Expectations v. Reality

One thing that never ceases to entertain me is when an institutional investor says s/he expects 3x from an emerging market private equity fund.

“We want to be compensated for the risk we’re taking.”

Makes sense.

But how is that risk measured? People don’t seem to be using a Sharpe ratio, or some such analytic that disaggregates measures of alpha per quantum of risk.

According to Aswath Damodaran, the equity risk premia between developed and emerging markets have converged since the turn of the millennium. One could argue that investors should accordingly expect a lower premium from EM PE over time.

Using the spread between U.S. Treasurys and local sovereigns for a risk premium seems lazy. Private EM companies can be better credits than the countries where they operate, and actually have a lower risk profile than publicly listed companies (e.g., mining, oil & gas).

Also, it’s 2019.

Are we going to act as if many of these countries don’t have banks, and insurance companies, and mobile network operators now? There is a lot more competition, and a lot more capital scouring the landscape for deals (much of which is neither institutional nor residing with asset managers seeking PE-like returns).

Yet these markets are dynamic, and exciting, and they present an opportunity for investors to build great businesses. It’s not like the pass-the-parcel, value-transfer game in developed markets.

To be clear, there absolutely will be EM deals and perhaps some funds that deliver ≥ 3x net DPI at the end of their life. But if you’re an institutional investor investing in institutional-quality funds, what are the odds that you’re going to pick one of these winners?

Low. In all likelihood, you’re probably going to wait until the firm has a track record and built up its back office to satisfy your trustees.

By then, said firm will have scaled and begun investing in larger companies, and the economies and sectors in which they’re investing will have evolved materially.

All of these behaviors are reasonable. But the idée fixe of getting 3x is not.

If you’re going to wait for managers and markets to institutionalize and de-risk, then you should be willing to give up some of the upside. You don’t deserve it.

How realistic is the expectation of 3x, anyway?

Take a look at CalPERS’ experience (see below). Of the 268 PE funds in its portfolio (excluding vintage years 2016-18), only two funds clear the 3x hurdle.

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 8.29.04 AM

Only 36 funds (~13%) have delivered at least 2x. Meanwhile, 80% of the funds sit between 1x and 2x, and nearly half are valued at less than 1.5x.

And lest we forget, these are with PE firms’ marks …

We could tie ourselves in knots in a discussion over the suitability of CalPERS’ portfolio as a data set, but a bogey of 3x in EM just seems unreasonable.

New rule: stop being unreasonable.

Alla prossima,
Mike

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Liquidity

Investors often talk about the need for private equity firms to harvest an illiquidity premium — an incremental return above that generated in public markets.

The idea makes sense …

… when public markets are liquid.

But what happens when an exchange can’t absorb trading volumes? What if it fails in its job of serving as a market maker?

You should probably ask the people who tried to sell shares of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. — one of the largest listed companies on the Singapore Exchange — at the market’s open on January 24th.

Says Bloomberg:

Shares sank just before the regular session began, with about 167,500 changing hands at just $10.99, compared with Wednesday’s close of $66.47. Jardine, the flagship investment firm of a 186-year-old conglomerate, soon recovered from the $41 billion wipeout and ended up closing 0.5 percent higher.

Selling at an 83% discount seems … not to be a great advertisement for the benefits of liquidity.

CMC Markets Singapore analyst Margaret Yang Yan is a bit more candid:

This kind of stupid mistake shouldn’t have happened in an established stock exchange. It is the largest exchange in south-east Asia … It’s ridiculous.

Also ridiculous: not putting in a limit order?

This markdown never would have happened if Jardine Matheson were a PE portfolio company. But then …

———

Sell!

The trickle of exits / distributions from EM PE funds is a fact of life. We often hear about structural reasons for this logjam — the depth of local capital markets, for example.

But, what if it has little do with EM, and more to do with dealmakers’ biases? What if (most) everyone’s actually good investing?

In “Selling Fast and Buying Slow: Heuristics and Trading Performance of Institutional Investors,” a group of researchers analyzed 783 institutional portfolios with an average portfolio value of ~$573m. The dataset included 4.4 million trades between 2000-16.

Say the authors:

We document a striking pattern: while the investors display clear skill in buying, their selling decisions underperform substantially. Positions added to the portfolio outperform both the benchmark and a strategy which randomly buys more shares of assets already held in the portfolio … In contrast, selling decisions not only fail to beat a no-skill strategy of selling another randomly chosen asset from the portfolio, they consistently underperform it by substantial amounts. PMs forgo between 50 and 100 basis points over a 1 year horizon relative to this random selling strategy.

