Archive

Archive for January, 2013

Stagnant IPO Market Strangles Chinese Private Equity Exits — Financier Magazine

January 31st, 2013 No comments

Fin

From humble beginnings in 2000, the past decade has seen the Chinese private equity (PE) market blossom into a global powerhouse. However, according to a new report released by investment bank China First Capital (China First), the Chinese market is in the formative stages of a crisis which could undermine all of the extraordinary strides it has made in recent years.

The report, ‘Secondaries: A necessary and attractive exit for PE deals in China’, notes that while there have been nearly 10,000 deals worth a combined $230bn completed within the Chinese market between 2001 and 2012, around 7500 of those deals remain ‘unexited’. This has left approximately $130bn of PE and venture capital investment locked inside Chinese companies with very few exit options available. More…

China private equity specialist says IPO drought means investors must rethink — Week in China

January 28th, 2013 No comments

 

week in china

 

 

Download complete text

With China’s IPO gusher now reduced to a trickle, prospects for some of the privately-owned companies which have traditionally boosted much of China’s economic growth could be at risk.

So says Peter Fuhrman, founder and chief executive at China First Capital, a boutique investment bank and advisory firm. His firm has just released a new report warning that new private equity investment has basically come to a halt in China since the middle of last year.

Fuhrman talked to WiC this week about the reasons for the slowdown, and why he would like to see more investors considering alternative exits, including sales in the secondary market. More…

Paid to Gamble But Reluctant To Do So

January 24th, 2013 No comments

 

Venture Capital Financing in the US

(Source; The Wall Street Journal)

 

They are the best-paid gamblers in the world, the General Partners at private equity and venture capital firms. They are paid to take risks, to make bets, with other people’s money. And for this, they usually get a guaranteed high annual retainer, a salary that generally puts them in the top 1% of all wage-earners in their country, and also a share of profits earned from putting others’ money at risk. In other words, their life is on the order of “heads I win, tails I win” compensation. They make a handsome salary, have all their expenses covered, are unlikely ever to get fired, and also usually get to claim 20%-25% of the profits from successful deals.

Given those incentives, and the fact the guys with the money (your fund’s LPs) are paying you to find great opportunities and bet on them rather than sit on your hands, you would assume that GPs would want to keep the flow of new deals moving along at a reasonable pace. In fact, inactivity is, next to losing all the LPs money on bad investments, the surest way for a PE fund to put itself out of business. And yet this do-nothing strategy is now common across China’s private equity industry. For the better part of a year, deal-making has all but dried up.

From a recent high of around 1,200 PE deals closed in a single year in China,  in 2012 the total tumbled. My surmise is that the number of new PE deals closed in China last year was down at least 75% from 2011. The activity that took place did so almost entirely during the first half of the year. An industry now holding over $100 billion in capital and employing well over 10,000 people, including some of the most well-educated and well-paid in China, ground to a halt during 2012.

Let me offer up one example. I won’t name them, since I know and like the people running this shop: a fund that is among the biggest of all China-focused PEs, with over $4 billion in capital, made a total of three investments in all of 2012. Two of them were in “club deals” where they threw money into a pot along with a bunch of other funds. Though they keep a full-time staff of 100, funded by the management fee drawn from LPs money, this firm closed only one deal that they actually initiated. At a guess, these guys have an annual management fee in excess of $50mn, and during 2012, their headcount more than doubled.

In any other line of work, a company that decreased its output to about zero, while significantly increasing its expenses, would be on the fast-track to insolvency. But, not in the PE industry in China. It’s currently the norm. Now, of course, those same PE firms will say they are keeping themselves busy monitoring their previous investments, rather than closing new ones. Yes, that’s necessary work. But, still, the radical slow-down in PE activity in PE is without precedent elsewhere in the PE and VC world.

Look, for example, to the VC industry in the US. In good years and bad, with IPOs plentiful and nonexistent, VC firms keep up their dealmaking.  These two charts at the top of the page show this quite clearly. Across a six-year cycle of capital markets boom and bust, the number of new VC investments closed stayed relatively constant at between 600-800 per quarter. In other words, VC workloads in the US stayed relatively stable. They kept channeling LP money into new opportunities. The dollar amounts fluctuated, peaking recently during the run-up to the highly-anticipated IPOs of Linkedin, Facebook, Groupon and Zynga.  Valuations rose and so did check size. But, deal flow stayed steady, even after Linkedin, Facebook, Groupon and Zynga’s share prices nosedived following IPOs.

