Hands-on Value Creation

Blackstone is a principal beneficiary of the consolidation of alternatives / private markets. It stewards $649 billion in assets under management.
 
According to its 10-Q, Blackstone collected $1.18 billion in management and advisory fees (net of fee reductions and offsets) in the first quarter of 2021, with the Private Equity segment accounting for 35% of the total ($406M).
 
The firm generated $36 million in incentive fees in Q1.
 
Institutional investors (and their consultants) often say that they allocate to managers based on their prior performance and ability to drive operational value add.
 
When it comes to performance, some of Blackstone’s funds are publicly available on the CalPERS website:

You could also scroll through Washington SIB’s portfolio overviewor CalSTRS’ to see whether and how the performance figures differ.

It’s hard (for me) to square the fees paid with the performance delivered … but I also don’t have the problem of finding a place to invest $500M.

(Though Portico happily accepts donations if you’d like to give us $500M to play with … you can check back in 10 years and see how we did).

Alternatively, maybe Blackstone employs its value-creation capabilities to build strong, sustainable businesses, thereby effectively de-risking each investment.

(The firm seems to be so great at this that it has confidence buying the same portfolio companies multiple times … sometimes after a bankruptcy, e.g., Extended Stay America).

This is how Blackstone markets itself:

Great leadership teams are critical for success. Blackstone’s operating partners and network of operating executives work directly with CEOs and their senior teams to improve operating performance, strategy and governance.

And:

Environmental, Social and Governance principles have been integral to Blackstone’s corporate strategy since our founding. We are committed to responsible investing practices and incorporate them into everything we do.

Comforting language befitting a “safe pair of hands.”

Which is why the F-1 prospectus of Oatly — a Swedish oat milk company that received a $200M investment from Blackstone, Oprah, et al — made me laugh out loud:

What a joke.

— Mike


Greg Bowes on The State of EM Private Markets

In the latest episode of the Portico Podcast, I speak with Greg Bowes, Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Albright Capital — a global investment firm with expertise in special situations, infrastructure, infrastructure services, and real assets — about the state of EM private markets.
 
The label ‘variant perception’ gets bandied about quite a lot, mostly as nonsense. But Greg has a different view on EM private markets than most of the managers I’ve met, and I thought he’d be a great guide to walk through where the industry is in the summer of 2021.
 
Check it out on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify


Grab Bag

  • Fred Wilson on the globalization of venture capital investing (avc)
  • $900 billion in Chinese government guidance funds (FT)
  • Ludovic Phalippou interviews Simon Clark about The Key Man (link)
  • Golden Gate Ventures and INSEAD report on Southeast Asia exits (link)
  • Benedict Evans on e-commerce as logistics (link)
  • B3 (🇧🇷) tests crypto platform for startup funding (link)

From the Bookshelf

Has the world become so topsy-turvy that a living creature, whom the gift of reason makes divine, believes that his glory lies solely in possession of lifeless goods? Other creatures are content with what they have; but you, who are godlike with your gift of mind, seek to embellish your surpassing nature with the grubbiest of things, and in so doing you fail to appreciate what an insult you inflict on your Creator. He sought to make the race of men superior to all earthly things, but you have subordinated your dignity to the lowliest objects. For if every good belonging to an individual is truly more valuable than the person to whom it belongs, then on your own reckoning you men rank yourselves below the tawdriest things, when you pronounce them to be your goods. Such an outcome is fully deserved, for the status of man’s nature is this: it excels all other things only when aware of itself, but if it ceases to know itself, it falls below the level of the beasts. This is because lack of self-knowledge is natural in other living creatures, but in humans is a moral blemish.

 — Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (Oxford World’s Classics: 2008)

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The information presented in this newsletter is for informational purposes only. Portico Advisers does not undertake to update this material and the opinions and conclusions contained herein may change without notice. Portico Advisers does not make any warranty that the information in this newsletter is error-free, omission-free, complete, accurate, or reliable. Nothing contained in this newsletter should be construed as legal, tax, securities, or investment advice.

Copyright © by Portico Advisers, LLC 2021, all rights reserved.

