In this episode of the Portico Podcast I speak with Jake Cusack, co-founder and Managing Partner of The CrossBoundary Group, a firm that unlocks private capital for sustainable growth and strong returns in underserved markets.
That initial contact kicked off a series of conversations on how to harness markets and mobilize private capital in order to build businesses in frontier and fragile markets, which is the overarching topic of this episode.
In today’s conversation, Jake and I discuss:
His journey from the Marine Corps to co-founding CrossBoundary with a couple classmates from Harvard;
Why investment is a better tool for development than the provision of grants;
The critical role that investment facilitation plays in creating investable pipeline;
The rationale for CrossBoundary’s expansion from an advisory firm to a group that also manages investments
The suitability of the traditional private equity model in frontier markets;
Recruitment and how to inculcate a shared culture across a globally dispersed footprint;
There are loads of links below that will take you to the articles, books, and reports discussed in the episode, as well as other resources of interest.
These include CrossBoundary’s research studies with IFC on private equity in fragile and conflict-affected situations in Sub-Saharan Africa, their recent report on scaling up investment in Africa in the Covid-19 era with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and many others.
If you’re interested in their open-source initiative for mini-grids, the team will be sharing term sheets for the project finance contracts, as well as a template model, on 15 February — so take a look and take action if this is in your area of interest.
Happy new year. I hope you closed out 2018 with some respite and relaxation.
Our family welcomed the arrival of a new son / little brother shortly after Thanksgiving, so I’m thrilled to be starting the year refreshed and well-rested. 👀
One delightful discovery during the sleepless nights has been Patrick Leigh Fermor’s collection of travel writings. Bleary-eyed with baby strapped to my belly, I recited lines of exquisite prose to the bambino, evoking distant lands and daring adventures from a vanished world.
Whilst following the young Fermor’s trek along the Danube toward Constantinople, memories of my own youthful journeys through Mitteleuropa oftenmaterialized.
Visions of a glorious hike through the Berchtesgaden Alps; the enveloping warmth of eiderdown on a chilly summer evening; a call to my father from a payphone to wish him happy birthday, after imbibing zwei Maßkrügen of beer.
My dad would die within three years of that call, but I can still hear the mirth in his voice. How I wish he could have met his grandsons. May they forge paths of their own.
It could very well be the delirium, but I’m hoping that this year will be more constructive for EM private markets than 2018 was.
I wish I had something concrete to pin my hopes on, but the sheer degree of negative sentiment is all I’ve got.
Ain’t going to be an easy row to hoe, I’m afraid. So, we might as well get on with it.
I’ve concluded that this is the path through which I will be able to make the largest impact on major global issues like climate change and the infrastructure deficit in emerging markets.
Look. I’m sure it stinks to be working with the Trump Administration. And it’s hard to make it in DC on a net-of-tax salary of $500,600 whilst enjoying world-class benefits. From a pecuniary perspective, it’s best to hop near the market top. Now’s better than three years from now.
But may we just pause and reflect on his statement?
What, pray tell, is the point of the World Bank anymore? Why did it need $13 billion in extra capital?
And what does Dr. Kim’s early departure tell us about the ability of the Bank to mobilize private funds?
Also. I am not questioning Dr. Kim’s sincerity regarding private capital’s role in solving development challenges — even if it led to a regrettable endorsement — but given the Bank’s role in financing climate solutions and infrastructure in developing economies, don’t the optics here look a bit Swampy?
Anyway, the Bank’s next President may need to come up with a new mission statement.
Thankfully, s/he likely won’t be Jeffrey Sachs. #huawei
We kicked off last year with everyone getting bulled-up on EM, and this newsletter offered some cautious optimism about the prospects for exits:
Here’s hoping that we see sustained portfolio and direct investment flows, and GPs seizing the opportunity to distribute capital back to their LPs.
Well, we know how that story played out. #sadtrombone
According to data from Thomson Reuters Deals Intelligence, EM saw a 17% reduction in the volume of completed M&A transactions. The downdraft was most pronounced in Africa and Eastern Europe — which both experienced declines of 31% — but the slowdown hit each region (see below).
Fun fact: the Thomson Reuters data show that SoftBank paid out $894m in investment banking fees in 2018.
Private Equity International released its 2019 LP Perspectives survey. If the 101 respondents are a representative sample — an open question — then it looks like it’s going to be another tough year on the fundraising trail for managers ex-Asia (see below).
We’ve discussed LPs’ herd behavior driving a tsunami of capital toward (large-cap) Asia several times over the years. That shows no signs of abating.
Meanwhile, capital scarcity continues to define the rest of EM. History suggests that such conditions are conducive to strong performance, but — as ever — the contrarians seem to be few and far between.
Moose Guen, CEO of MVision, provides a sobering outlook:
The interest in new markets like Latin America or Africa and even parts of Asia is extremely limited. Not because of lack of opportunity or experience, but due to local currency volatility relative to the US dollar and the net dollar returns … Over the next few years, GP headcount in those markets will be inhibited because it’s very difficult to finance them.
IFC SME Ventures teamed up with CrossBoundary LLC on a study that explores PE investing in fragile and conflict-affected situations (“FCS”) in Sub-Saharan Africa. The study reaches several conclusions that we’ve advanced in this newsletter — such as the merits of flexible mandates, financings, and fund structures — and it makes a convincing case not to invest in single-country funds in frontier geographies.
I found the most thought-provoking finding to be the determination that:
FCS funds with better net returns tend to either be highly active and in control positions on select investments or deploy standardized (but flexible) debt-like instruments to a larger group of investments … Small funds with a large array of minority equity positions can struggle to both realize liquidity and adequately manage their investments.
That said, later in the report, an analysis of 312 exits from IFC’s frontier markets PE portfolio reveals that “minority positions have performed almost as well as majority positions in terms of median gross IRR.” I wonder if the discrepancy boils down to geographies (frontier vs. FCS) or a comparison of deal-level vs. fund-level returns.
In any event, the report provides some good food for thought.
In private equity the managers do better than the investors.
The FT recently reported on Dyal Capital and the growing business of firms investing in private equity fund management companies. In essence, the business entails taking a minority stake in the GP — providing the manager an injection of permanent capital — in return for a share of the management fees and carry.
I haven’t seen data on the volume of transactions in this space, but I observed with interest the launch of Meteor5, whose management team includes MVision’s Moose Guen. The firm invests in emerging GPs, and it strikes me that a firm like this can play an important role in seeding new managers and accelerating their time to close — all with the benefit of having visibility on the product that LPs demand.
Whilst I’ve seen EM GPs sell their franchises in whole or in part to other asset managers, I’ve not seen much along the lines of the Dyal / Petershill / Meteor5 / etc. approach.
And I think I know why.
EM PE’s industry-level performance and the harsh fundraising environment raise questions about the viability of firms raising follow-on funds and harvesting investments. How does one get comfortable estimating the terminal value of fee income + carry?
It’s all a bit of a shame, but I wonder if some enterprising, well-capitalized folks might come up with a solution.
From the Bookshelf
There are times when hours are more precious than diamonds.
— Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and Water (NYRB Classics: 2005)
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