Basically, one way to enhance performance is to become a better seller.

Maybe this could be a new skillset to hire for? Someone who sits at the table during portfolio reviews and offers constructive comments, such as, “Maybe we should sell [company].”

Or someone who walks around the office offering a helpful feedback.

Deal Gal: This promoter is a pain in my rear. The board meetings are a shambles. He won’t listen to anything we have to say.

New Guy: Hmmm … [pauses for dramatic effect and adopts hipster podcaster voice] Have you thought about selling it?

Deal Gal: But he knows what he’s doing! If we hold on to this company for another 18 months we could be looking at a 3-bagger.

New Guy:

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Emoji Compliance

In Portico’s first research piece, I noted that the growing costs of compliance were taxing the bandwidth of smaller fund managers, and regulatory complexity was making it more difficult for firms to raise capital.

[You can envision billionaires at mega-cap firms pulling up the drawbridge behind them as regulation stifles competition and entrenches their firms’ market position.]

Well, Kirkland & Ellis sent out an update about some recent Delaware decisions regarding text messages, personal emails, and corporate litigation that brought home how absurd the world has become.

Chancellor [Andre] Bouchard added that he often finds texts to include especially probative information, particularly when covered in emojis. In a recent decision (Transperfect), he attached significance to a smiley-face “emoticon” included in one of the party’s texts as evidence of the malign intent of the sender.

Look, I am out of my depth when it comes to the legal implications of emoticons. But what’s the over / under — in months — before a DDQ contains responses to one of the following questions:

  • What is your policy on emoticon use?
  • Have you disabled controversial emoji across all devices, messaging, and email clients?
  • Have you staffed up your emoji compliance function with digital natives who can discern malignant intent amongst the extant universe of 2,500+ emojis?

———

Blackstone Quits Africa

No surprises here. Secondo Il Sole 24:

Il problema, sembra, è che Blackstone non ha trovato grandi operazioni da finanziare [emphasis added]. E la competizione cinese ha complicato la situazione. Anche KKR incontrò difficoltà simili tanto da smantellare nel 2017 il team di persone dedicate al continente africano e vendere il suo unico asset in quella regione, un produttore etiope di rose.”

QED.

———

Inspecting the Books

Catalyzing private capital is one of the core missions of the development finance institutions. Oftentimes, in EM private markets, this takes the form of seeding local managers and building them into institutional-quality firms (see intro).

But, what if there were another way? One that didn’t take so long. One that evoked the spirit of a place, and its people, and it propelled you to book a ticket to visit that manager in Poland or wherever.

Then you might learn about the 1 million family-run businesses that are in need of succession planning. Or the scarcity of expansion capital in a market of ~ 40 million consumers.

You might put down some Żywiec and pierogi, and get lost in Warsaw.

You might, actually, feel alive.

Manager visits wouldn’t be like those depressing trips where you eat Panda Express in a Holiday Inn Express, and the view out your window is of a half-vacant parking lot and a highway.

The EBRD has released the longlist for its 2019 Literature Prize, and until this moment I didn’t think I wanted another job, but I will read books and tell you which ones I like if you pay me to do so.

It’s a pretty cool looking collection from EBRD’s geographies. Hope you find something you like.

———

From the Bookshelf

For the first time in my life I understood that the sense of poverty is not the result of misery but of the consciousness that one is worse off than others.

Providence is no substitute for prudence.

— Jan Karski, Story of a Secret State (Houghlin Mifflin Co.: 1944)

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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 2019, all rights reserved.

More Dickensian by the Day

Greetings from Jakarta, home to 30 million people (metro) and half as many cars, judging by traffic. I’m nearly halfway through a circuit of Southeast Asia, where I’ve been meeting with some great managers and discussing the evolution of the region’s private markets landscape.

Over the last five years, LPs have consistently ranked Southeast Asia as one of the top two most-attractive markets for GP investment. Yet this year’s Global LP Survey from EMPEA highlights the perennial disconnect:

  • 41% of respondents plan to begin or expand their commitments to Southeast Asia over the next two years;
  • However, 32% say a limited number of established fund managers deters them from investing in the region (the highest percentage of any EM region); and,
  • 25% say the scale of the opportunity to invest is too small (also the highest percentage across all EMs).

We share a few our of key takeaways from EMPEA’s survey below, but the fundraising environment is becoming more Dickensian by the day.

In any event, I’m off for a weekend in Siem Reap to admire what Norman Lewis described as “probably the most spectacular man-made remains in the world.” Then, I’ll be heading to Ho Chi Minh City for AVCJ’s conference. Let me know if you’re in town.

