Zawya Private Equity Monitor released last month its statistics for investments and fund raising for the first nine months of 2007.
Problems in fund raising?
The funds raised in the first nine months have increased by 20% from $1.9 billion in 2006 to $2.3 billion in 2007. Great news — at first glance.
However, the $2.3 billion includes $1.2 billion raised by Abraaj’s Infrastructure and Growth Capital Fund, and conceals the untold truth that many funds are struggling to raise money. The easy money days of 2005 and 2006 seem to be over.
Despite headline news of oil hitting $100 a barrel and the excess liquidity in the region, many private equity houses are unable to close their funds. A leading regional private equity firm that was successful in raising several funds and has billions of dollars under management have closed its latest fund only a third of its target of $1 billion. Another regional investment bank, targeting $150 million, have barely reached a third of that amount after one year of fund raising. Only two of many stories.
New comers to the business sailed even worse than the rest. I now have a long list of funds that were announced in 2005 and 2006 and have still not closed. Chances are, they will never close.
I was not sure if this is a result of a glut in the liquidity flow, a pause for investors to think if private equity works, or actually a reasonable evolution of the industry. Liquidity may have shrank in the first few months of this year as interest rates rose (this is now being reversed) and oil prices dropped in the first quarter to around $50 (that now seems as the distant past). You can also argue that investors have poured billions in 2005 and 2006, and now they wanted to see some returns before pumping more cash in new funds.
The fact is, those funds that have established a track record, like HSBC Private Equity, found no problem raising another fund despite the (mildly) adverse conditions. Investors are not shy from investing, but they are betting on funds with solid track records.
Signs of a maturing industry? Let’s see the last quarter of the year before we make a final judgment.
Jordan — a role model
UAE has consistently — at least since Zawya and GVCA has started to compile these statistics in 2005 — been ranked as the prime destination for private equity investment. No surprises here. UAE houses 75% of all private equity fund managers, so it is easy for fund managers to invest in the neighbor next door. UAE is also the second largest economy in the region, and one of the most competitive (I am now lost with a dozen competitiveness indexes being churned out every year).
I was surprised (again) to find Jordan being ranked number two. The only explanation I have found so far is that Jordan is one of the most stable and open economies. Despite its small size, Jordan is offering real opportunities for private equity.
I was surprised (again) to find Saudi Arabia sharing the fourth place with Bahrain. The largest economy in the Middle East is outdone by UAE, Jordan, Egypt, and Bahrain. Not a surprise based on the same analysis above. Despite its vast potential and immense number of opportunities, private equity investors are not excited to invest in the opaque kingdom.
A wake up call for the investment promotion agencies that vigorously publicize their country’s competitiveness: private equity investment is probably the best reliable measure of how attractive any economy is to private capital. This category of investors will diligently and objectively balance the risks, obstacles, laws, growth, rewards, etc., in every economy and investment opportunity. They are the only one of those “competitive index publishers” who put their money where their mouth is. Food for thought for the region’s governments.
Imad Ghandour is Head of Strategy& Research, Gulf Capital and Board Member of theGulf Venture Capital Association.