Status Update

It’s an exciting time at Portico as we mark our first anniversary in business. It has been a great year professionally and personally. I’m grateful to all of you who opened your doors for a meeting, picked up your phones when I called, shared our research with colleagues, and last but certainly not least, engaged us as a client. Thank you!

It ain’t an easy road, entrepreneurship. I underappreciated both the amplitude and frequency of the journey’s highs and lows before I got underway, but it is genuinely gratifying to wake up each day and create something of value for other people.

The best part of this endeavor is demonstrating to my son, through actions rather than words, that he should never be afraid to assume some risk and pursue the life of his choosing.

A few highlights from year one:

  • We assisted our clients through a variety of engagements, including strategy, fundraising, marketing documents and materials, pitchbooks, AGMs, custom research, and transaction advisory.
  • Portico released two original research pieces—Is Emerging Markets Private Equity Dying? and The Mid-Market Squeeze—which have been viewed over 1,000 times, and opened doors with firms we’d not yet met. Thank you again for reading and sharing!
  • We’re profitable with zero debt. At the outset of this adventure, I set a revenue target for December 2017. We beat it within 12 months of launch. Clear takeaway: aim higher and *get after it.*

All in all, it’s a great start out of the blocks, but we’re focused on staying humble, staying hungry, and identifying ways that we can deliver more value to our clients in the year ahead. I hope you’ll share the journey with us.

Alla prossima,
Mike

The Societal Parasite that Is Facebook

Speaking of Status Updates, John Lanchester has a superb article in the LRB (“You Are the Product”) on the societal parasite that is Facebook. Lanchester’s article came out before the NY Times [disclosure: Mike is a shareholder] revealed the company’s role in facilitating the information operations that influenced the U.S. election. (Oops!)

Frankly, the entire tech sector is overdue for greater regulatory scrutiny and enforcement. Whether it’s Airbnb, Alphabet (fka Google), Amazon, Facebook, or Uber, the laundry list of unpaid taxes, unethical conduct, and outright illegal activities never fails to astound. Firms active in emerging markets often speak about a “social license to operate.” At what point do these firms’ licenses get revoked?

Parenthetically, will Uber be the biggest write-off in the history of venture capital?

On a related note, we’ve mothballed Portico’s Twitter account. It’s a channel that doesn’t deliver value for the company, so we will not spend energy on it.

Who Will Make Money in EM Venture?

Henry Nguyen of IDG Ventures Vietnam made some thought-provoking comments at an AVCJ event in Ho Chi Minh City a few months ago. In a nutshell, he noted that the tech giants—Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Tencent, among others—have radically transformed the venture ecosystem. Not only are these companies scouring the same landscape for deals as VCs, but they’re also doing so with the advantages of: 1) a longer time horizon; and, 2) a lower cost of capital.

These seem like … insurmountable advantages for an investor?

Intuitively, this might leave some space for early-stage investors to front-run their later stage and corporate venture peers; but, I do wonder.

What I don’t wonder about: whether entrepreneurs will build great companies, or whether economic value will be created. These are certainties. The question is: who will capture the value?

I suspect a number of LPs in EM venture funds are asking themselves the same question. Having seen individual deals rocket in value, LPs are seeing appetizing write-ups on paper, but they remain hungry for realizations (see below).

Mind the Gap

This World Awash in Capital

Consider the following. Since 2006:

We have been living amidst a transition from a world in which financial capital was relatively scarce to one in which it has become abundant. Bottlenecks remain, of course, and there’s ample room to expand access to finance for productive enterprises, particularly in our geographies. Nevertheless, this development has profound implications, and I’ve been pondering a few thoughts as of late:

  • Corporations are asset managers. Thirty U.S. companies hold more than $800 billion of *fixed income* investments. This sum is greater than the combined AUM of Blackstone, Apollo, KKR, and Oaktree.
  • Passive investing is a freight train. If capital is becoming commoditized, why should managers earn excess fees for investing it? Investors are voting with their feet en masse, with upwards of 40% of AUM now managed through passive vehicles. Vanguard’s AUM hit $4.4 trillion in the first half of 2017 (up from ~$1.6 trillion as of year-end 2011).Prices go up when there are more buyers than sellers. Therefore, in a world awash in capital, the biggest driver of performance is fund flows. If flows are channeling into ETFs and index products, then active managers that don’t buy the index will have a hard time outperforming, let alone justifying their fees (and most of them aren’t worth the fees to begin with). The passive trend is likely to end in tears, with a resurgence in fundamental-driven investment one day; but this freight train is leaving destruction in its wake.
  • There is a scarcity of assets. The stock of quality, publicly available, investable assets is not keeping pace with the growth in global savings. To take one example, the number of publicly listed domestic companies in the United States has declined by 46% over the last two decades. Or, consider the rapidly growing pension schemes across emerging markets, whose asset bases are growing faster than investment managers can find places to invest it prudently.The relative scarcity of investable products leaves markets prone to bubbles and the misallocation of capital. The rise of passive investing and ETFs only exacerbates this problem.
  • Private markets hold opportunity. Given their inherent inefficiency, private markets are likely to remain an attractive place to deploy capital (though not necessarily via traditional LP-GP structures). Technology-based platforms already exist to intermediate private transactions within the United States, and we should expect these to develop globally, as owners of capital climb further out the risk curve and get more hands-on with co-investment and direct investing.
  • U.S. housing is a political time bomb. The stock of housing is neither keeping pace with the growth in population, nor accounting for the impact of cross-border flows on housing supply.For example, foreign buyers accounted for 10% of the value of existing U.S. home sales between April 2016 and March 2017, and they’re increasingly buying houses that are out of reach for most Americans. To wit, the average price for all U.S. home purchases grew at a CAGR of 5% from 2010-2017. Meanwhile, the prices paid by foreign buyers grew at 8%, and those by Chinese buyers grew at 10%. Moreover, while 50% of Americans can’t afford a down payment and 30% can’t secure a mortgage, 72% of non-resident foreign buyers paid all-cash (see below).

