 new billionaires in the country, many of whom are building businesses domestically that may one day resemble companies like Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Pfizer and Nike. Wall Street has to pay attention, especially with domestic markets richly valued after a decade-long bull run.

For years, dealmakers like Blackstone’s Schwarzman, JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Blackrock’s Larry Fink have been studying ways to build their presence in the region and either bank, partner or invest on behalf of the country’s growing business elite. While groundwork is mostly still just being laid, deals like Morgan Stanley’s recent coup underscore the potential remaining in China.

The Phase 1 trade deal signed on Wednesday signaled China’s intention to continue opening its financial system to foreign banks and investors. Vice premier Liu He, carrying a note from premier Xi Jinping, said at the Phase 1 signing China is transitioning from a high-growth economy to one more focused on quality increases. Presumably, that pertains to consumption, financial products and markets, and the capitalization of corporation. Some new developments reached in the deal appeared to make headway for U.S. firms excited about this potential.

The deal further opened Chinese markets to U.S. credit rating agencies, distressed debt investors and foreign financial firms seeking to fully own and manage subsidiaries in the region. Bankers have long wanted to own subsidiaries in the region and mostly unwound joint ventures that helped build China’s state-owned banking giants like ICBC.

In fact, a good way to gauge whether the Phase 1 trade agreement did in fact make substantial inroads, will be to watch how the largest U.S. financial firms respond. New action from the likes of JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Blackstone’s Schwarzman would signal the effectiveness of Wednesday’s deal.

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I’m a staff writer at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, M&A and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a part of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

Source: Morgan Stanley’s Record Results Boosted By Massive Private Equity Coup In China

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Apple, Google, Nike And Other Big Stocks Just Hit All-Time Highs. Here’s Why

Topline: Wall Street cheered the release of November’s blockbuster jobs report on Friday, helping the market recover its trade-war-related losses from earlier in the week and putting a number of major stocks at new all-time highs.

Here are the major companies hitting new records:

  • Technology giant Apple hit a new record stock price on Friday, currently near $270 per share, after Citigroup boosted the company’s upside price target by 20% yesterday, predicting blockbuster holiday sales for products like Airpods and the Apple Watch.
  • Another of the big four tech companies, Google, also reached a new all-time high, trading near $1,342 per share. The company’s stock went higher after cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from their leadership roles earlier this week, giving Google CEO Sundar Pichai the top job at parent company Alphabet.
  • Big financial services companies hit new record prices too, boosted by Wall Street’s big rally on Friday: JPMorgan Chase shares passed the $135 mark, just a few months after a third-quarter earnings report that saw record revenue, while U.S. Bancorp, one of Warren Buffett’s biggest holdings, traded above $60 per share.
  • Upscale furniture chain Restoration Hardware, which recently got a $206 million investment from Warren Buffett, achieved new highs of around $242 per share, following a successful third-quarter earnings beat that exceeded Wall Street expectations.
  • Shares of yoga pants maker Lululemon Athletica, which has led the popular athleisure apparel trend in recent years, hit a new record high of more than $232 per share on Friday. Lululemon’s stock continued a surging run this year (up more than 85% so far in 2019), as the retailer looks to expand into areas like menswear, e-commerce and international sales.
  • Nike, the world’s most dominant athletic footwear and apparel brand, also hit an all-time high price on Friday. The stock traded above $97 per share, thanks to a recent price target upgrade from Goldman Sachs analysts, who see a 20% upside as the retailer continues to be wildly popular with consumers and expands into growing markets like China.

Key background: Despite ongoing trade uncertainty, the stock market ended the first week of December back near record highs. Solid economic data, namely a blockbuster November jobs report that far exceeded analyst expectations, drove the big Wall Street rally on Friday. Recession fears have cooled recently, as economic indicators like consumer spending and holiday sales remain solid as well.

Crucial quote: “A killer jobs report put to rest concerns that the U.S. economy was starting to show signs of slowing down,” says Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

Today In: Money

What to watch for: Trade news—it’s anyone’s guess at this point, with the crucial December 15 deadline for additional U.S. tariffs on $156 billion worth of Chinese goods fast approaching. If Trump imposes tariffs, which China has asked to be canceled as part of a phase one trade deal, that could heat up tensions and threaten the stock market’s year-end run.