This is the picture of a mature industry, managed by experienced professionals who’ve seen their share of stock market up and down cycles, heard thousands of pitches for “sure things” that raised some money only to later crash and burn. Some VC firms crashed and burned with them. But, overall, the industry has kept its wits, its focus and its discipline to invest through bad times as well as stellar ones.

The contrast with China’s PE industry is rather stark. There are perhaps as many as 5,000 PE and VC firms in China. No one knows for sure. New ones keep getting formed every week. The more seasoned of the China PE and VC firms have a history of about 10 years. But, the overwhelming majority have been in this game for less than five years. In other words, today there is a large industry, well-financed and with control over a significant amount of the growth capital available in the world’s second largest economy, that was basically created out of nothing, over just the last few years.

Obviously, these thousands of new PE firms couldn’t point to their long history of identifying and investing in private companies. But, LPs poured money in all the same. They were investing more in China — in the remarkable talents of its entrepreneurs and the continued dynamism of its economy — than in the track record of those doing the investing. That seems a wise idea to me. As I’ve mentioned more than once, putting money into China’s better entrepreneur-led companies is certainly among the better risk-adjusted investment opportunities in the world.

If anything, the opportunities are riper and cheaper than a year ago, as valuations have come down and good companies with significant scale (revenues above $25mn) have kept up a rate of profit growth above 30%. In the US VC industry, this would be a strong buy signal. Not so in China. Not now.

PE firms are collecting tens of millions of dollars from LPs in management fees, but not putting much new LP money to productive use by investing in companies that can generate a return. Nor are they actively exiting from previously-made investments and returning capital to LPs. This situation can’t last indefinitely.  For people handed chips and paid to gamble, it’s unwise to spend too much of the time away from the casino snoozing in your high roller suite.

 

Buyout Firms Lack Exit Ramp in China — Wall Street Journal

January 17th, 2013 No comments

 

WSJ

With the door to initial public offerings in China largely shut, private-equity firms invested there are having a tough time cashing out. The alternative—selling to another buyout firm or a company looking to expand via acquisition—remains rare in a market where buyers are relatively few.

Private-equity firms are sitting on more than $130 billion of investments in China and are under pressure from investors to find an exit, Shenzhen-based advisory firm China First Capital said in a report last week.

Gary Rieschel, founder of Shanghai-based Qiming Venture Partners, said, “There needs to be a broader number of choices in buyers” in China.

Private-equity firms have generally exited their China investments through IPOs, but the number of private-equity-backed IPOs approved by mainland regulators has plummeted. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong IPO market has softened and sentiment toward Chinese companies in the U.S. has soured because of accounting scandals.

In October, the China Securities Regulatory Commission shut the IPO door completely on the mainland, halting the approval of new listings over worries that a glut of offerings would further weigh on sagging share prices. The Shanghai Composite Index was one of the world’s worst performers in 2012, sinking to a near four-year low in early December before a rally pulled the index up slightly for the year.

Analysts say they don’t expect the CSRC to approve any IPOs until at least March, when Beijing’s top lawmakers usually hold important annual planning meetings.

The regulator approved 220 IPOs of companies backed by private-equity or venture-capital firms in 2010, but that fell to 165 the following year and 97 last year, research firm China Venture said. There are now nearly 900 companies waiting to list in China, the CSRC said on its website.

Hong Kong’s market, meanwhile, has seen fewer IPOs over the past year as investors soured on new listings after several underperformed the broader market. U.S. private-equity firm Blackstone Group, which owns 20% of chemical company China National Blue Star, scrapped a planned Hong Kong listing of a unit called Bluestar Adisseo Nutrition Group in 2010 due to weak markets. It has yet to list that firm.

