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Portfolio > Alternative Investments > Private Equity

US Private Equity Remains Popular With Investors

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PitchBook’s second quarter report on the U.S. private equity sector finds fundraising exceedingly robust, deal activity holding its own and exits continuing their slowdown.

Private equity fundraising in the first half mirrored that of the 2007 boom, and commitments in 2017 could be the highest of any year since then, according to the report.

Through the first half, $113 billion was committed to 117 funds. Ninety-three percent of funds hit or exceeded their funding target, thanks to larger commitments by limited partners.

The report said strong distributions in recent years and increased allocations from limited partners seeking higher returns were driving this trend.

The biggest funds, those with $5 billion or more, accounted for half of all capital raised in the first half. And even as fund targets increased, the average time to close decreased to 12.3 months for the overall industry and just 10.8 month for buyout funds.

PitchBook noted the pace of commitments could be expected to slow as distributions from general partners have begun to do. “However, we believe the fundraising craze is nowhere near the end as public pensions, among other LPs, face significant shortfalls.” Robust commitments should extend through year-end, it said.

A recent report on the global private equity industry also found that ravenous investors were driving fundraising.

According to PitchBook, deal flow in the second quarter was slightly below last year’s pace. Across the U.S., 866 deals were completed, with a total estimated value of $151 billion.

The report said private equity firms, brimming with some $546 billion in dry powder and helped by lower high-yield credit spreads, continued to deploy capital, notwithstanding high multiples and scarce quality targets.

U.S. mergers and acquisitions EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) multiples pulled back a bit in the first half, to 10.5x from 10.7x in 2016.

Meanwhile, median debt percentage has increased to 56.3%, up from 50% a year ago, as high-yield bond spreads reached a three-year low. The median debt-to-EBITDA ratio has also increased, to 5.9x through June.

In the first six months of the year, private equity firms closed just five deals worth $2.5 billion or more, on pace for the fewest of any year since 2012. This despite increasing fund sizes.

PitchBook explained that robust corporate balance sheets made it hard for private equity firms to compete with corporate buyers, as did some founders’ preference to sell to a competitor rather than to a buyout firm in the belief the competitor would prove a better steward of their company.

The IT sector in the first half accounted for 19% of deals. In contrast, the energy sector made up just 4% of deals, the lowest since 2006, on worries about price fluctuations and abundant global supplies.

The most active investors in the second quarter were Audax Group and HarbourVest Partners with 16 deals each, and Genstar Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts with 10 apiece, according to PitchBook.

The report said private equity exits in the first half continued on the downward trend that began in 2015, with $86 billion in exit value over 470 deals.

There was more activity in the second quarter than in the first, but volume was down 26% from the same period in 2016. Overall exit value was on track to be down 46.5% this year if the pace holds steady.

The financial services sector had the strongest record for exits, some $16 billion in the first half, almost as much as in all of 2016, according to the report.

On the other end of the spectrum, the healthcare, IT and business-to-consumer sectors will experience 50% decreases in exit value year over year.


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