Passages

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 often materialized.

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.

Alla prossima,
Mike

P.S. Thanks to those of you who encouraged folks to subscribe to this newsletter. Portico made a donation to Room to Read for each new subscriber, so thanks for contributing to children’s literacy.

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Profit from Purpose

So, the President of the World Bank Group unexpectedly resigned to join an infrastructure investment firm.

Par for the course. The writing was on the wall a year ago.

(“Jim has a lot of credibility with private equity firms,” said David Rubenstein.)

In an e-mail seen by the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Kim stated:

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

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Deals!

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).

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Fun fact: the Thomson Reuters data show that SoftBank paid out $894m in investment banking fees in 2018.

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Tough Crowd

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).

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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.

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Risky Business

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.

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Source: IFC SME Ventures.

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.

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GP Stakes

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.

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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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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.

 

Super Sized

Earlier this month I spoke with an MD at one of the largest private markets advisory firms about the landscape of managers in EM. While discussing the consolidation of capital in fewer, larger EM funds, he raised the question of whether this dynamic is a function of greater distributions from these funds.

While the data were too close to call in The Mid-Market Squeeze (DPI of ~0.5x across fund size segments), I decided to run a fresh analysis incorporating greater granularity on fund size and vintage year. The figure below shows that EM funds >$1B (orange) are not reliably distributing cash at higher rates than smaller EM funds (shades of blue). In addition, they are generally underperforming their >$1B peers in Asia, Western Europe and the United States (shades of grey).

DPI.jpeg

All in all, I’m not convinced that distributions from larger funds are driving industry consolidation. That said, analyses based on Cambridge Associates’ benchmarks do have their limitations. A fund-by-fund analysis may very well tell a different story.

In any event, this is one of several topics I’m looking forward to discussing next month in a closed-door session with ~100 LPs at the Private Equity Research Consortium Conference. I’ll be on a panel exploring “Global Markets for Buyouts and VC” with Professor Steven Kaplan from Chicago Booth, as well as representatives from Warburg Pincus and Adams Street Partners. Here’s hoping for an interactive, no-holds-barred session.

Alla prossima,
Mike

Indonesia’s First Startup IPO

Last month’s newsletter asked the question: Who Will Make Money in EM Venture? This month, we learned that Indonesia’s first IPO by a startup was … not venture backed.

“The path that startups take is normally to look for venture capital, angel investors and so on … We feel that by taking the IPO route, that’s the method that is the most fair and transparent,” said Jasin Halim, CEO of O2O e-commerce firm Kioson. Throwing shade on VCs, he continued, “Let the market value our company.”

And so it did, at an issuance price of IDR300 / share with a book that was 10x oversubscribed. It promptly proceeded to shoot the moon.

Regulators stepped in and temporarily halted trading this Tuesday (16 Oct.) to allow for a “cooling off” period. It resumed trading on Wednesday and closed at IDR2,650 / share. #9bagger

🎉

If the valuations for startups that go public trade at a premium to those held in private hands, Indonesia may be in store for a redux of the pre-IPO craze that hit China a few years back: alchemy in the form of public-private multiple arbitrage. The China parallel is a sentiment I heard from VCs in Jakarta over the summer, and though I’m always skeptical of comparisons to China, this is a space worth watching.

SoftBank

The PwC / CB Insights Q3 data are in and SoftBank, managers of the $93 billion Unicorn Bailout Fund—sorry, Vision Fund—took the top three spots on the league table for largest deals in the United States, and the top four spots on the league table for the largest global deals (Grab, WeWork, Flipkart, Roivant Sciences). And they’re just getting warmed up!

In other news, last month SoftBank placed a $20 billion bond sale (in 7- and 10-years), with the 10s priced at 5.125%. Market participants’ comments in the FT’s write-up of the sale should be preserved for future historians so that they fully appreciate the degree to which, in 2017, all caution had been thrown to the wind:

Everyone is asking the same question: what am I investing in here? Am I investing in a company’s operations or am I providing unsecured financing to fund equity contributions to the Vision Fund?

My view is that bond investors are thoroughly unimpressed, but they’re being sucked in by the price. I find the whole structure of the Vision Fund completely perplexing, but as it’s my job to make money, we were in the [order] book.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(SME) Death and Taxes in India

Saurabh Mukherjea of Ambit Capital is a bit of a downer on the impacts of New Delhi’s economic reforms on India’s (relatively unproductive) small businesses:

My reckoning is that for a substantial number of SMEs, their margin was tax evasion. As the government steps up forcing people to comply with GST, a lot of small businesses that managed to stay in the shadows will find themselves sucked into the tax net. Either their profitability will be vastly diminished — or it will go away completely.

How many companies globally would lose their margin if they actually paid taxes? I wonder.

Heavy Stuff

Last month the New York Times ran a provocative piece tying Nestlé to the rise of obesity in Brazil, which they followed up with an in-depth article on KFC in Ghana [full disclosure: Mike is a shareholder of NYT]. Regardless of one’s views on who / what is culpable for the deteriorating health of Brazilians and Ghanaians, (I mean, processed foods are certainly part of the problem), the fact is that Brazil and Ghana are not exceptions: lifestyle diseases are increasing rapidly across the emerging markets.

To wit, obesity rates are skyrocketing in each EM region (see below for a sampling). In China, the number of obese adults (≥ 30% body mass index, or BMI) has compounded at 9% since 1976, growing from ~3 million to more than 80 million, while the number of overweight adults (≥ 25% BMI) grew 7x over the period to nearly 400 million. There are more overweight adult Chinese than there are people in the United States and Canada combined. Astonishingly, on a global basis, the number of obese children and teenagers has increased 10-fold over the last 40 years.

Calories

In a similar vein, the number of deaths due to diabetes is growing rapidly. While roughly 62,000 people in Europe and the United States died from diabetes in 2015, representing a 6.4% increase on the figure for 2000 (entirely driven by Americans), nearly 600,000 died across EMs, representing a 64% increase over the same period (see below).

Lifestyles

It’s not solely multinationals that are driving the ubiquity in unhealthy eating habits and processed foods. Private equity firms have been enablers of these trends, tapping into the “emerging consumer” through deals in FMCG, quick service restaurants (QSR), etc. For example, Thomson Reuters data show PE firms have invested in 61 EM QSR companies over the last decade.

That said, you can’t say PE firms aren’t also investing in potential solutions—GPs inked twice as many deals (138) in hospitals and clinics over the same period. Nevertheless, one wonders about the firms that are “investing across the lifecycle”—selling obesity-inducing foods to local populations on the front end, and lifestyle disease solutions on the back end. A fairly perverse way of creating demand where none should exist, no?

From the Bookshelf

In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, corruption, had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India’s modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.

— Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House: 2014).

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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.