Carlyle Group has struggled to exit some of its deals, including two deals it made in 2007, a $20 million investment in Shanghai-based language-training firm NeWorld Education Group and a $100 million investment in Zhejiang Kaiyuan Hotel Management Co. A company spokesman said the holding periods for those investments are normal because private-equity firms usually stay invested for four to seven years. The spokesman also said Carlyle has successfully exited many deals, including the recent sale of its stake in China Pacific Insurance, which generated a profit of more than $4 billion.

In more-developed markets, private-equity firms can count on exiting their investments through sales to rival buyout firms or to companies looking to grow through strategic acquisitions. But in China, private-equity firms have sold stakes to rival firms or other companies only an average of 15 times a year over the past three years, according to data provider Dealogic.

China’s secondary buyout market—where private-equity firms sell to each other—remains immature. Among the handful of such deals, Actis Capital sold a majority stake last month in Beijing hot-pot chain Xiabu Xiabu, for which it had paid $50 million in 2008, to U.S. firm General Atlantic for an undisclosed amount.

Domestic consolidation is rare compared with the activity in developed countries. Chinese companies that are still growing quickly may prefer to hold off selling, and there are fewer big corporate domestic buyers.

“China is still a relatively fragmented economy with a disproportionately small number of large businesses relative to the size of its economy and very few national businesses,” said Vinit Bhatia, head of China private equity for Bain & Co.

When a private-equity firm does sell a Chinese portfolio company, the size of the deal tends to be small. Last year’s biggest sale was MBK Partners’ $320 million sale of a majority stake in Luye Pharma Group, which it bought in 2008. The buyer was AsiaPharm Holdings Ltd.

Usually, though, foreign private-equity firms hold only minority stakes in Chinese companies because full control is tough to get, in part for regulatory reasons. Domestic private-equity firms, meanwhile, are often content to hold minority stakes in fast-growing companies, which can offer healthy returns.

Management may not be on board when a minority investor wants to put the whole company up for sale. Chinese chairmen, who are often the founders of their businesses, prefer to remain at the helm, said Lei Fu, co-founder of Shanghai-based private-equity firm Ivy Capital.

Still, private-equity investors say they are hopeful that more buyers will emerge in China this year, even if the IPO markets stay shut.

The number of strategic Chinese buyers should increase as the government encourages consolidation across industries and as medium-size companies begin growing more rapidly with a rebound in the economy, they say.

“Five years ago we would think of multinationals…Now we think more local companies” when looking for buyers, says Huaming Gu, Shanghai-based partner at private-equity firm Baird Capital.

 

http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2013/01/15/buyout-firms-lack-exit-ramp-in-china/

Download PDF version.

 

China Private Equity Secondaries — the new China First Capital research report

January 16th, 2013 No comments

 

In the current difficult market environment for private equity in China, secondary transactions provide a valuable way forward.  Staging successful IPOs or M&A will remain severely challenging. This is the conclusion of a proprietary research report recently completed and published by China First Capital. An abridged version is available by clicking here.  You can also visit the Research Reports section of the China First Capital website.

Secondaries potentially offer some of the best risk-adjusted investment opportunities, as well as the most certain and efficient way for private equity and venture capital firms to exit investments. And yet these secondary deals still remain rare. As a result, General Partners, Limited Partners and investee companies, as well as China’s now-large private equity industry,  are all at risk from serious adverse outcomes.

This new CFC research report is a data-driven examination of the potential market for secondary transactions in China, the significant scope for profit on all sides of the transaction, as well as the no less significant obstacles to the development of an efficient, liquid, stable long-term market in these secondary positions in China.

The report’s conclusion is that secondaries have the potential to benefit all three core constituencies in the China PE industry — GPs, LPs and investee companies. The universe of deals potentially available for secondary exit is large, over 7,500 unexited investments made in China by PE firms since 2000.

However, the greatest potential for both PE sellers and buyers across the short to medium term is in a group of select companies CFC terms “Quality Secondaries“. These are PE investments that fulfill four criteria:

  1. unexited and not in IPO approval process, domestically or internationally
  2. investee companies have grown well (+25% a year) since the original round of PE investment, and have continuing scope to expand enterprise value and achieve eventual capital markets or trade sale exit in 3-6 year time frame
  3. businesses are sound from legal and regulatory perspective, have effective corporate governance, and a majority owner  that will support secondary sale to another PE institution
  4. current PE investor seeks secondary exit because of fund life or portfolio management reasons

CFC’s  analysis reveals that the potential universe of “Quality Secondaries” is at least 200 companies. This number will likely grow by approx. 15%-25% a year, as funds reach latter stage of their lives and if other exit options remain limited.

