Private equity fundraising and deal flow still weak

Although the latest data from Preqin looks good compared to 2009, the first quarter of 2010 shows the industry is still grappling with problems.

Private equity has enjoyed the most modest of recoveries so far, with data on first-quarter 2010 fundraising and deals from London-based consultancy Preqin showing slight improvements on a terrible 2009.

The latest quarter saw 79 final fund closes raise $50.4 billion. Considering the fourth quarter of 2009 saw only $48 billion of funds raised, that seems like progress, but it is in fact less than was raised in all other quarters of 2009 (such as April-June 2009, which saw $88 billion of new financing).

And the latest quarter is well off what the industry raised from 2005 to 2008, when $150 billion or more per quarter was the norm.

Moreover, funding is still taking much longer than in previous periods. The average fund closed in 2010 took 19 months on average to do so, nearly double the time required in 2004 and a tad longer than the average time to close for the 2009 vintage.

Preqin attributes this to the growing imbalance between capital called and capital distributed. From 2004-2007, these were roughly in line. Since 2008, PE firms have struggled to invest, therefore clients have lots of capital sitting in existing investments. Therefore they have less capital available for new funds or can't be persuaded to make new investments.

The rest of the year shouldn't be all doom and gloom, however. Preqin surveyed limited partners in December and found 51% expected to increase capital invested in private equity this year.

Another bit of good news -- although deal flow in the first quarter (totalling 307 PE-backed deals worth $26.6 billion) was down on Q4 2009, it was more than had been announced during each of the other three quarters. Because the figure is better than Q1 2009, Preqin reckons this suggests the entire year will see better performance.

In Asia, however, the decline was more severe, from $6.3 billion in Q4 2009 to $3.9 billion in Q1 2010. The latest quarter's activity was in line with Q2 and Q3 2009.

In Q1 2010, US and Europe-focused funds dominated new financing. However the number-one close was Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund VII, a $5.2 billion addition to the Mesref series, which has a global focus.

Although most of the top-10 fund closes came from the West (seven from America, two in the UK and one in Germany), the 10th biggest was Chinese, a buyout strategy from Citic Private Equity Funds Management. The Mianyang PE fund raised Rmb9 billion, making it the biggest close yet in China.

Venture capital saw the most funds raised in Q1 (24, versus 16 buyout funds), but in terms of aggregate capital raised, buyout strategies dominated ($13 billion, versus $11 billion for venture funds).

In Asia, the most money was raised in two real-estate strategies, for $5.4 billion, although the most prolific area was venture capital, with eight fund closings.

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