Michael Jackson’s Greatest Investment

Legendary pop star Michael Jackson spent exuberantly and accumulated a lot of debt during his lifetime, but one shrewd business decision might save his estate. Jackson paid $47.5 million for the rights to some of the world’s most famous musicians’ work, including the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

The crown jewel in the Jackson estate is Jackson’s part ownership of the Sony/ATV Publishing catalog, which he bought in 1984. The songs earned Jackson more than $15 million a year for the past decade, a rich return on investment (ROI). That’s a total return of more than +300% in the past 10 years alone.

The Sony/ATV catalog owns Elvis songs such as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” in addition to hundreds of other works by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Little Richard, the Moody Blues, Chuck Berry, Hank Williams and Neil Diamond. Music-industry executives value the catalog between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. Jackson sold Sony a half-interest in the catalog in the mid-nineties for $90 million.

A second catalog, Majic, retained ownership of Jackson’s own music, as well as selections from Ray Charles and Sly and the Family Stone. The Majic catalog earned Jackson about $6 million a year.

But Jackson’s assets also went beyond music. He owned houses in Las Vegas, Encino, Calif., and the 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch near Santa Barbara. The estate’s overall property is worth an estimated $100 million.

Not everything on Jackson’s balance sheet is in the plus column. During the past 10 years, Jackson borrowed $270 million against the Sony/ATV catalog, and his total debt load is thought to be more than $400 million. With the value of his musical assets and other property still far exceeding that, it’s unlikely that his three children will go hungry.

Though Jackson may be gone, his music will continue to make money: Elvis Presley’s estate, for example, pulled in more than $55 million last year.