The Trump administration has spent months going back and forth with China on trade negotiations, with tensions constantly escalating and de-escalating. With both sides yet to sign a phase one trade deal, Trump’s recent approval of U.S. legislation on Hong Kong further “stalled” trade progress, according to Axios. That could make it more likely that Trump will hold off on planned December tariffs to keep the deal alive.

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I am a New York—based reporter for Forbes, covering breaking news—with a focus on financial topics. Previously, I’ve reported at Money Magazine, The Villager NYC, and The East Hampton Star. I graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2018, majoring in International Relations and Modern History. Follow me on Twitter @skleb1234 or email me at sklebnikov@forbes.com

Source: Apple, Google, Nike And Other Big Stocks Just Hit All-Time Highs. Here’s Why.

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Apple is getting a vote of confidence from Raymond James as it raised its price target to $280 from $250 per share. In response, shares of the tech giant hit a new all-time high and could add more gains by the end of the year.

Meet Wall Street’s Best Dealmaker: New Billionaire Orlando Bravo

Orlando Bravo discovered his edge early. In 1985, at age 15, he traveled from his home in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, a small town on the island’s western coast, to Bradenton, Florida, to enroll in the legendary tennis guru Nick Bollettieri’s grueling academy.

Bravo would wake at dawn, head to class at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, then return to Bollettieri’s tennis courts at noon. He spent hours warring against peers like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier under the broiling sun. At sundown, after an hour to shower and eat, he would study, then retire to a sweaty, two-bedroom condominium in which players bunked four to a room like army barracks. Then he would do it all over again, six days a week, for a full year. “It was the tennis version of Lord of the Flies,” says his former roommate Courier.

The brutally competitive environment helped Bravo climb to a top-40 ranking in the U.S. as a junior. Then he peaked. “It was quite humbling,” recalls Bravo, who’s still fit from his weekly tennis games. “It was a different level of hard work altogether. It became clear I could operate at these super-high levels of pain.”

That grit and perseverance eventually propelled him to the top echelons of the private equity world. Few outside of finance have heard of the 49-year-old Bravo, but he is the driving force behind Wall Street’s hottest firm, the $39 billion (assets) Thoma Bravo.

In February, the French business school HEC Paris, in conjunction with Dow Jones, named Thoma Bravo the best-performing buyout investor in the world after studying 898 funds raised between 2005 and 2014. According to public data analyzed by Forbes, its funds returned 30% net annually, far better than famous buyout firms like KKR, Blackstone and Apollo Global Management. That’s even better than the returns from the software buyout firm Vista Equity Partners, its closest rival, run by Robert F. Smith, the African American billionaire who recently made headlines by paying off the college debt of Morehouse College’s entire graduating class. Since the beginning of 2015, Bravo has sold or listed 25 investments worth a total of $20 billion, four times their cost. His secret? He invests only in well-established software companies, especially those with clearly discernible moats.

“The economics of software were just so powerful. It was like no other industry I had ever researched,” says Bravo, seated in his office in San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. He wears a tailored purple dress shirt and enunciates his words with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “It was just very obvious.”

Bravo’s firm has done 230 software deals worth over $68 billion since 2003 and presently oversees a portfolio of 38 software companies that generate some $12 billion in annual revenue and employ 40,000 people. Forbes estimates the value of the firm, which is owned entirely by Bravo and a handful of his partners, at $7 billion. Based on his stake in the firm and his cash in its funds, Bravo has a $3 billion fortune. Not only does that make him the first Puerto Rican-born billionaire, it’s enough for Bravo to debut at 287th place on this year’s Forbes 400 ranking of the richest Americans.

Like a good tennis player who’s worked relentlessly on his ground strokes, Bravo has made private equity investing look simple. There are no complicated tricks. He figured out nearly two decades ago that software and private equity were an incredible combination. Since then, Bravo has never invested elsewhere, instead honing his strategy and technique deal after deal. He hunts for companies with novel software products, like Veracode, a Burlington, Massachusetts-based maker of security features for coders, or Pleasanton, California-based Ellie Mae, the default system among online mortgage lenders, which the firm picked up for $3.7 billion in April. His investments typically have at least $150 million in sales from repeat customers and are in markets that are too specialized to draw the interest of giants like Microsoft and Google. Bravo looks to triple their size with better operations, and by the time he strikes, he’s already mapped out an acquisition or turnaround strategy.

