PEO 2.0:<br/>HAIR SHIRTS ALL ROUND

In among the bug hunting on the re-launched PEO website – I do hope you have managed to swing by for a look – we have managed to post a few stories.

Unsurprisingly, the themes that caught your attention were debt, doom and gloom. Bad news sells. And the worst news this month was just one remove from the buyout firm KKR. The banks underwriting the remaining £8.25 billion (€11.92 billion; $16.77 billion) of Alliance Boots debt are considering retaining the tranche for up to a year, according to a source in the debt markets.

The syndication suffered a double blow at the beginning of October as ratings agency Standard and Poor's downgraded the company's long-term corporate credit rating and its rating for its senior and secured debt. It also withdrew its ratings because of a lack of information.

At the same time the UK government cut the money it pays pharmacies for medicines by £470 million, according to UK newspaper The Times.

“This will hold the debt syndication back for at least another three months. Some of the bankers have already said to us the debt may not be syndicated for up to a year. This deal is too big for the market and they don't want to embarrass themselves,” a source at a leading debt provider told PEO. The banks understandably were staying quiet, keeping their own counsel and licking their wounds.

KKR's spokesman was more positive. He said Alliance Boots was trading well ahead of expectations and the board was satisfied that the company had the financial resources to meet its needs. Pity for the banks then there are so few debt investors to buy this positive spin.

But if the markets are bad for the banks, Nicola Horlick, one of the UK's most famous quoted equity managers, warned the private equity industry could still do itself a favour and promote itself better or miss a long-term opportunity for growth.

Horlick, chief executive of UK fund manager Bramdean Asset Management, was speaking last month to a packed audience at PEI Media's “Private Equity COOs & CFOs Forum” in London.

She said: “Private equity is not doing enough to court or educate UK pension funds. It has had a low profile. And it was outrageous this summer how much animus against the industry came out in negative articles, because the industry isn't well organised.”

Horlick predicted a booming market of mass affluent and high net worth retail investors looking to diversify into private equity, but who would struggle to access the best performing managers.

She said the fund flotation by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to tap this demand had been disastrous, trading at a 20 percent discount to net asset value, partly because of the large amount of un-invested cash on its balance sheet.

Such profligacy is not deflecting Citi from backing a $12.5 billion KKR debt vehicle, but the performance at KKR Financial, the firm's listed real estate fund might – two more popular stories.

Perhaps it might just be easier if the KKR team all don hair shirts and do penance for the industry's excesses. Who will tell Henry?