Friday, August 07, 2009

The tracks of my tears

Azeem has an awesome post on VC fund returns, which I highly recommend, and hats off to CalPERS for keeping everyone honest. Our merry band is generally interested in more mature businesses which are under stress, usually due to inappropriate capital structures dating from the most aggressive vintage of the LBO contagion.

When looking at opportunities in this space, it's always helpful to try to get some insight into the states of mind and motivations of the relevant private equity sponsors, though this is often difficult given the veil of secrecy surrounding the industry. So after reading Azeem's post, I was interested to also discover in CalPERS' site a similar table of private equity fund performance, which like the VC table, is not all-encompassing, but is pretty damned comprehensive, especially when one considers that typically these numbers would not be seen outside the relatively small group of insiders/investors.

There are some stunningly bad IRR numbers to be found here, and I only count 34 funds from the 2005 - 2008 time frame in positive territory, and among those who are down, they are often waaaaay down. Conversely, there is only a handful of funds from the pre-2004 vintages in negative territory. It would be nice to think that the critical issue for the 2005 - 2008 vintage funds is time and a turn in the economic cycle (to break out of the trough in the J-curve), but I'm far from convinced. I would be interested to see a comparison of leverage in pre- and post-2004 deals (no doubt a good academic research project for someone with the time and resources), because my suspicion is that the use of leverage in the '05 - '07 period was, as in the broader economy, freakishly supersized - a last gasp of excess before the lights went out - and that this will preclude many of these deals from ever generating a return. And God only knows what happens to some of these deals if LIBOR/EURIBOR are markedly higher in two to three years' time, which I suspect may be the case.

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