housingtimebomb1housingtimebomb2

From the Bookshelf

The world is always full of the sound of waves.

The little fishes, abandoning themselves to the waves, dance and sing and play, but who knows the heart of the sea, a hundred feet down? Who knows its depth?

— Eiji Yoshikawa, Musashi (Kodansha International: 1995).

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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. 

The Mid-Market Squeeze

In recent months, I’ve enjoyed some great conversations with individuals who have welcomed a frank discussion of the EM PE industry’s challenges. One recurring topic of conversation is the imbalance between supply and demand for capital for PE funds operating in the lower- and mid-market segments in EMs.

The hollowing out of mid-market funds animated my decision to found Portico, and it served as the impetus for our EM Mid-Market Survey, which we conducted in May. I am pleased to announce the release of Portico’s second research piece, The Mid-Market Squeeze, which shares findings from our survey.

We undertook this project with two objectives in mind: (i) to test our hypotheses for the supply-demand imbalance; and (ii), to illuminate potential paths toward solutions.

Most of our hypotheses were affirmed, in whole or in part, but the report’s overarching finding is that the declining number of EM mid-market funds is more than just a funding gap, it is a symptom of industry-wide problems. Our survey reveals four drivers for the mid-market squeeze:

  • Macroeconomic developments in EMs are not the reason why LPs aren’t committing to mid-market PE funds; it’s the failure of EM PE funds to deliver returns.
  • There is an acute funding gap for EM PE funds smaller than $100 million in size.
  • Development finance institutions are walking away from smaller EM PE funds, and investing with larger, more established firms. Moreover, their preferred ticket sizes are in the sweet spot of where commercial LPs prefer to play.
  • Institutional investors lament the lack of transparency in the EM PE industry.

The report offers a few thoughts on potential solutions to the mid-market squeeze, and prognostications on the road ahead. I invite you to click the button below to download a copy of the report. Please feel free to share it with colleagues, and of course, all feedback is welcome.

Finally, thanks go out to the 76 industry professionals who participated in this survey, as well as the winner of our prize drawing—a representative from an Asia-Pacific sovereign wealth fund—who selected the donation to UNICEF.

Alla prossima,
Mike

Indonesia: So Hot Right Now

Having freshly returned from a trip through Southeast Asia, I was interested to see KKR’s Henry McVey release a new report on Indonesia, stating:

Indonesia has one of the most compelling stories that we see … and unlike in past trips, we are now confident stating that we think Indonesia is harnessing its potential into near-term economic and investment realities.

The macro is certainly compelling, and there are reasons to be optimistic (not least the forthcoming rail line connecting the airport with downtown).

I agree with McVey that “public market indices are often not the appropriate investment vehicles to actually gain access to compelling GDP-per-capita stories;” and based on my own meetings in the country, I share McVey’s conviction that there are attractive tech opportunities in private markets (see charts below). KKR is actively pursuing this thesis, having invested alongside Capital Group Private Markets, Farallon Capital Management, and Warburg Pincus in the local ride-hailing / transportation company GO-JEK last year.

Still, translating the macro into compelling investment returns requires deft navigation. One dynamic working in mid-market managers’ favor is the general scarcity of capital; there is less competition for deals from other financial sponsors in this segment, though local families and investors play an important role in the private markets ecosystem. The game changes once tickets climb north of $100m, where a large volume of PE capital is searching for deals.

KKR_Indonesia

Coffee Talk

In our April newsletter we highlighted the rise of secondary buyouts as an exit channel in Africa, and there’s big news from ECP portfolio company Nairobi Java House. Abraaj won the auction for the company, which reportedly drew 12 non-binding bids (including from Carlyle and TPG). Abraaj shall take full control of the company, which includes two additional franchises: Frozen Yoghurt and 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza. By my count this is Abraaj’s third secondary buyout in Sub-Saharan Africa out of four deals since 2014 (Mouka from Actis in 2015, Libstar from Metier in 2014).

While Abraaj has some experience in the QSR segment (Kudu in Saudi Arabia), and I’m curious about potential synergies with its investments in Brookside Dairy, Fan Milk, and Libstar, the firm has its work cut out for it. I struggle to think of an East African firm that has been able to achieve pan-African scale.

