The $2.15 billion acquisition of Lehman Brothers' (OTC: LEHM.Q) investment management division by Bain Capital and Hellman & Friedman isn't the deal of the year (that would probably be Barclays' (NYSE:BCS) purchase of Lehman's North American broker-dealer business) ... but it's close.

The deal includes the crown jewel of the division, Neuberger Berman, and concludes a process that began weeks ago, as Lehman was struggling to raise capital. Bidders originally included other buyout heavyweights, such as KKR and the Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX).

 $2.15 billion … peanuts, I tell you
Let's put that number in perspective:

  • Before Lehman's Sept. 15 bankruptcy filing, another buyout firm, the Carlyle Group, was willing to buy the investment management unit for $7 billion and give Lehman the option to buy it back.
  • Lehman Brothers paid $3.1 billion for Neuberger Berman alone in 2003. At the time, Neuberger Berman had $64 billion in assets under management (AUM). Since then, Neuberger Berman has more than doubled its AUM to $130 billion. The total for the investment management division is $230 billion.
  • If those first two weren't clear enough, here's another way of looking at it: If you were to pay $2.15 billion for Neuberger Berman alone, you'd be getting a great franchise at a good price -- less than 1.7% of AUM. That's what these buyers are doing, and they're getting all the other parts of investment management, which represent $100 billion in AUM, thrown in for free.

For reference, BlackRock (NYSE:BLK), another marquee asset manager, has a current market value representing 1.8% of its AUM. BlackRock is partly owned by Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER). Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation Legg Mason (NYSE:LM) is probably a better comparable for Neuberger, but it is currently trading at a distressed valuation of barely 0.6% of AUM.

Bain and Hellman & Friedman got a fantastic price, and that's a good thing (for them, not for Lehman creditors), because they won't be able to count on leverage to juice their returns; the acquisition is a cash transaction.

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