Signs point to a private equity revival

Signs point to a private equity revival

As private equity enters 2013, the industry is poised to benefit from strengthening fundamentals.

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Signs point to a private equity revival

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The early harbingers of a private equity revival are more in evidence this year than they have been since the global financial crisis, according to Bain & Company’s Global Private Equity Report 2013.

The private equity industry looked to be stuck in a rudderless recovery through the end of 2012. The global buyout market has remained flat since 2010. Sales of mature portfolio holdings were below 2011 levels. And new fund-raising improved only marginally as pension funds, foundations, endowments and other limited partners (LPs) found it difficult to commit additional capital to PE fund general partners (GPs) following years without a pickup in investments and exits. When the books were closed on 2012, buyout deal value came in at $186 billion, a disheartening figure considering that over the past decade both the number of active PE firms and the amount of dry powder committed for investment had more than doubled.

As private equity enters 2013, the industry is poised to benefit from strengthening fundamentals, and it would not take much to rouse PE activity out of its slumber. The clouds of uncertainty about the economic prospects for the key economies where PE is active have begun to lift. Continued record-low interest rates and creditors’ yearning for yield coming off a strong debt market in the second half of 2012 make lending conditions for leveraged buyouts and other debt-financed deal making as attractive as they have ever been. Signs of a renaissance in corporate merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity bode well for a stronger market for PE exits. Looking to invest their extensive cash reserves into financing their future growth, deep-pocketed corporate acquirers have traditionally been the biggest buyers of PE assets. On the stalled fund-raising front, some large LPs are raising their target PE allocations in their quest to boost overall portfolio returns. An increase in exit activity would allow general partners to provide limited partners with long-awaited liquidity, enabling them to recycle capital back into new PE funds.

Will a thousand flowers bloom for private equity in 2013? Expectations have been beaten down so long that it’s hard to find fault with those who argue that the current state of PE markets defines a slower-paced “new normal.” There is still enough frost in global economic conditions to nip an incipient recovery in the bud. Too much dry powder is still chasing too few attractive investment opportunities, keeping deal multiples high. General partners continue to sit on a backlog of aging portfolio assets they are eager to sell, forcing them to stretch out holding periods and pushing down returns. Until the market for mega-buyouts begins to revive, for example, there will be no going back to the mid-decade go-go years.

But stasis is not the normal condition of this creative and resourceful industry. As we will see in this series of articles showcasing Bain & Company’s forecast of private equity market conditions in 2013 and beyond, leading general partners and forward-thinking limited partners are making adjustments that will position them to thrive in a warmer climate whether it arrives this year or not.

Written by Hugh MacArthur, Graham Elton, Bill Halloran and Suvir Varma, leaders of Bain & Company’s Private Equity Group.


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