After a Solid Year, Private Equity Firms Prepare for Challenges Ahead

After a Solid Year, Private Equity Firms Prepare for Challenges Ahead

The global economic expansion showed signs of strain in 2015, but private equity turned in another surprisingly solid year.

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After a Solid Year, Private Equity Firms Prepare for Challenges Ahead

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With its complex interplay of fund-raising, investments, exits and returns carried out on a global scale against kaleidoscopic shifts in the business cycle, credit conditions and regulatory environment, a year in private equity (PE) is a lifetime in most other industries. The global economic expansion showed signs of strain amid continued record-low interest rates, feverish competition that had investment multiples skirting record highs and increased volatility in public equity markets, presenting many challenges in 2015 (see figure). Yet PE turned in another surprisingly solid year.

As we explain in Bain & Company’s Global Private Equity Report 2016, PE’s vital signs remained healthy in 2015. Exits in 2015 rode a tsunami of corporate mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity as cash-rich strategic acquirers set out to buy growth. PE returns once again began to widen their performance edge over the public markets, reinforcing investor confidence. The eagerness of limited partners (LPs) to recycle a flood of cash distributions back into their best-performing asset class enabled PE firms of just about all sizes, areas of focus and performance track records to hit or exceed their targets. New investments by PE funds remained robust despite sky-high asset valuations and growing uncertainty in the debt markets as general partners (GPs) discovered new ways to deploy capital.


But as we will see in subsequent installments of this series of articles assessing private equity’s current challenges and future prospects, the disciplines and resourcefulness that served PE so well last year will be even more important in the year ahead as the competitive intensity for deals reaches new highs, recession risks mount and the maturing PE industry wrestles with generational evolution. Leading PE firms are arming themselves for future turbulence by probing deeply to understand the unique sources of their past successes, investing in skills that will enable them to create value across their portfolios and learning how to anticipate—and invest behind—the new macro forces that will disrupt industries and reshape economies. There are lessons in these novel approaches that no PE firm or LP can afford to ignore, because if there is one constant amid the PE industry’s swirl of challenges, it is the need to embrace change.

Hugh MacArthur, Graham Elton, Dan Haas and Suvir Varma are leaders of Bain & Company’s Private Equity Group.


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