When private equity professionals rang in the New Year, there wasn’t much nostalgia for 2011. But there didn’t seem to be all that much hope for a blockbuster 2012, either.
In the year that was, U.S. buyout and mezzanine firms raised $90.5 billion, 31 percent more than the relatively dismal $69.3 billion raised during 2010. Most fundraising gains came from buyout funds, which raised $82.6 billion, 33 percent more than the $61.9 billion raised during 2010. Mezzanine funds also saw a modest bump in fundraising in 2011, rising to $7.9 billion, a 7 percent gain over the $7.4 billion raised in 2010.
Despite these modest gains, fundraising overall remained down a monumental 70 percent from the record $301 billion raised in 2007, before the financial crisis crashed onshore. Figures from Buyouts include money raised from both interim and final fund closings.
The year started out with a burst of optimism as fundraising rose in the first quarter along with rising equity markets and a strengthening economy. That momentum continued into the second quarter, which ultimately turned out to be the best quarter for fundraising since 2008. But in the third quarter, investors pulled back, as the European debt crisis and a downgrade of America’s credit rating frightened investors, while economists once again wagered on the likelihood of a double-dip recession. Volatility eased somewhat in the fourth quarter, and fundraising rebounded, but by year end, it was still an open question whether the modest fundraising uptick would carry over into the New Year.
For 2012, most buyout executives and placement agents told Buyouts that they expected a modest rise in the amount of money available to invest. At the same time, they predicted even more of a scramble for that money from the growing number of firms that are now in the market. “The general fundraising environment is warming, but it’s not hot,” said Bill Barnum, a partner at
Increasing competition is a recurring worry for many private equity firms. Despite a modestly better fundraising outlook, there are now 1,836 private equity funds in the market globally, compared to 1594 at the start of 2011, according to Preqin Ltd., the alternative asset data provider. And those funds, according to Preqin, are now targeting $728 billion, a 21 percent rise on the $602 billion that funds were seeking at the start of 2011. As a consequence, any growth in money available to invest is likely to be overwhelmed by an even greater expansion of the number of firms seeking those funds.
“There is a bit more money in the marketplace–not a ton, but a little,” said Kelly DePonte, a placement agent at Probitas Partners. “But there are a ton of GPs in the market now because they have to be. They’ve got to come back to market simply because they’re running out of money to invest.”
Power Shifts To LPs
Regardless of how much money is ultimately raised in 2012, the private equity world is increasingly becoming polarized between a few hugely successful funds, and the majority of funds, which are struggling to hit their fundraising targets.
“Ultimately, the fundraising market has become extremely bifurcated between funds getting raised and the rest of what’s out there,” said Jennifer Rinehart, a placement agent at MVision. “For 2012, I already see investors queueing up and short listing the funds they want on their list next year. Those names are going to be funded in a matter of weeks,” she said.
The flip side is that “in some cases, raising a fund is taking 18 to 24 months,” said Aaron Rudberg, director of investor relations at
And except for a few top-decile firms that seem to be on every institutional investor’s shopping list, the industry’s increasing competition for money is keeping negotiating influence over fees and terms firmly with investors.
Firms clearly were more generous with fees and terms in 2011 than in the past. Among the more favorable terms offered to some LPs were 100 percent fee offsets and reductions in annual management fees to 1.5 percent from 2 percent, especially for early commitments. “We will continue to see pressure on fees,” said Baird’s Rudberg.
Firms are also responding to the increased competition in other ways. Observed Brentwood’s Barnum: “A lot of funds have been getting smaller than their previous funds.” Examples of this include the latest fund from
Mega-Funds Lose Some Mega
One of the great nuggets of conventional wisdom in recent years has been that mega-buyout funds were fast losing popularity, as they struggled to post top-notch returns after the heady days before the financial crisis.
But the giant firms that run those mega-funds, and which built their reputations as private equity firms, were super busy transforming themselves during 2011. Most notably,
But even as they struggled to raise new private equity funds, firms like Carlyle, Blackstone Group and KKR have been busy raising money in other ways. In early 2011, Carlyle bought
As these mega firms moved to diversify their alternative strategies, they stood alone in being able to land the kinds of commitments made late last year with the
Said DePonte, “these huge commitments Texas Teachers’ and New Jersey are the beginning, not the end,” he said. And look out for the possibility of similar mega-commitments from the likes of the
But giant commitments to premier firms may not be enough to save many conventional mega-funds, such as KKR’s North American XI Fund. That fund, which has an $8 billion target, has been in the market for about a year, and through December, it only has been able to garner a few big checks from large U.S. pensions. So far, at least, those commitments are not nearly enough for the fund to reach its fundraising target.
The trend away from mega-buyout funds was clearly reflected in 2011’s fundraising data. Just $10.1 billion, or 11 percent, of the $90.5 billion raised during 2011 was raised by funds whose targets were at least $5 billion. These sluggish fundraising figures were reinforced by a recent study from
Part of that, to be sure, reflects the relative paucity of mega-buyout funds in the marketplace. At the end of 2011, there were only eight funds that sought to raise at least $5 billion. Besides the funds already mentioned from Warburg Pincus, Providence and KKR, other mega-fund sponsors in the marketplace include The Blackstone Group,
By contrast, the next level of funds, those seeking between $1 billion and $5 billion, raised $49.7, or 55 percent, of all the money raised during 2011. Clearly, that was the sweet spot for fundraising, and data from the Coller survey confirms a more favorable investor attitude toward medium size funds. According to Coller, investors said they were three times more likely to raise their exposure to small and mid-market buyout funds during 2012 as they were to reduce that exposure.
Some of the most in-demand medium-sized funds that closed in 2011 were
Rise Of The Mega-Sector Fund
While generalist mega-buyout funds may be out of favor, one trend definitely gathered steam in 2011: the mega-sector fund.
One reason sector funds have become more popular, placement agents said, was that they allow investors to better tailor diversification inside their private equity portfolios. Within the smaller universe of funds in each sector, star performers can more easily stand out, and it’s those funds, they said, that get funded quickly and ramp-up in size due to heavy demand.
Three such funds exemplified this trend in 2011. Consumer retail specialist Leonard Green & Partners has had a tremendous amount of momentum raising its latest fund,
Finally, software specialist
But success for these mega-sector funds is not guaranteed. Performance from previous funds has to be strong, and the sectors that these firms specialize in have to be in favor. One firm that reportedly has had trouble raising money is media specialist Providence Equity Partners, which invests in such high-profile companies as the YES Network and Hulu, the video Web site. Even though its latest fund is targeting $6 billion, the firm has so far only been able to raise half that goal. Some say the firm’s current struggle has to do with its previous fund’s returns. Fund VI has so far generated a 4.9 percent IRR and a 1.1x return multiple, according to June data from the Washington State Investment Board, one of Providence’s backers. Besides Washington, backers of the new fund include the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board.
Coming Back to Market
In the new year, several prominent firms are expected to come back to market seeking to raise new private equity funds. Among the big names likely to seek fresh capital are
Two other firms likely to swing into fundraising mode during 2012 include