Blackstone 4th-quarter earnings drop 6 percent

* Appreciation in real estate holdings slows

* Results better than analysts expected

* ENI at $1.25 per share

The profit decline was smaller than most analysts expected, as performance fees in the New York-based company’s private equity division soared. Blackstone shares rose 1.6 percent to $37.34 in premarket trading.

Economic net income (ENI), a metric of profitability that takes into account the mark-to-market valuation of its portfolio, fell to $1.45 billion in the quarter from $1.54 billion a year ago.

ENI per share came to $1.25 per share, higher than the average analyst estimate of 92 cents, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.

Realized performance fees in its real estate division almost tripled and its private real estate fund portfolio increased in value by 6.8 percent in the quarter, less than the 13.1 percent appreciation seen last year.

Blackstone’s private equity fund portfolio appreciated 4.2 percent in the quarter, also less than last year. Profit in the division soared, however, due to Blackstone Capital Partners V, a $21.7 billion buyout fund now paying lucrative performance fees not received a year ago.

Distributable earnings, or actual cash available to pay dividends, rose 38 percent in the quarter to $1.13 billion as Blackstone continued to generate cash by selling some assets.

Assets under management totaled $290.4 billion at the end of December, up 9 percent year on year. Fee-earning assets under management also rose 9 percent to $216.7 billion.

Blackstone declared a quarterly distribution of 78 cents per common unit.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis of Reuters news service in New York.