9 March 2016

The private equity market had one of its best years since the financial crisis last year and private debt fund managers are getting into the act, filling in the gaps that increasingly cautious commercial banks are leaving in deal funding and corporate finance structures.

Bain & Company’s latest Global Private Equity Report shows that private equity funds outperformed public equity markets in all major regions last year.

According to Bain, there were more than US$400 billion of “exits” globally last year – second only to 2014. In Asia Pacific exits grew by 20 per cent to US$85 billion.

Private equity funds raised US$527 of capital globally in 2015. This was well above the recent low of US$299 billion in 2010 but still short of the peak of US$681 billion in 2008.

Presenting the report at the Asian Venture Capital Journal’s Annual Private Equity & Venture Forum in Sydney last week, Bain partner Simon Henderson told delegates that PE was riding a wave of recovery.

Another speaker at the conference, Sankaty Advisors executive vice president David McWilliam said his group invested A$400 million of private debt last year, including the debt component of KKR’s purchase of the GE Capital consumer finance business.

McWilliam said: “We are doing mezzanine, second lien, acquisition and structured finance – areas where banks cannot provide what businesses want.”

Westpac Institutional Bank’s head of acquisition finance Russell Sinclair said that since the financial crisis and the regulatory changes that followed in its wake commercial banks have stuck to providing senior debt.

Sinclair said: “Private debt is complementary to what we do. We work together and that allows us to do bigger deals and deals with different debt structures.”

McWilliam said Sankaty was currently doing some work with mining companies and agribusinesses that needed to restructure their finances after their banks had pulled back.

“Last year we recapitalised the mining services company Imdex. The business was going well but its bank was pulling back.

“We are comfortable financing asset rich agribusiness companies, while the banks are wary of the volatility.”

He said companies were increasingly were willing to pay more for flexibility, including bullet structures, covenant light credit contracts and additional draw-downs.

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