PEO 2.0:<br/>SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

PrivateEquityOnline.com has been re-launched following its first big re-design since inception eight years ago. The new site gives us – and hopefully you the reader – significantly more flexibility to organise our material in this fast-changing world of private equity. We hope you like the new site. In the technology transfer we lost some of the data that allows us to compile our table of the month's top ten stories, so this month is effectively the editor's choice of interesting stories. Less democratic, but hopefully as entertaining.

As the mega-buyout firms have toiled to little avail in the face of escalating interest rates and a global credit crunch, emerging markets and the mid-market are looking increasingly safe bets.

Buyout executives at the big firms have put a brave face on their business, which is in a go-slow period of unspecified length while the banks digest their unsyndicated loans. The best it seems they can hope for is a period of re-adjustment that may herald a buying opportunity and a cracking vintage for recently closed funds.

George Roberts and Johannes Huth, co-founder and head of European operations, respectively, at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, made an appearance on PEO after turning to the Private Markets Committee of the Washington State Investment Board to ask for a commitment to the private equity giant's third European fund.

Washington is a key relationship for KKR, having committed billions to previous KKR vehicles.

Roberts did not address the topic of his firm's IPO plans, but did discuss the beleaguered state of the large leveraged buyout market, according to a person at the meeting. “He said that we're currently in a bit of chaos, and the market cannot [currently] support a large deal. But he said this would be temporary, and that in the meantime the firm could do smaller, well priced, well structured deals.”

Roberts said that eventually “new capital will come into the market” that will reinvigorate the large buyout strategy pursued by KKR.

The Carlyle Group closed its latest European buyout fund on €5.35 billion ($7.4 billion). Jean-Pierre Millet, a managing director at the firm, told PEO it would be a good time to invest with valuations expected to come down two to three turns of EBITDA after a short-term constriction in deal activity.

Smaller deals, up to $2 billion, will still receive financing. But all this is predicated on the rest of the financial system holding and the inter-bank market recovering. For some observers, that is a pretty big hypothetical.

Investors appear to be voting with their wallets. Actis, the emerging markets fund manager, is marketing a global private equity fund, which has a target of at least $1.25 billion, according to investors familiar with the group's plans.

In addition, the firm is looking for another $1.25 billion in commitments to four separate regional funds dedicated to China, South Asia, Africa and Latin America, these sources say.

The firm is gambling investors will back its big increase in scale. Actis' largest fund to date is a $355 million African fund. The firm has not specified how much capital it wants to raise for each of the four regional pools. However, investors expect the funds raised for India, China and Africa, where Actis already has local investment teams and a track record, to be larger than for Latin America, where the firm has not actively invested in the past.

Politically and financially, investing growth capital in emerging markets looks prudent. Investing in smaller buyouts, after the era of mega-buyout fundraising, also appears to be in vogue.

Barclays Private Equity closed last month, while Bridgepoint launched and Darwin Private Equity held a successful second close. The latter perhaps marks a specific moment in the asset class's evolution. The three founding partners of Darwin can each claim a mega-fund pedigree – two partners from Permira and one from CVC Capital Partners – but, for them, survival of the fittest means a mid-market UK focus.

Charles Darwin fought shy of confronting the orthodoxy of the day, but his view has ultimately prevailed. Perhaps you can read too much into a name.