The notoriously closed-mouthed private equity management firm Carlyle Group finally decided to open its books to the world yesterday, filing papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission in readiness for an initial public offering as a partnership.

The group manages $153 billion in assets and owns 270 companies and properties around the world.

No date has been set for the IPO, nor has the price range nor number of units in the offering. Carlyle registered the IPO at $100 million, though that is considered just a placeholder amount. The sale is expected to take place later this year or, more likely, in early 2012.

Why now?
Carlyle has been around for 24 years, and the IPO could provide a way for its three co-founders to leave the company with a big chunk of cash in their pockets. There is speculation, too, that it would provide enough capital to better compete with rival The Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX). Blackstone’s assets have jumped 43 percent in the last year to $159 billion.

The filing says the IPO will also be used to repay debt.

Carlyle would be following in the footsteps of several other private equity firms that went public in recent years, but investors who bought stock at the IPO prices of Blackstone, Fortress Investment Group (NYSE: FIG), and Apollo Global Management (Nasdaq: APO) have not fared well.

Adjusted for dividends, Blackstone now trades at 51% below its 2007 IPO level; Apollo is 31% below its IPO price of last March; Fortress has dropped 89% since its 2007 IPO. KKR (NYSE: KKR) alone is above its IPO price, though down 42% since its peak last April.

Is the climate right?
It has not been an easy time for IPOs in general lately. At least 24 have been tabled in the last three months alone. Nevertheless, Carlyle has been working hard since June to convince the investment world that the time is right for its going public.

A selling point the group has used in its briefings with analysts, according to The Wall Street Journal, is that Carlyle is more globally oriented than its competitors, and that it is the largest private equity company in China.

As my Foolish colleague Morgan Housel brings up in his column about Goldman Sachs, when it comes to a longtime successful partnership going public, you have to ask yourself why it is doing so. Is it, indeed, to provide needed capital to better compete, or is it just a way for the partners to insulate themselves from bad business decisions -- leaving the consequences for the stockholders to bear? That is a question that investors should ask themselves. I think one should be very wary about this investment.

Another important benefit of buying into the IPO, the company touts, is that it will pay a higher dividend than those other publicly traded funds. That, of course, will remain to be seen.

For investors who want dividends coming in now, click here for a list of current high-dividend yielding stocks.

Fool contributor Dan Radovsky has no financial interest in the mentioned companies. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.