A private equity fund is a collective investment scheme used for making investments in various equity (and to a lesser extent debt) securities according to one of the investment strategies associated with private equity. Private equity funds are typically limited partnerships with a fixed term of 10 years (often with annual extensions). At inception, institutional investors make an unfunded commitment to the limited partnership, which is then drawn over the term of the fund. From investors point of view funds can be traditional where all the investors invest with equal terms or asymmetric where different investors have different terms.
A private equity fund is raised and managed by investment professionals of a specific private equity firm (the general partner and investment advisor). Typically, a single private equity firm will manage a series of distinct private equity funds and will attempt to raise a new fund every 3 to 5 years as the previous fund is fully invested.
Most private equity funds are structured as limited partnerships and are governed by the terms set forth in the limited partnership agreement or LPA. Such funds have a general partner (GP), which raises capital from cash-rich institutional investors, such as pension plans, universities, insurance companies, foundations, endowments, and high net worth individuals, which invest as limited partners (LPs) in the fund. Among the terms set forth in the limited partnership agreement are the following:
A private equity fund typically makes investments in companies (known as portfolio companies). These portfolio company investments are funded with the capital raised from LPs, and may be partially or substantially financed by debt. Some private equity investment transactions can be highly leveraged with debt financing—hence the acronym LBO for "leveraged buy-out". The cash flow from the portfolio company usually provides the source for the repayment of such debt.
Such LBO financing most often comes from commercial banks, although other financial institutions, such as hedge funds and mezzanine funds, may also provide financing. Since mid-2007, debt financing has become much more difficult to obtain for private equity funds than in previous years.
LBO funds commonly acquire most of the equity interests or assets of the portfolio company through a newly-created special purpose acquisition subsidiary controlled by the fund, and sometimes as a consortium of several like-minded funds.
The acquisition price of a portfolio company is usually based on a multiple of the company's historical income, most often based on the measure of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Private equity multiples are highly dependent on the portfolio company's industry, the size of the company, and the availability of LBO financing.
A private equity fund's ultimate goal is to sell or exit its investments in portfolio companies for a return, known as internal rate of return (IRR) in excess of the price paid. These exit scenarios historically have been an IPO of the portfolio company or a sale of the company to a strategic acquirer through a merger or acquisition (M&A), also known as a trade sale. A sale of the portfolio company to another private equity firm, also known as a secondary sale, has become increasingly more common. In prior years, another exit strategy has been a preferred dividend by the portfolio company to the private equity fund to repay the capital investment, sometimes financed with additional debt.
The following is an illustration of the difference between a private equity fund and a private equity firm:
|Private equity firm||Private equity fund||Private equity portfolio investments (partial list)|
|Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR)||KKR 2006 Fund, L.P.
($17.6 billion of commitments)
|Energy Future Holdings Corporation|
|First Data Corp|
|Hospital Corporation of America (HCA)|
Considerations for investing in private equity funds relative to other forms of investment include:
For the above mentioned reasons, private equity fund investment is for investors who can afford to have capital locked up for long periods and who can risk losing significant amounts of money. These disadvantages are offset by the potential benefits of annual returns, which may range up to 30% for successful funds.
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