At the current juncture, in this market environment, and assuming “Quality Secondary” deals are done at market valuations, these investment represent some of the better values to be found in growth capital investing in China.  DD risk is significantly lower than in primary deals, and contingent risks (opportunity costs, and legal risks of pursuing other non-IPO exits) are lower.

Despite the current lack of significant deal-making activity in this area, secondaries will likely go from current low levels to gain a meaningful share of all PE exits in China.

The secondaries market in China will have unique factors compared to the US, Europe and elsewhere. There will likely be limited investor interest in any secondary deal involving a Chinese company or a portfolio that has underperformed since PE investment, or could otherwise be characterized as a  “distress” situation.

Quality Secondaries transactions in China will involve PE investors “cherry-picking” good companies at fair valuations.  The primary motivation for selling PEs is misalignment between its remaining fund life and the time required and risk inherent in achieving  domestic or offshore IPO or trade sale exit during that shortened time frame.

In contrast with secondary deals done outside China, we do not expect to see much activity involving the sale of all or most of a PE firm’s portfolio of investments. Specialist secondary firms operating elsewhere (e.g. Coller Capital, Harbourvest) do not currently have the experience or manpower in China to take on the complexities of managing and liquidating all or most of an existing portfolio of minority investments.

Rather, we expect those PEs with strong operating performance in growth capital investing in China to exploit favorable market conditions by becoming active buyers of Quality Secondaries.   GPs that prefer larger deals, (+USD25mn/Rmb200mn), should be particularly interested in Quality Secondaries, since company scale and investment amount will likely be larger, on average, than primary deals in China.

Selling PEs can pursue exit strategies based on option of selling either part or all of a successful unexited deal. A part liquidation in Quality Secondary transaction can mitigate risk and return capital to LPs while still retaining future upside. A full exit through secondary can increase fund’s realized IRR and so assist future fundraising. Importantly, a selling PE needs to act before pricing leverage is transferred mainly to buyers — generally this means secondary deals should be evaluated and priced in market when fund still has minimum of two years left of active period.

While clearly the most acute need for exit will be investments made before 2008, more recent investments need also to be assessed based on current market conditions. Many GPs are adopting what looks to be an unhedged strategy across a portfolio of invested deals waiting for capital markets conditions to improve.

In particular, much of this “wait and see” approach is based on the hope that Hong Kong’s once-vibrant, now-moribund IPO market for Chinese companies returns to its earlier state. The US stock market will certainly remain off limits to most Chinese companies for a long time to come. Exit through China’s domestic stock market is now seriously blocked by bureaucratic slowdowns and an approval backlog that even under optimistic scenarios could take three to five years to clear.

The need for diversification is no less paramount for exits than entries. Many of the same PEs that wisely spread their LPs money across a range of industries, stages and deal sizes, have become over-reliant now on  a single path to exit: the Hong Kong IPO.  By itself, such dependence on a single exit path is risky. In the current environment, it looks even more so.

The flood of Chinese IPOs in Hong Kong basically came to a halt a year ago.  When they do resume, it may prove challenging for all but the best and biggest Chinese companies to successfully issue shares there. What will become of the other deals? How will GPs and LPs profit from investments already made? That’s the focus on this new report, titled, “China Secondaries:  The Necessary & Attractive Exit For Private Equity Deals in China“.

 

China Private Equity Secondaries — New York Times, Bloomberg, CNNMoney

January 9th, 2013 No comments

Dual

It is imperative for the private equity industry in China to develop an efficient, liquid market for secondaries. Our goal is both to facilitate an active dialogue, as well as help bring this about. Only by breaking the current logjam of no exits in China PE can money again start to flow in significant amounts to capital-hungry private companies. No less than the future fitness of China’s entrepreneurial private sector is at stake.

In the last several days, along with the Wall Street Journal article posted yesterday, five other financial media (New York Times, Bloomberg, AVCJ, PEI, CNN Money) published stories on this topic, referencing research results from China First Capital. I’m pleased to share them.