The pool of potential deals is growing. On public markets, there are now more than 75 subscription software companies, worth nearly $1 trillion, that Bravo can target, versus fewer than 20, worth less than $100 billion, a decade ago. Investors around the world clamor to get into his firm’s funds, and lenders have checkbooks ready to finance his next big deal. “The opportunities today are the biggest I’ve ever seen,” Bravo says. “Right now we are in a huge, exploding and changing industry.”

Orlando Bravo’s isn’t a rags-to-riches story. He was born into a privileged life in Puerto Rico in the Spanish colonial city of Mayagüez, which for decades was the port for tuna fishing vessels supplying the local Starkist, Neptune and Bumble Bee canneries.

Starting in 1945, his grandfather Orlando Bravo, and later his father, Orlando Bravo Sr., ran Bravo Shipping, which acted as an agent for the massive tuna-fishing factory ships entering the port in Mayagüez. It was a lucrative business. His parents moved him and his younger brother Alejandro to what’s now a gated community in the hills of Mayagüez, where the brothers attended private schools and tooled about on the family’s 16-foot motorboat.

After taking up tennis at age 8, practicing on the courts of a local university and a Hilton hotel, Bravo and his family began making the two-and-a-half-hour drive from their home to San Juan on weekends to allow him to train against better competition. “What I loved about tennis was the opportunity,” he recalls. “I’m from Mayagüez, and I’m going to come to the big city and I’m going to make it,” he says. “Let’s go! The underdog!”

He quickly became one of Puerto Rico’s top players, which landed him at Bollettieri’s academy and then on Brown University’s tennis team. “I was so scared I wouldn’t make it through,” Bravo says of the Ivy League, so he took most classes pass/fail as a college freshman. But he quickly found his footing and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1992 with degrees in economics and political science. That helped him get a prestigious job as an analyst in Morgan Stanley’s mergers and acquisitions department. There he paid his dues, clocking 100-hour weeks under the renowned dealmaker Joseph Perella.

“I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again. It was too painful.”

Bravo’s Spanish fluency put him in front of clients as other analysts slaved away in data rooms. Working on Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros’ 1993 acquisition of Puerto Rican supermarket chain Pueblo Xtra International opened his eyes to the world of buyouts. But mostly he says he learned he didn’t want to be a banker.

Bravo eventually headed west to Stanford University. He’d already been accepted into its law school, but he also wanted to attend the business school. He called insistently and eventually got accepted to pursue both. He worked during a summer at Seaver Kent, a Menlo Park, California-based joint venture with David Bonderman’s Texas Pacific Group that specialized in middle market deals. Upon graduation in 1998, Bravo wasn’t offered a position there or at TPG, and he spent months cold-calling for a job. After about a hundred calls, Bravo’s résumé caught the eye of Carl Thoma, a founding partner of the Chicago-based private equity firm Golder, Thoma, Cressey, Rauner (now known as GTCR), and they hit it off. “The biggest mistake Texas Pacific made was…that they didn’t make him a job offer,” says Thoma, 71, who Forbes estimates is also a billionaire based on an analysis of public filings.

One of the pioneers of the private equity industry in the 1970s, Thoma is a tall and mild-mannered Oklahoman whose parents were ranchers. Thoma and his partners practiced a friendlier version of the buyouts popularized by Michael Milken, preferring to buy small businesses and expand them using acquisitions. When Bravo came aboard in 1998, Thoma and partner Bryan Cressey had just split from Stanley Golder and Bruce Rauner, who later went on to become governor of Illinois, creating Thoma Cressey. Thoma sent Bravo to San Francisco to hunt for investments and eventually expand the firm’s Bay Area presence.

Bravo’s first few deals, struck before he turned 30, were disasters. He backed two website design startups, NerveWire and Eclipse Networks, just as the dot-com bubble popped. The two lost most of the $100 million Bravo invested. “I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again,” Bravo says. “It was too painful to live through.” Thoma Cressey was also struggling elsewhere, with underperforming investments in oil and gas and telecommunications. It was among the worst performers in the private equity industry at the time.

“Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us.”

But the failure led to an epiphany that soon made Bravo and his partners billions. He realized his mistake was in backing startup entrepreneurs, an inherently risky move, when for the same money he could buy established companies selling niche software to loyal customers. With Thoma’s blessing, Bravo pivoted and became an expert on these arcane firms. Coming out of the dot-com bust, the market was littered with foundering companies that had gone public during the bubble and had few interested buyers. Bravo got to work. His first big move, in 2002, was to buy Prophet 21, a Yardley, Pennsylvania-based software provider to distributors in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors that was trading at a mere one times sales.

Rather than clean house, Bravo kept the company’s CEO, Chuck Boyle, and worked beside him to boost profits, mainly by rolling up competitors. When Boyle wanted to buy a company called Faspac, Bravo flew to San Diego to work out of the Faspac owner’s garage for five days, analyzing reams of contracts to see if the deal would work. “Orlando would help not only at the highest level with strategy but also when we got grunt work done,” Boyle recalls. After seven acquisitions, Bravo sold the business for $215 million, making five times his money.

Software quickly became Bravo’s sole focus, and Thoma Cressey began to thrive. By 2005, Bravo and Thoma had recruited three employees, Scott Crabill, Holden Spaht and Seth Boro, to focus on software applications, cybersecurity and Web infrastructure. All remain with the firm today as managing partners.

Bravo’s big opportunity came during the financial crisis when Thoma put Bravo’s name on the door and split with his partner Bryan Cressey, a healthcare investor, creating Thoma Bravo. From that moment on, the firm invested only in software, with Bravo leading the way.

A string of billion-dollar buyouts followed—Sunnyvale, California-based network security firm Blue Coat, financial software outfit Digital Insight of Westlake Village, California, and Herndon, Virginia’s Deltek, which sells project management software—all of which more than doubled in value under Bravo’s watch. The firm’s inaugural 2009 software-only fund posted a 44% net annualized return by the time its investments were sold, making investors four times their money and proving the wisdom of discipline and specialization. “Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us,” he brags.

It’s late May, and Orlando Bravo’s 20th-floor offices overlooking the San Francisco Bay are filled with dozens of tech executives from its portfolio companies. Folks from Houston’s Quorum Software, which makes technology systems for oil and gas companies, mingle with cybersecurity experts from Redwood Shores, California’s Imperva. They juggle their rollerboard suitcases and thick financial books as Thoma Bravo partners map out corporate strategies on dry-erase whiteboards. Those on break hammer away at keyboards in small workrooms or demolish chicken sandwiches in a no-frills kitchenette.

This is one of Thoma Bravo’s monthly boot camps for new acquisitions, grueling daylong sessions that are critical to its success. Partners regularly buzz into Bravo’s spartan glass-walled offices, while in the background the drilling and hammering of construction workers making room for 13 new associates disturbs the peace.

With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest, Bravo is now eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions of tech giants.

After two decades studying software, Bravo recognizes clear patterns. For instance, when a company pioneers a product, its sales explode and then inevitably slow as competitors emerge. Often a CEO will use this cue to stray into new markets or overspend to gin up sales. Bravo calls this “chasing too many rabbits.” To fix it, he and his ten partners work alongside 22 current and former software executives who serve as consultants. They begin tracking the profit-and-loss statements for each product line and pore over contracts in search of bad deals or underpriced products. Critically, by the time a Thoma Bravo acquisition check clears, existing management has agreed that this rigorous approach will help. Bravo calls it “making peace with the past.”

There are also layoffs. Those can total as much as 10% of the workforce, for which Bravo doesn’t apologize. “In order to realign the business and set it up for big-time growth, you first need to take a step back before you take a step forward. It’s like boxing,” he says. “These are unbelievable assets with great innovators, and they are usually undermanaged.”

Mark Bishof, the former CEO of Flexera Software, an application management company outside of Chicago that Bravo bought in 2008 for $200 million and sold for a nearly $1 billion profit three years later, has a succinct description for this wild success. “He just kind of cuts all of the bullsh*t,” Bishof says. “It’s refreshing.” Flexera’s profits rose 70% during Bravo’s ownership, largely thanks to four major acquisitions. “Orlando’s like the general in the foxhole with his sergeant. You know he’s knee-deep in there with you,” Bishof gushes.