Ep. 9: The State of EM Private Markets



One of the questions I’ve often pondered since founding this business is: is emerging markets private equity dying? 

That literally was the name of the first study I published when I launched the company in 2016, and I — perhaps naively — thought that drawing attention to some of the industry’s problems might catalyze people to action.

To put some figures on it, between 2010 and 2015, the number of growth equity funds achieving a close had declined by more than 30%, and fund vehicles greater than or equal to $1 billion in size grew from 40% to 60% of all capital raised. 

So capital was consolidating in fewer, larger managers — mostly in Asia — while at the same time the number of first-time funds holding a final close had been declining by 10% each year. And the development finance institutions were exacerbating the trends, committing to more Funds IV+ than to Funds I, II, or III.

Did things change? 

Suffice it to say that last October I put out a newsletter that reframed the question to: is EM PE dead?

So, I wanted to bring on someone who could speak to the state of EM private markets. 

That guest is Greg Bowes, Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Albright Capital — a global investment firm with expertise in special situations, infrastructure, infrastructure services, and real assets.

The label ‘variant perception’ gets bandied about quite a lot, mostly as nonsense. But Greg has a different view on EM private markets than most of the managers I’ve met, and I thought he’d be a great guide to walk through where the industry is in the summer of 2021.

In today’s conversation, Greg and I discuss:

  • Should investors even be investing in EM private markets?
  • The impact of currency depreciations on performance and whether investors should hedge.
  • The shortcomings of the traditional approach to EM private equity and whether it magnifies the impacts of adverse cross-currency movements.
  • The problem of herd behavior.
  • The importance of sound deal structuring in EMs.
  • And much more.

I’ve included some additional readings in the show notes, so dive in if you’re keen to learn more. 

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

This podcast was recorded in June 2021.


Learn more about Albright Capital at https://www.albrightcapital.com.


Portico Advisers resources referenced in this episode include:


Sign up for Portico Perspectives.

Does EM PE Scale?

Does the emerging markets private equity asset class scale?

No. I don’t believe it does.

In fact, I think the absorptive capacity of EM PE / VC is as low as $16 billion in new flows per year, compared to the $40 billion in fundraising we’ve seen on average since 2011. At least, that’s my finding in Portico’s most recent research piece: Does the Emerging Markets Private Equity Asset Class Scale?

The inspiration for this think piece comes from Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, who wrote a fascinating blog post in 2009 on “The Venture Capital Math Problem.” If you haven’t read it, you should. In it, Fred concluded that the volume of exits in U.S. venture right-sized the industry between $15 billion and $17 billion in flows per year, remarkably similar to the conclusion I reached.

While this piece isn’t likely to win me many friends, I hope that it provides some food for thought, and that it sparks some lively conversations. I’d love to hear your feedback!

A humble request. We’re trying to grow our (monthly-ish) newsletter’s audience in 2018. If you enjoy this newsletter and / or know someone who would, then please feel free to share it with them. It’s free to sign up for future issues at www.tinyurl.com/porticonewsletter, while previous editions are available here.

For each new (human) subscriber we get between now and 30 December, we’ll make a donation to Room to Read, a nonprofit active in Africa and Asia that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and best wishes for health and happiness in 2018.

Alla prossima,
Mike

Mea Culpa

A mea culpa is in order. In last month’s newsletter, I (somewhat cheekily) called out IFC for committing $25M to Carlyle’s $5B Asia Partners V; it was actually to their ($1B target) Asia *Growth* Partners V. Sloppy mistake. I apologize. Thank you to the discerning reader who noticed my error and called me out on it.

That said, I still don’t understand why IFC is funding a fifth-series Carlyle fund. According to IFC’s disclosure of the commitment, as of 31 December 2016, Carlyle held approximately $158B in AUM. This figure is ~70% greater than IFC’s total assets, ~4x the value of IFC’s total investments, and nearly 12x the value of IFC’s equity investments (as of 30 June 2017; see IFC’s consolidated balance sheets at this link).

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

KKR Quits Africa

We’ve dedicated a decent number of pixels in our newsletters to the issue of large-cap deal flow in Africa. Late last month, KKR decided to disband its Africa team for good. Several of the team’s dealmakers left earlier this year, in part, it seems, because they were investing out of KKR’s European fund and were losing out to French, German, etc. deals in IC meetings.