Private Equity in China: Which Way Out?

HONG KONG — Welcome to the private equity game in China: you can buy in anytime you like, but you can never leave. At least, that is how it is starting to seem for many of the firms that bought in big during the boom of last decade.

Starting from a base of almost nothing in 2000, global private equity funds and their start-up local counterparts rushed into the Chinese market – completing nearly 10,000 deals worth a combined $230 billion from 2001 to 2012, according to a report released this week by China First Capital, a boutique investment bank based in the southern city of Shenzhen.More…

 

Private-equity funds in China are still holding 82 percent of the companies they’ve invested in since 2007, as the frozen market for initial public offerings keeps them from exiting, a study showed.

Funds hold 6,584 companies after disposing of 1,445 and seeing 20 go bankrupt, according to a report from China First Capital, a Shenzhen-based firm that advises on private equity and mergers. Investors still hold companies valued at $94.3 billion, compared with a total of $194.7 billion, according to public data compiled by the firm and its own research. More...

 

 

At least 200 private equity portfolio companies in China are attractive targets for potential secondary buyers and the number is likely to grow 15-25% per year as funds come to the end of their lives and find that exit options are still limited.

These companies represent the cream of a much larger pool of investments that are as yet un-exited by Chinese PE investors, according to a proprietary study by specialist investment bank China First Capital. It estimates that more than 7,500 portfolio companies remain in private equity firms’ portfolios from investments made since 2000.  More…

 

As other exit avenues for private equity dry up in China, GP-to-GP secondaries could be the only option for the 7,500 unexited portfolio
companies, according to a recent study from China First Capital.

China has 7,550 unexited private equity investments totaling $100 billion that will soon have to be realised through routes other than the traditional IPO, according to a recent study from China First Capital.
As fund lives begin to expire, Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive of CFC, believes the standout option will be GP-to-GP secondary transactions. This is especially true for RMB funds, which have a three-to-five year life rather than the ten years typical with US dollar funds. More…

China’s stalled market for new share listings is severely limiting the ability of private equity funds to cash out their
investments in the country, according to a new research report from China First Capital.
The Shenzhen-based investment bank analyzed more than 9,000 private equity and venture capital deals completed in
China since 2001, and found that more than $100 billion — much from the U.S. — remains invested. More…

 

Private Equity In China – Time For A New Exit?

January 8th, 2013 No comments

Article from Wall Street Journal January 8, 2013

China was once one of the few bright spots globally for private equity. Now it’s a quagmire – and investors are going to have to change the way they approach the market.

That’s the finding of a new report by Shenzhen-based private equity advisory China First Capital (pdf). According to the company’s own research, there have been about 9,000 private equity deals completed in China over the past decade, but in more than 7,500 of those instances – or $130 billion worth of investment – investors still haven’t managed to cash out.

“Over the last 18 months, first the U.S. capital markets, then Hong Kong’s and finally China’s Shanghai and Shenzhen domestic stock markets have dramatically lowered the number of IPOs of Chinese companies,” writes Peter Fuhrman, China First Capital chairman, in the report. “It seems more likely than not that the golden age of Chinese IPOs, when over 350 companies were listing each year across public markets in the U.S., Hong Kong and China, is now over.”

It’s not a turn of events that will be easily remedied. A wave of fraud allegations leveled by auditors and short sellers against a number of small Chinese companies listed in the U.S. has destroyed investor confidence in the sector and all but frozen new IPOs. Listings in Hong Kong dropped off in 2012 owing to that market’s poor performance, but even if it recovers many private-equity-invested companies are too small to clear the Hong Kong bourse’s listing requirements. And in mainland China, the regulator has all but stopped new listings in Shanghai and Shenzhen for fear that new offerings would divert liquidity and drive lower two of the world’s most underperforming markets.

Analysts tip China’s domestic IPO market to come back to life this year. PricewaterhouseCoopers expects a combined 200 IPOs raising between 130 billion yuan ($20.7 billion) and 150 billion yuan on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges in 2013, it said in a report. But that’s not going to clear the private equity backlog.