If you’re interested in having Portico produce a report on the private markets landscape in Southeast Asia, then please drop me a line.

Best wishes,
Mike

A Grim LP Survey

Some depressing reading is on offer in EMPEA’s 2017 Global LP Survey. There are a number of interesting nuggets throughout the report, but I came away with three big takeaways:

  • Talk to the hand — The pie of capital earmarked for EM PE is shrinking. To wit, 25% of LPs plan to decrease the proportion of their PE allocation targeted to EMs over the next two years; this figure jumps to 36% for LPs that have been active in EM PE for more than 15 years.
  • Show me the money — The percentage of LPs expecting at least 16% net from their EM PE portfolios has continuously declined over the last five years: from 61% in 2013 to 43% in 2017. It’s also the first year that this figure dipped below 50%.Though only 17% of respondents expect ≥ 16% net from their developed markets portfolios, I suspect the drivers of these expectations are different: in EMs, it’s a lack of distributions coupled with FX, while in DMs, a surfeit of capital and leverage is fueling frothy entry valuations.
  • Chasing the rabbit — It’s hard not to think LPs are exhibiting some procyclical behavior: India rings in as the most attractive market while Brazil languishes at sixth; health care and consumer goods / services rank as the most attractive sectors.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A Platinum Lining?

I always make time to read what KKR’s Henry McVey has to say about the markets, and his latest report, The Ultra High Net Worth Investor: Coming of Age, is no exception.

Whereas family offices constituted 6% of the respondent base of EMPEA’s LP Survey (call it 7 or 8 respondents?), KKR surveyed over 50 Ultra High Net Worth clients (defined as investors with ≥ $30m in investable assets and including family offices). The findings should provide a modicum of encouragement to private markets fund managers, as UHNW investors have a tendency to adopt a genuinely long-term perspective, and embrace alternative assets (see charts below).

Money shot: The stock of global HNW assets stands at $60 trillion with a 5-year CAGR of 7.4%, compared to global pension assets of $36.4 trillion and a 5-year CAGR of 5.8%.

KKRUHNW

Ahlan, Bimbo!

The Mexican behemoth Grupo Bimbo has acquired Moroccan baked goods company Groupe Adghal as its toehold in Africa. Three thoughts:

  1. Morocco continues to serve as a popular entrepôt for PEs and corporates to access Sub-Saharan African markets.
  2. Bimbo’s ambitions are truly global. They’ve swallowed up Thomas’ English Muffins, Entenmann’s, Arnold Bread, Sara Lee, and Boboli Pizza north of the border (wall?), and they’re planning to ramp up a growth through acquisition strategy in China.
  3. Personally, my heart warms at the prospect of children around the world sinking their teeth into a sleeve of ¡Sponch! cakes.

Speaking of Hispanophone companies pursuing acquisitions in Africa, there was a super interesting announcement from Helios Investment Partners and the Spanish multinational GBfoods earlier this month. The firms are pursuing a joint venture to create a leading pan-African FMCG franchise. I think we’ll continue to see PE firms teaming with multinationals to de-risk acquisitions and validate their entry into new markets; it’s a compelling proposition.

Out of curiosity, I investigated the number of Hispanophone acquisitions in Africa (excluding our friends at Mediterrania Capital Partners). Across 30 deals since 2008, six have been in metals and mining, and four in F&B. Small volumes, but the trend is up and to the right (see chart below).

May 2017 Hispanophone Exhibits

The Saga Continues

Baring Private Equity Asia and CPPIB announced that they are taking Nord Anglia private for $4.3B. Baring originally took the company private in 2008, led the firm through a $350m IPO in 2014, and a $170m follow-on issuance in 2015. Over the last four years, Nord Anglia executed at least seven acquisitions, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon. The company’s revenues grew from $323.7m in 2013 to $856m in 2016, with net income swinging from a loss of $23.3m to earnings of $47.1 over the period (and posting a 17% ROE in 2016).

Fashionably Late?

Blackstone has decided to join the private debt party in India. Apollo (through a JV with ICICI Ventures), Baring Private Equity Asia, Clearwater Capital, KKR, and Piramal—among others—have been in the mix for some time. It’s a huge market, but one wonders if the bar’s running out of elbow room.

From the Bookshelf

A seed that sprouts at the foot of its parent tree remains stunted until it is transplanted … Every human being, when the time comes, has to depart and seek his fulfillment in his own way.

— R.K. Narayan (trans.), The Ramayana (Penguin: 1987).

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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.