One experienced advisor in the region tells us:

The pan-African strategy is very difficult to execute due to: (a) the small size of most of Africa’s 40+ markets, which means you’re spreading the fixed costs of market entry across a small customer / revenue base; (b) the high cross-border costs of trade, which makes supply chains expensive to run; and (c), the economic, regulatory, and cultural differences between East, West, and Southern Africa. The difficulties cut in every direction.

While Ecobank is a partial exception (it has a long way to go to become a consolidated, sustainable business with deep insight into all of its local markets), the failures are numerous. For example, United Bank of Africa, which has met success in its home market of Nigeria, got burned in Kenya. South African retailers, such as Shoprite and Massmart, have struggled to gain traction north of the Limpopo.

The general lesson I draw is that African markets do not have a broadly even playing field. Any attempt to expand beyond one’s own region will only work if you make a massive investment, and you bring in heavy hitters with political influence. A more sensible strategy is to aim to become the number one player in your region rather than overstretching by seeking a continental presence.

🤔

Will Private Equity Build Africa’s Manufacturing Sector?

No.

The FT recently ran a comment piece imploring PE firms to drive the development of Africa’s manufacturing sector. Private equity can deliver—and has delivered—powerful developmental impacts in Africa. For example, an impact assessment of CDC Group plc’s Africa fund investments between 2004-12 shows direct job creation of 40,500 positions and a $600 million increase in taxes paid. I’m a believer in the potential of the asset class to deliver dignity in EMs; however, some of the author’s overzealous assertions bear some scrutiny:

Private equity has largely ignored investment in African manufacturing and industrial projects. [EMPEA] data show that 23 PE firms have made only 53 investments in the industrials sector in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2008.

PE firms have not ignored African manufacturing companies. First, by excluding deals in manufacturing companies outside of the industrial sector (e.g., consumer durables, food and beverage), the data understate the volume of investments that have been made in manufacturers.

Second, how many manufacturing companies are there in Africa? Within the industrials sector, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon there are only 57 private African companies generating between $50m and $500m in revenue.

Middle market funds, in particular, have an enormous opportunity to unlock potential in this sector. Doing so will … create value for investors by creating a robust deal pipeline with attractive exit opportunities …

Maybe? There have been—and will be—some excellent returns from manufacturing deals in Africa; but has the traditional EM PE model created value for investors?

According to Cambridge Associates’ African Private Equity & Venture Capital Index, the 10-year horizon pooled return is 4.51%, and the pooled return has not exceeded 5% over any multi-year period. This may be a function of the constituents in Cambridge’s database—Ethos, for example discloses a USD gross IRR of 20% since its third fund—but the pooled return suggests investors are taking on equity risk + country risk + illiquidity, and receiving 200 basis points over 10-year Treasurys.

With this return profile, why should pensioners, endowments, and foundations be subsidizing African industrial policy?

On a related note, McKinsey Global Institute released a fascinating report on Chinese investment in Africa that shows who is likely to drive the growth of manufacturing on the continent: Chinese firms. McKinsey estimates that there are more than 10,000 Chinese firms operating in Africa—3.7x more than previously estimated—and nearly one-third of them are in the manufacturing sector (generating ~$60 billion in local revenue, with 12% market share). Says McKinsey:

In sectors such as manufacturing, there are too few African firms with the capital, technology, and skills to invest successfully and too few Western firms with the risk appetite to do so in Africa. Thus the opportunities are reaped by Chinese entrepreneurs who have the skills, capital, and willingness to live in and put their money in unpredictable developing-country settings.

In the Beach Bag

Jul17Books

I don’t know if these are the books I’ll end up reading, but here’s what I’m planning to pack for the beach this year:

  • Business Adventures, by John Brooks
    The “best business book” say Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
    Most Americans are one accident away from financial ruin: 25% can’t pay their monthly bills in full, and 44% can’t meet a $400 emergency expense. Desmond’s book looks at the precarious state of Americans’ living situations. In Milwaukee, for example, “a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict roughly 16,000 adults and children each year.”
  • The Devils of Loudun, by Aldous Huxley
    I quite enjoyed Huxley’s Grey Eminence, which chronicled the life of Father Joseph—advisor to Cardinal Richelieu and advocate of policies that led to the Thirty Years’ War—so I thought I’d return to the trough for his take on mass hysteria and witch hunts in 17th-Century France.
  • The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, by Ryszard Legutko
    A Polish freedom fighter contemplates the similarities between liberal democracy and communism.
  • Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages, by Carlota Perez
    A recommendation from Marc Andreessen.
  • The Thirty Years War, by C.V. Wedgwood
    With talk of the Westphalian system’s decline, why not read Dame Wedgwood’s classic for a refresher on the madness that led to the peace?
  • Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa
    A novel chronicling the life of the infamous samurai, and teacher of bushido, Miyamoto Musashi.

From the Bookshelf

I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid; and I find myself much the happier.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 21 January 1812 (Monticello, Virginia).

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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.