Whisper it quietly

Are the worst times behind us, as Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen Schwarzman suggests? Certainly, his own firm's recent activity provides some room for optimism: the €2.6 billion sale of Orangina Schweppes to Japan's Suntory Holdings and the $2.7 billion acquisition of a theme parks business from Anheuser Busch InBev provide welcome signs that large-ish new deals and exits are increasingly possible. With a senior Permira executive speaking of a “wall of cash” set to be returned to investors, and the IPO window having apparently been thrown open, no one is smirking any more at those claims of green shoots.

Of course, it would be wise not to get too ahead of ourselves. Schwarzman qualified his optimism by pointing out that the private equity industry is in a “radically different place” than a year ago and that it will take several years before “responsible” credit is flowing again (a wit or cynic might ask at this point how long before “irresponsible” credit makes a comeback).

This issue of PEI provides support to Schwarzman's claim of a radically different environment. You'll find that we have selected five key shifts in private equity strategy since the boom. To name just one example: we contrast the rash of dividend recaps during euphoric times with the more common trend today of equity infusions into portfolio companies. To discover the identity of our other selections, please turn to page 34.

Elsewhere in the issue you'll find insights into the scale of the challenge that still confronts some GPs. French listed investment group Wendel Investissement received plenty of flak for its pre-crisis investment in construction giant Saint Gobain (much of it from its controlling Wendel family). In a wide-ranging interview, we talk with the firm's chief executive, Frédéric Lemoine, who was appointed six months ago with the aim of reversing its declining fortunes (see page 28). Meanwhile, on page 18, Toby Mitchenall takes a look at the way in which events have unfolded at London-based buyout firm Candover – and what the future might hold.

Our annual report on the Nordic region can be found on p43. This part of the world possesses some idiosyncratic traits, which we highlight – some beneficial, others not so. What markets here share with other developed private equity markets around the world is a sense that the arrival of 2010 might bring in its train real reasons for optimism. Let's hope we haven't jinxed the revival.

Enjoy the issue,

Andy Thomson