Belfast Telegraph

Billion-dollar Bono: U2 star is now elevated to top investor

By Peter Flanagan

It would be hard to believe for most of his fans, but Bono may soon be making more money as a suited Wall Street investor than as an international rock star.

The singer, who was branded "the worst investor in America" by an influential financial blog only last year, seems to be having the last laugh now after an investment company he fronts is sitting on a share in Facebook which has quadrupled in value in less than two years.

In November 2009 Elevation Partners -- a US investment firm in which Bono is a partner -- paid $210m for a stake in the social networking giant. After another investor sold its stake in the company yesterday, Elevation Partners' stake is now valued at close to $1bn -- or $975m to be precise.

That 400pc increase is a big turnaround for Bono, who was deemed "the worst investor in America" by the '24/7 Wall Street' last year.

He earned that title after a host of Elevation investments -- dubbed "arguably the worst-run institutional fund of any size in the United States" -- turned sour.

The $1.9bn fund was founded in 2004 by Bono and top fund manager Roger MacNamee among others to invest in media, music and gaming deals. It pumped around $480m into the smartphone maker Palm -- once a leader in the smartphone market -- in 2007 only months before Apple's iPhone almost wiped the company out.

Ultimately, Bono's firm broke even on its Palm investment when the computer giant Hewlett-Packard bought the company at a bargain basement price. The conditions of Elevation's investment meant it would be reimbursed in full if Palm was sold.

In 2006 Bono's fund invested some $300m in the US publishing company Forbes. The family-owned company, best known for the 'Forbes' business magazine, was valued at around $750m at the time but the magazine sector has seen its value plummet since then, and the company is now estimated as being worth around $100m .

More recently, U2 are believed to have backed the Broadway musical "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" to the tune of $65m and counting, but there seems little hope of them getting their money back. The show has been beset by problems, including injured crew, a delayed opening, and negative reviews.

The Facebook investment though, may be a sign of a change in fortune for the fund. Elevation was reported to have put $100m into Pandora, a heavily hyped online music service which went public last month but it is not clear if it ultimately invested in the company.

Still, the fund looks well placed to invest more in the trendy media and technology space, which is riding a wave of growth at the moment. That has prompted fears of another technology bubble, similar to what happened at the turn of the century when a host of internet companies listed on the stock market only to see their value plummet after a short time, creating massive losses for investors.

In any case, even if the investment side of things doesn't work out for Bono, he will always have the music to go back to, and that should leave him with a tidy little sum for retirement.

U2's '360' Tour, which ended after two years earlier this year, was the highest grossing tour of all time. Surpassing The Rolling Stones 'Bigger Bang' tour.

It is believed to have netted the band $195m, and the fact that much of the band's business is domiciled in Holland for tax purposes means profits from record sales will only get bigger.

Belfast Telegraph


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