Strong Buyout Fund Returns Drive Private Equity Stocks Higher

Private equity

Over the past decade, as private equity firms like Blackstone, KKR and Carlyle Group have grown into a gargantuan size and raised buyout funds nearing or eclipsing $20 billion, one critique of their cash gusher was that it would inevitably drive fund returns lower. Now, as the U.S. economy emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic and markets soar to new record highs, recent earning results from America’s big buyout firms reveal a trend of rising returns even as funds surged in size.

Fueled by piping-hot financial markets, returns from the flagship private equity funds of Blackstone, KKR and Carlyle are on the rise. Mega funds from these firms that recently ended their investment period are all running ahead of their prior vintages and raise the prospect that PE firms can achieve net investment return rates nearing or exceeding 20%.

Carlyle, which reported first quarter earnings on Thursday morning, is the newest firm to exhibit rising performance. Its $13 billion North American buyout fund, Carlyle Partners VI, which was launched in 2014 and ended its investment period in 2018, is now being marked at a 21% gross investment rate of return and a net return of 16%, or a 2.2-times multiple on invested capital.

The fund has realized $8.8 billion of investments, like insurance brokerage PIB Group and consultancy PA Consulting, and sits on a portfolio marked at nearly $20 billion. The returns are two-to-three percentage points ahead of Carlyle Partners V, the flagship buyout fund it raised just before the financial crisis. That fund is on track to earn a net IRR of of 14%, or a multiple of 2.1-times its invested capital.

Rising fund profitability, even at scale, is helping to fuel Carlyle’s overall profitability. Net accrued performance fees from Carlyle VI ended the quarter at nearly $1.4 billion and Carlyle sits on a record $3.2 billion in such performance fees that will likely be fully realized in 2021. The firm’s once-lagging stock has recently risen to new record highs.

The trend is even more clear at Blackstone and KKR, which have both used spongy IPO markets to realize multi-billion dollar investment windfalls in recent months.

Blackstone’s flagship $18 billion private equity fund, Blackstone Capital Partners VII, was closed in May 2016 and ended its investment period in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 economic meltdown. After taking public or exiting investments like Bumble, Paysafe and Refinitiv, this fund is now marked at a 18% net investment rate of return, five percentage points better than its prior fund, which raised in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.

In the past two quarters, the fund has been the single biggest driver of Blackstone’s record profitability, generating over $1.6 billion in combined accrued performance fees. In the first quarter, the fund was responsible for 82-cents in quarterly per-share profits, filings show. Overall, Blackstone sits on a record $5.2 billion in net accrued performance fees.

At KKR, it’s a similar story. The firm’s $8.8 billion Americas XI fund, which was raised in 2012 and ended its investment period in 2017, is generating net IRRs of 18.5%, or a 2.2-times multiple on invested capital, according to the its annual 10-k filing from February. That sets up the fund to be KKR’s most profitable buyout fund since the 1990s.

KKR’s first quarter results, set to be released in early May, may show even bigger windfalls and higher returns. Its recent public offering of Applovin looks to be one of the greatest windfalls in the firm’s history, bolstering returns and profits for its even newer $13.5 billion Americas Fund XII. Asia could also be an area of big returns as its $9 billion Asian Fund III monetizes investments.

As returns rise, PE firms have seen their stocks soar to new record highs.

Once a laggard, Carlyle is up 36% year-to-date to a new record high above $42, according to Morningstar data. The firm, now led by chief executive Kewsong Lee, has returned an annual average of 23% over the past five-years.

KKR has done even better, rising 40% this year alone and 125% over the past 12-months. It’s five and ten-year total stock returns are now 33% and 13.5%, respectively.

The top performer in the industry is Blackstone Group, which recently eclipsed a $100 billion market value. Up 39% this year alone, Blackstone’s generated an average annualized total return of nearly 19% over the past decade, which is about five-percentage-points better annually than the S&P 500 Index.

Bottom Line: With public markets hitting new record highs, buyout firms are reporting LBO returns not seen since the 1990s. Their stocks, which once badly lagged the S&P 500, are beginning to beat the market.

I’m a staff writer and associate editor at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, mergers, and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a member of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

Source: Strong Buyout Fund Returns Drive Private Equity Stocks Higher

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Wall Street Week Ahead: Investors Look To Utilities To Weather Any Market Rout

NEW YORK: Investors looking for ways to protect themselves from a potential market downturn and rising inflation have been warming to utilities, sometimes seen as bond substitutes, as attractive alternatives.

The S&P 500 utilities index has outperformed the broader market this month, rising 9.3 per cent so far compared with a 4.3 per cent gain in the benchmark index and leading gains among sectors for March.Driving the gains may be a defensive move by investors to position themselves against a potential slide in equities, with worries mounting over higher inflation as seen in the jump in 10-year Treasury yields and over pricey stock valuations, some strategists say.Utilities tend to do better in a downturn because they pay dividends and offer stability. “It’s a little defensive positioning,” said Joseph Quinlan, head of CIO market strategy for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank in New York.

While the economy is expected to rebound sharply this year from the impact of the coronavirus, that optimism may be dampened by next year if unemployment remains elevated and growth slows more than expected. Some investors say utilities also may be benefiting from hopes that there will be a bigger push toward green energy under the Biden Administration. President Joe Biden is expected to unveil next week a multitrillion-dollar plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure that may also tackle climate change.
“If you get any acceleration of the decarbonization rhetoric, that’s a positive for utilities,” said Shane Hurst, managing director and portfolio manager at ClearBridge Investments. But whether the recent surge in utilities has further room to run is a matter of debate, and many strategists and investors, including Quinlan, still favor cyclicals that benefit from economic growth over defensive-leaning groups such as utilities.

The gains in utilities have come amid a rotation from technology and other growth stocks into so-called value stocks. The Nasdaq Composite has fallen in March after four straight months of gains. Cyclicals, which investors dumped during the early part of the pandemic, have benefited the most from the rotation. An end-of-quarter rebalancing of investment portfolios by institutional investors may be adding to the recent rotation from growth into value.
While utilities still sharply lag gains for the year compared with many cyclical sectors, including energy, they are also considered inexpensive at this point by some investors. After a weak performance in 2020, utilities “are just really, really cheap at the moment,” Hurst said. “And that is an attractive place to be when you’re in a market that’s very much earnings driven.”

The utilities sector is trading at 18.3 times forward earnings compared with a price-to-earnings ratio of 22.1 for the S&P 500 index and 26 for technology, according to Refinitiv’s data. David Bianco, Americas chief investment officer for DWS, which has an overweight rating on utilities, said interest rates are still low, but utilities offer inflation protection because they would be able to raise their prices.

As of Friday, the S&P 500 utilities sector had a dividend yield of 3.3 per cent, the second-highest among S&P sectors after consumer staples, and well above the 1.5 per cent yield for the S&P 500, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.Benchmark 10-year note yields were at 1.660 per cent on Friday after reaching a one-year high of 1.754 per cent the week before. “Utilities is our most preferred bond substitute,” said Bianco.

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