LP corner, week of June 14, 2010

Ontario Teachers looks to sell Maple Leaf Foods

A newspaper report saying the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is looking to sell its stake in Maple Leaf Foods Inc. sent shares in the food company down 4% last week.

The 35.3% stake, worth about $425 million, is the pension fund’s largest single holding of a listed company in Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper said.

Teachers’ plan to sell its stake will likely overhang Maple Leaf shares until it finds a buyer, said analyst Bob Gibson of Octagon Capital Corp. However, it’s likely a good time to find one, with Maple Leaf trying to sell its Burlington, Ontario-based pork-processing plant and with meat prices strong, he said.

“The [selling] environment is very good and that could be why Teachers’ is doing what they’re doing,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, the high point is coming.”

A sale would end the pension fund’s 15-year partnership with the McCain family, which controls Maple Leaf, one of Canada’s largest food producers, said the Globe report.

Teachers’ and the McCains have owned a controlling stake in Maple Leaf since 1995, when the pension fund backed the family’s takeover bid for the food company.

An exit by the Canadian pension fund manager would not likely affect Maple Leaf’s direction, which the McCain family has set, Gibson said.

Maple Leaf’s plan to move away from products such as fresh pork, which are subject to volatile prices, and reduce its vulnerability to currency fluctuations is sound, Gibson said.

Teachers’ spokesman Jim Leech declined to comment on the report. A Maple Leaf spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. —Reuters

Alaska ups PE amount for next fiscal year

Below its private equity allocation target, the board of trustees of the $36 billion Alaska Permanent Fund recently approved $600 million for pledges to the asset class for its fiscal-year 2011, which begins on July 1.

Last year, the state pension fund approved $500 million for such investments. The board also consented to using the $250 million that remains from fiscal-year 2010 during the next fiscal year.

The capital will be divided between HarbourVest Partners, which oversees a separate account for the limited partner, and Pathway Capital Management, which manages two private equity portfolios for the state, according to a fund spokesperson.

As of April 30, the limited partner’s actual allocation to private equity stood at 2.6 percent. Its target allocation to the asset class is 6%, with a range of 1% to 11 percent.

The LP has displayed an interest in international buyout funds. Recent pledge recipients include $15 million to the fourth fund of Abénex Capital, a French mid-market buyout shop; $5 million to Advent Latin American Fund V, earmarked for investments in mid-market companies; and $20 million CHAMP Private Equity’s CHAMP Buyout III, earmarked for mid-market buyouts in and around Australia.

Alaska’s recent U.S. buyout pledges include $20 million to Bain Capital Fund 2009; $80 million to Hellman & Friedman Capital Partners VII; and $70 million to TA Associates XI.

In addition to its interest in buyout funds, the LP recently illustrated a new-found appetite for mezzanine funds, with $500 million worth of such pledges. —Nancy Gordon

Washington Back Turnarounds

The $55 billion Washington State Investment Board recently pledged up to $150 million to turnaround fund Littlejohn Fund IV, according to a spokesperson for the state pension. This is a new relationship for the limited partner, although the state previously committed to a predecessor firm.

Littlejohn & Co., a Greenwich, Conn.-based turnaround shop that invests in companies with revenue of $150 million to $800 million, has raised more than $1 billion from 49 limited partners toward its $1.25 billion target and $1.35 billion hard cap.

The state has a long tradition of committing to distressed investment specialists, starting in 1994 with a pledge to a fund run by Joseph Littlejohn and Levy. (Angus Littlejohn left that firm in 1996 to found Littlejohn & Co.) Other pledges over the years have gone to Avenue Capital Group’s special situation funds, Matlin Patterson Asset Management and a number of Oaktree Capital Management vehicles. As of Dec. 31, the LP had almost $1.9 billion in distressed funds, which have produced an IRR of 10.2 percent.

Separately, the $74 billion Washington State Investment Board has tapped Hamilton Lane as its new private equity consultant.

The pension system has about $13.5 billion in private equity assets, and had spent the past five years using Capital Dynamics, which, in turn, had taken over for Pacific Corporate Group. —Nancy GordonArkansas Teachers’ pledges to three funds

The $10 billion Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement System recently committed up to $90 million in total to a buyout fund, mezzanine fund and a fund of funds as part of its plan to pledge up to $225 million to the asset class this year, according to Executive Director George Hopkins.

The largest slug, up to $40 million, went to Mason Wells for its Mason Wells Buyout Fund III, earmarked for investments in small and lower-mid-market companies based in the Midwest. The firm aims to gather $400 million and has set a hard cap of $500 million.

Up to $25 million went to Audax Group’s $750 million-targeted Audax Mezzanine Fund III, a subordinated debt fund with a mid-market focus.

And up to $25 million was pledged to Franklin Park International Fund 2010, a fund of funds being raised by advisory firm Franklin Park, which will focus on emerging and developing economies. The firm has a fund-raising target of $100 million with a hard cap of $200 million.

The Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement System has a target allocation to private equity of 10%, with a range of 7% to 13 percent. As of December, the actual private equity allocation stood at 7.2 percent. —Nancy Gordon