About 100 companies have already been cleared by the China Securities Regulatory Commission to list their shares, but are waiting for the market to improve. A further 800 companies have already filed IPO applications and are waiting for regulator’s nod. And according to Mr. Fuhrman, an additional 600 or 700 companies could be ready to apply as soon as the regulator signals it’s fully ready to take new applications. With many funds needing to return cash to their investors in the not-so-distant future, waiting for an IPO slot to open up is looking like the financial equivalent of a Hail Mary.

Traditionally, IPOs have been the preferred way for private equity investors in China to get their money out of companies they invested in. That’s in part because during the golden years of 2006 and 2007, sky-high IPO prices would result in a killing for investors that got in early. But it’s also because finding another company willing to buy the company you’ve invested in – a popular exit for private equity investors in developed markets – is seldom an option in China. Private equity investors usually take only a minority stake in Chinese companies, often because the entrepreneur who founded the firm is unwilling to relinquish control.

“To achieve [a] trade sale exit, the [investor] would need to persuade the majority owner, usually the person running the company, to sell out,” said the report. “Even in cases where that is possible, there is not an active market for corporate control in China. Few deals have been successfully concluded where a private entrepreneur, alongside a PE minority investor, has sold the business.”

The answer to this investment exit quandary might be secondary deals, whereby one private equity fund sells its stake in a company to another private equity fund, or in some cases sells its entire stable of companies to another fund. So far there have been very few such deals in China, but Mr. Fuhrman thinks they could be the way of the future.

“Despite the current lack of significant deal-making activity in this area, secondaries will likely go from current low levels to gain a meaningful share of all PE exits in China,” says the report.

Secondary deals are usually unpopular among investors that give their money to private equity funds. Large investors who have allocated money to a number of private equity shops see them as a waste of their money, particularly if one fund they’ve invested in sells to another fund they’ve invested in – all the more so if it’s at a higher price.

Secondary deals overseas often involve distressed assets – the kind a private equity fund is willing to sell at a loss just to be rid of them. But the deals Mr. Fuhrman foresees coming to the table in China would be of much higher quality, with funds forced to sell because they’re due to return cash to investors rather than because of any underlying problem with the investment.

The current quagmire is a problem that’s been building for some time, and private equity funds have so far proven reluctant to embrace secondary deals as an exit. But with the chances of getting an IPO done looking less like a bottleneck and more like the eye of a needle, major changes might be forced upon funds and the way they do business.

– Dinny McMahon

 

 

China’s Private-Equity Exits Stalled by IPO Freeze, Study Finds — Bloomberg

January 8th, 2013 No comments

Bloombery logo2

Bloomhead

 

 

 

 

Private-equity funds in China are still holding 82 percent of the companies they’ve invested in since 2007, as the frozen market for initial public offerings keeps them from exiting, a study showed.
Funds hold 6,584 companies after disposing of 1,445 and seeing 20 go bankrupt, according to a report from China First Capital, a Shenzhen-based firm that advises on private equity and mergers. Investors still hold companies valued at $94.3 billion, compared with a total of $194.7 billion, according to public data compiled by the firm and its own research.
China’s IPO market has been shuttered by regulatory delays, while concern that accounts have been misstated has closed off U.S. bourses to Chinese companies. Firms are under pressure to return money to investors as funds raised several years ago approach the end of their cycle, while the market for sales to industry investors or other funds remains underdeveloped.
“The larger issue has been one of reduced access to public markets for PE invested deals, rather than simply lower valuations,” said the China First Capital report. Private equity in China is “over-allocated to IPO exit.”
The backlog of IPOs pending approval in China grew to more than 800 in December as regulators stopped allowing new offerings on concern that they may weigh on the market. Companies raised $14.6 billion through IPOs last year in mainland China, down 64 percent from 2011, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Private equity firms in China have raised $137.7 billion since 2007, including a record $48.1 billion in 2011, according to the Asian Venture Capital Journal. Meanwhile, new investments fell 27 percent to $21.9 billion last year, the biggest drop ever, according to AVCJ.
Of 7,500 unexited investments since 2001, at least 200 of them are “quality secondaries,” or companies that have grown 25 percent a year since the original investment and can be sold to another private-equity fund, China First Capital said.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-01-08/china-s-private-equity-exits-stalled-by-ipo-freeze-study-finds

Download PDF version.