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3 Reasons to Buy Oaktree Capital Group LLC

By Jordan Wathen – Mar 25, 2014 at 10:23AM

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Oaktree Capital Group is an interesting play on high-yield, distressed debt funds.

What do you get when you mix a legendary investor, high yields, and a play on low interest rates?

You get Oaktree Capital Group LLC (OAK), a high-yielding asset manager.

Here are 3 reasons why I think Oaktree Capital Group should be on your radar:

1. Promising returns
Oaktree Capital Group is primarily an asset manager, with its hands deep in the mix of distressed debt and high-yield bonds in every corner of the world. Its distressed debt funds are top-notch, delivering impressive historical returns for its customers.

Of the 50 distressed debt, closed-end funds it started before December 2013, all but one had positive net returns (returns after Oaktree's management fees). The one fund that wasn't in the black was started in March 2013 -- it's too early to call it a loser.

Source: Oaktree's 2013 10-K

To be clear, Oaktree's distressed debt performance isn't a function of the financial crisis. A fund raised in 2005 and closed in mid-2008 still managed to generate internal rates of return of 8.3% to investors, net of fees.

2. It's a play on rates
Oaktree Capital Group's dividend yield of 7% is naturally attractive for income seekers. But so are its own funds. At year-end, Oaktree Capital Group managed a combined $31.8 billion in distressed and high-yield debt. And as investors reach for yield, its funds are a likely endpoint, helping Oaktree generate additional fee income.

Don't confuse Oaktree Capital as a pure-play on low rates, however. Rising rates create their own fortunes. Many of its funds pay the company management fees plus incentive fees for beating a hurdle, often 8% per year. When Oaktree generates returns in excess of 8% for investors, it collects up to 20% of the returns in the form of additional fees.

Low rates attract investors to its high-yield funds. Higher rates down the road could lead to larger incentive income as it becomes easier to generate returns in excess of 8% per year.

3. Assets are sticky and counter-cyclical
Asset management is a great business because clients tend to stick around for a long time, paying fees for decades. Oaktree's clients are some of the world's best -- 75 of the largest pension plans, funds of 37 state governments, and over 300 university endowments, just to name a few.

These high-profile clients help Oaktree attract long-term capital that is patient enough to wait for results -- these aren't fly by-night assets at a bucket shop. And its capital raising tends to follow a unique trend. When markets crater, distressed debt becomes more interesting to investors, and Oaktree raises new funds when other asset managers can't. Therefore, Oaktree zigs when other asset managers zag.

The Foolish bottom line
I like to think of Oaktree Capital Group as a way to invest in distressed and high-yield debt, without actually investing in those asset classes at all. You get a current dividend yield of 7%, backed by fee revenue from funds managed and overseen by Howard Marks, one of the greatest investors in history.

And while the dividend will waver up and down with the financial markets -- and Oaktree's fee income -- over the long haul, its track record should allow it to continue to build scale, add new funds, and generate bigger distributions for shareholders.

Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Oaktree Capital. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oaktree Capital. 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.

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