Under Thoma Bravo’s watch, companies on average saw cash flow surge as margins hit 35%, as of 2018, nearly triple those of the average public software company at that time. “It’s like training for the Olympics. . . . You have a finite goal to make it [in year four], and you make it very, very clear,” Bravo says. Today’s roaring market adds potency to the playbook. Lenders are now gorging on software debt, and stock market multiples for these businesses are surging.

“I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career.”

A recent example is Detroit’s Compuware, a decades-old pioneer of software applications to manage mainframe computer systems. In 2013, this Nasdaq-listed giant was all but left for dead and up for sale. There was minimal interest, other than from Bravo and partner Seth Boro, who were keen on Dynatrace, software that helped companies move databases to the cloud, which Compuware had acquired in 2011. Thoma Bravo used $675 million in cash and raised $1.8 billion in debt to buy Compuware and then split off Dynatrace as a separate company. The pair began to move Dynatrace from selling database licenses, once the bulk of its business, to cloud subscription services, now 70% of sales. This past August, Dynatrace went public, and Thoma Bravo’s 70% stake is now worth over $4 billion, with the remainder of Compuware worth nearly a billion more. “I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career,” says Dynatrace CEO John Van Siclen.

With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest for its 13th fund raised in 2018, Bravo is eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions from today’s technology giants. But thanks in part to the success of his firm, he now faces more competition. Heavyweights like Blackstone and KKR are increasingly sussing out software deals, not to mention his longtime rival Vista Equity. And he’s not immune to mistakes. Bravo’s $3.6 billion 2015 acquisition of San Francisco-based digital network tracker Riverbed Technology is currently struggling because of slowing sales and too much debt. He isn’t worried. “There are bigger and better companies to fix than there were ten years ago,” Bravo says.

His biggest challenge these days is likely back home in Puerto Rico where it all began. Bravo announced in May that he is contributing $100 million to his Bravo Family Foundation that will be used to promote entrepreneurship and economic development on the island.

This new foundation was birthed by Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island two years ago. Bravo was in Japan raising cash for yet another massive fund and frantically calling San Juan trying to locate his parents, who were living in the capital. They were fine, but the island wasn’t.

Five days later, he flew his Gulfstream jet with 1,000 pounds of supplies—water, granola bars, meal kits, satellite telephones, diapers, intravenous tubes and hydration pills—to Aguadilla, near Mayagüez. When an airport worker opened the door of his plane, Bravo says, the look of fear on his face was unforgettable. “All you could say was ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you.’ ”

He returned two weeks later in a larger plane with 7,000 pounds of supplies. Then he came in a massive DC-10 cargo plane before ultimately chartering two container ships carrying 600,000 pounds. “It was just like cold-calling for deals,” Bravo says of rounding up all the donations. He personally put in $3 million in just the first 30 days, and committed $10 million altogether.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency became fully operative there, the island’s richest native turned his attention to Puerto Rico’s future. Though 44% of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, Bravo believes in the potential to foster entrepreneurship, citing that a tenth of the population has tried to build a business.

Armed with his money, his foundation is looking to back Puerto Rican technology entrepreneurs, even ferrying them to Thoma Bravo’s offices for training. Bravo admits to being tired of the debate over Puerto Rico’s statehood and holds his tongue when asked about President Trump’s performance during Maria. “My passion, which is the same as with companies, is to move beyond the strategic, long-term pontification, and into the operational and tactical moves that make you move forward today,” he says. “Economies go down, companies miss their numbers, trade stops, product issues happen and people quit. [The question is] do you have a creative approach to problem solving?” Bravo says. “Some people are stuck . . . and some people love putting the pieces together. I just feel like every operational problem can be solved. There’s always a solution.”

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I’m a staff writer at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, M&A and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a part of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

Source: Meet Wall Street’s Best Dealmaker: New Billionaire Orlando Bravo

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Orlando Bravo, managing partner of Thoma Bravo and founder of the Bravo Family Foundation, https://www.bravofamilyfoundation.org/, announced he personally will contribute $100 million to his foundation to promote entrepreneurship and economic development in Puerto Rico, where Bravo was raised, and his family still lives.
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