But a KKR spokesman breaks it down pretty plainly: “To invest our funds we need deal-flow of a certain size. It was especially the deal-size that wasn’t coming through.”

Invariably, KKR’s spokesman continues, “There was enough deal-flow at a smaller level.”

The Power of Compounding

Albright Capital recently released an enjoyable piece on “The Power of Compounding” in an EM portfolio. The firm compares the returns that three hypothetical long-only investors would have received from the MSCI EM, based on their (in)ability to time the market.

It’s an original thought experiment with results that might surprise you.

Will Robots Disrupt Private Equity?

McKinsey Global Institute released its analysis of the impact of automation on jobs. They estimate that “up to 375 million people may need to switch occupational categories” by 2030, with up to one-third of the U.S. and German workforces—and half of Japan’s—needing to learn new skills and pursue new occupations.

Will “private equity investor” be one of these disrupted occupations? Could robots do a better job at allocating capital? Given the recent performance figures, at least in EM, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

There’s an alluring argument that private markets are less ripe for disruption than public markets: not only is there less data available, but also the manager can apply sophisticated judgment and hard-earned pattern recognition skills to source proprietary deals, construct a quality portfolio, and create value.

I’m not entirely convinced. Consider an analysis from Dan Rasmussen of Verdad, who, whilst at Bain Capital, examined 2,500 deals representing $350 billion of invested capital:

About one-third of the deals analyzed accounted for more than 100% of profits (no surprise there) and the majority of the deals in the sample fell well short of the forecasts built into the financial models. The biggest predictor of whether a company would be a big winner or not was the purchase price paid. The dividing line seemed to be 7x earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). When PE firms paid more than 7x EBITDA, their chance of success plummeted — regardless of how much managerial magic they threw at it. The 25% of the cheapest deals accounted for 60% of the profits. The most expensive 50% of deals accounted for only about 10% of profits.

In other words, all the fancy analysis and financial models performed worse than the simple rule “buy all deals at less than 7x EBITDA” [emphasis added]. A simple quantitative rule worked better than expert judgment.

I was recently speaking with Abby Phenix—formerly of Advent International, now assisting PE firms with customer due diligence—and we ended up riffing on this topic for a bit. In the past, she raised some thought-provoking points about the automation prospects for manager selection (think funds of funds) and investment analysis (think associates), which could enhance productivity and reduce costs (think management fees).

What is it that investors want? Cost-effective exposure to the investable asset or the privilege of paying fees to the middleman?

Is it Possible to Short Graduate Schools?

This statistic surprised me: the stock of U.S. student loan debt ($1.3 trillion) is now equal to the size of the U.S. junk bond market. Astonishing.

Estimates from The New America Foundation suggest that upwards of 40% of this is tied to graduate school debt. If I could short the graduate education market directly, I would.

Consider that in 2012, 25% of graduate students were burdened with at least $100,000 of student loan debt. Meanwhile, in 2016, the median incomes for master’s degree holders in the United States were roughly $80,000 for males and $58,000 for females. The math doesn’t work, prospective students know it, and there’s a broad-based slowdown in applications (see below).

ex71

Effectively, the market for graduate education experienced a debt-financed positive demand shock, universities expanded supply, and now there is a negative demand shock. Schools will need to cut tuition and take a hard look at which costs can be cut.

If you’re keen to learn more about just how much of a mess this is, I wrote a piece about this on my personal blog (source of the exhibit above).

Lots of data. Lots of charts. Oodles of other content.

From the Bookshelf

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
(Matthew 16: 26)

The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World’s Classics: 2008).

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The information presented in this newsletter is for informational purposes only. Portico Advisers does not undertake to update this material and the opinions and conclusions contained herein may change without notice. Portico Advisers does not make any warranty that the information in this newsletter is error-free, omission-free, complete, accurate, or reliable. Nothing contained in this newsletter should be construed as legal, tax, securities, or investment advice.

Copyright © by Portico Advisers, LLC 2017, all rights reserved.