It's tempting to divide the private equity community into haves and have-nots. When it comes to raising new funds, the best performers are amply rewarded, while the rest are punished for bad, or at least mediocre, behavior. But as the old axiom goes, past performance does not guarantee future results. Today the universe of have-nots is larger than ever, as funds that gathered excessive (in retrospect) capital commitments from institutional investors now receive much less or none at all. Several years after the buyout boom, many of them are still atoning for excesses by posting pedestrian outcomes.
In private equity, fundraising is financial Darwinism at its most self-evidently brutal. Not all are chosen, and even the most sought-after funds take longer to complete. For those whose job it is to allocate new capital to investment vehicles, the task of distinguishing real winners is an unenviable one. Limited partners have to contend with diminished return expectations and limited availability of capital. They're also worried about the weak U.S. economy, volatile markets and the current turmoil in many European countries, and the impact these are having on portfolio assets.
LPs themselves have become fragmented, defined by specific interests at a point in time. Many LPs are culling portfolio holdings to simplify investment decision making and have fewer, if more select, relationships. Some are tapped out because they've reached target allocations. Others are much less comfortable about throwing more money into generalized funds and prefer industry-focused or specialized pools. Still others want to allocate to emerging managers or first-time funds run by successful general partners. Or they're eager to invest in emerging markets rather than, say, China, India or Brazil. As with most things in life, it's all about making the right choices at the right time.
This report on private equity fundraising assembles some of the bigger standouts over the past year. These are general partners who won the requisite brownie points with their LPs to reach the trigger point. They work at firms that boast a history of outperformance, stable leadership and almost boringly consistent execution on investment goals over multiple funds.
Those who managed to pull this off no doubt are the exception to the norm. After all, there aren't many who can boast they closed oversubscribed funds in a short time frame. Then again, there aren't many buyout shops like American Securities LLC (on its sixth fund), which makes a point of tapping less-than-average leverage levels on deals and still produces exceptional returns. Nor is there a plethora of funds that fit London-based BC Partners Ltd.'s profile (on its ninth) in going against the powerful headwinds of the euro-zone crisis and still winding up with the largest global buyout fund completed in recent months. Few could also have the powerful combination of stable leadership and long track record that Berkshire Partners LLC (now on its eighth fund, page 44) and midmarket firm River Associates Investments LLC (on its sixth) lay claim to. NGP Energy Capital Managament LLC (on its 10th) took that winning combination and applied it to oil and gas. The former Carlyle Group executives who lead Poland's Resource Partners showed what they could do with their experience and focus on a promising emerging market. Last but not least, there is only one Wilbur Ross, whose longevity and success in the annals of bankruptcy and restructuring are unequaled. We spoke to Ross in an interview.
The downside is that being exceptional in this fundraising round doesn't necessarily hold true for the next round. There's no rest, except that for the moment, investors give them the benefit of the doubt.