eFront, the leading financial software and solutions provider dedicated to Alternative Investments, has published its latest Quarterly Private Equity Performance report, showing that LBO performance has fallen for three straight quarters from its 10-year high in 2017.
- After reaching a peak of 1.49x in Q3 2017, the average return multiple achieved by active LBO funds has continued its retreat, back to the level of Q2 2017, at 1.45x.
- Despite the fall, active global LBO funds have outperformed the average of 1.3x achieved between 2009-2018 by 0.15x.
- The dispersion of performance between the top and bottom funds has stabilised at 1.34x, following a general trend towards a lower dispersion of returns, equating to reduced risk.
- Q1 2018 recorded a sharp decrease of the average time-to-liquidity, to just 2.63 years.
- In terms of vintage years, 2009 and 2014 are so far delivering strong performance, while 2010 and 2013 are more subdued.
- Overall, the performance of US funds stands above or on the long-term average, while Western European LBO funds show a more volatile performance.
LBO funds have enjoyed almost a decade of increasing performance since the financial crisis, reaching an all-time high in the third quarter of 2017, with an all-time low risk in the preceding quarter. Following this peak, performance has drifted slightly lower through the first quarter of 2018, marking three consecutive quarters of declines, reaching 1.45x. However, performance remains well above the level seen during the financial crisis, when returns fell to below 1.1x, and active global LBO funds have outperformed the average of 1.3x achieved between 2009-2018 by 0.15x.
Return evolution of active LBO funds
Selection risk, meanwhile, continues to show a long-term trend towards a lower level, with performance dispersion between the top 5% and bottom 5% funds stabilising at 1.34x – slightly above the all-time low of Q2 2017 (1.28x). However, the vintage year of 2016, previously slightly below average, is now above it. If confirmed by following vintage years as they mature, this increased return dispersion could signal the return to more challenging times in terms of fund manager selection.
Echoing Q1 2017, Q1 2018 has recorded an even sharper decrease of the average time-to-liquidity, which now sits at 2.63 years – well below the long-term average of 3.02 years. This could be explained by dividend recaps as credit remains affordable, as well as an increase in the number of exits, which are often recorded at the end of a calendar year. It could also be related to a significant number of assets added to portfolios recently (lowering the average duration of assets in portfolio), notably of add-ons to portfolio companies. Time-to-liquidity could soon reach the point where the exposure of fund investors to underlying assets could be seen as suboptimal, below 2.5 years.
Liquidity evolution of active LBO funds
Though overall fund performance tends to be higher than the long-term average, the first quarter of 2018 has confirmed divergence between vintage years: 2009 and 2014 are so far delivering a solid performance, while 2010 and 2013 are more subdued.
Evolution of multiples of active LBO funds
Overall, the performance of US funds stands above or on the long-term average, with 2009 and 2014 looking to be particularly strong performers. Western European LBO funds show a more volatile performance, most probably because of the euro crisis, with 2009, 2012 and 2014 looking to be the strongest years.
Tarek Chouman, CEO of eFront, commented:
“2018 has seen a return to more normal LBO fund performance levels after a decade of steadily rising performance. Risks have inched higher, but from an all-time low, meaning that while fund manager selection is more challenging, the general trend is towards lower risk in private equity fund selection. Putting capital to work is, however, ever more difficult, as time-to-liquidity decreases sharply, reflecting the growing challenges presented by high levels of dry powder and increasing competition.”