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McKinsey’s Private Markets Annual Review

Updated annually, our Private Markets Review offers the best of our research and insight into private equity, private real estate, and other private markets. Explore the findings from our most recent report, on the year in 2018, and scroll for past years’ reports.

Private markets in 2018: Private markets come of age

McKinsey’s annual review reveals an expanding and developing industry.

Private markets stayed strong in 2018. True, fundraising was down 11 percent. But $778 billion of new capital flowed in. Investors have a new motivation to allocate to private markets: exposure. More investors believe that private markets have become effectively required for diversified participation in global growth. Global private equity (PE) net asset value grew by 18 percent in 2018; this century, it has grown by 7.5 times, twice as fast as public-market capitalization (Exhibit 1). Private markets, including PE, debt, infrastructure, real estate, and natural resources, have graduated from the fringes of the economy to the mainstream.

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More tools for investors and managers

With growth comes maturity. In 2018, private markets added more flexibility, depth, and sophistication. As our report examines in detail, secondaries have scaled rapidly and made the asset class easier to access and to exit. These funds are injecting liquidity and creativity into the marketplace, helping limited partners (LPs) shift strategies and manager lineups more quickly, and more than ever, helping general partners (GPs) restructure and extend legacy funds. They also offer increasing flexibility for investors to diversify and manage portfolio-construction risk, including through the use of options on investment stage, geography, industry sector, and fund manager.

Another structure gaining prominence, capital-call lines of credit have (along with other factors) compressed the J-curve (Exhibit 2), while drawing a watchful eye from some LPs. Our research finds that median funds in vintages 2012 to 2015 broke even in their second year, rather than in the third, fourth, or fifth year typical of most prior vintages.

Co-investment is a third structure adding depth to private markets. It has shaken off concerns about adverse selection to become an effectively standard dimension of pricing. In some cases, LPs have sought to partner with their GPs and secondaries fund sponsors to restructure and extend funds, a growing strategy as crisis-era funds reach the end of the road yet still have meaningful value-creation potential. A few large institutions have even developed strategies focused on sourcing direct transactions from their GPs’ portfolios. Done well, they can find quasi-proprietary deals in which to deploy large sums of capital while enabling GPs to eat their cake and have it too by recognizing gains while maintaining some degree of upside over time.

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Inspired, many other LPs are voicing similar intentions. But a supply challenge looms: demand for PE co-investment vastly outstrips the opportunities provided by GPs. Even when LPs successfully build a small portfolio of direct investments, they may be running more risk than they think. One or two impairments can adversely affect the asset-class portfolio, with knock-on effects on employee compensation and even the institution’s long-term health. Very few direct investments have been exposed to a broad-based downturn. When one comes, the way that LPs and their governing boards react to impaired positions will bear watching.

New management techniques

Collectively, these developments have helped the industry broaden its appeal to LPs without abandoning its underlying structures. And the industry’s conduct has changed with its context. Savvy GPs have expanded their firms’ abilities to take advantage of today’s most prominent sources of value creation. McKinsey research shows that the 25 largest GPs all have operating teams, and most plan to expand them. Leading firms have also pioneered several digital techniques to wrest greater efficiencies in operations, deal sourcing, due diligence, and other core activities.

Several recent examples are detailed in our report. A European venture-capital (VC) firm has built a machine-learning model to analyze a database of over 400 characteristics of more than 30,000 deals, identifying about 20 drivers of success for various deal profiles. These often turn out to be unusual combinations of characteristics that no one would otherwise have suspected had much bearing on performance.

A PE firm conducting a due diligence wanted to validate its revenue forecast for a banking product. It used natural-language processing to analyze the public-complaints database published by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The tool found a spike in customer complaints about a similar product at a rival bank, and the firm discounted its revenue projection accordingly. Another adviser has gone a step further and digitized several of its due-diligence processes. It uses web-scraping tools to monitor changes in market sentiment for its retail clients. Geospatial analyses help it evaluate the strength of its footprint. HR analytics help it evaluate management’s capabilities.

Ratcheting higher

These are all noteworthy advances. Yet pressure continues to build in the system. Deal multiples have continued to rise—to 11.1 times, from 10.4 times in 2017—spurred in part by record levels of dry powder, at $2.1 trillion. Deal value hit a record, but the number of deals remained relatively flat for the fourth consecutive year. (Note, however, that as a multiple of annual equity investments over the prior three years, dry-powder stocks have crept noticeably higher, growing 22 percent since 2016. If growth in dry powder continues to outstrip deal volume in a strong market, this may provide a tailwind for multiples. But if the market slows (say, if multiples contract or deal activity slows), then this sizable war chest may contribute at least for a period to downward pressure on fundraising.)

Venture capital’s very good year

On balance, then, the industry is in fine health. Even with the slowdown, 2018 was the third-highest fundraising year on record—and venture capital had one of its best years in memory, continuing a stretch in which it has outperformed other PE segments (Exhibit 3). That’s not the only way VC has been strong lately. Capital deployment mirrors and even exceeds the surge in fundraising, up an average of 17 percent per annum since 2015, capped by a 53 percent increase in 2018, when the industry invested $251 billion. Supersize venture rounds in which start-ups attract $1 billion or more from VC firms emerged in 2015. In 2018, 25 supersize rounds represented over 25 percent of all VC deal volume.

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Key differences between 2007 and 2018

Another highlight from 2018 was deal value: despite the flat trend in deal count, the value of PE deals reached a new high at $1.4 trillion, finally surpassing the precrisis peak in 2007. That feat, along with the recent seesaws in public-market valuations, suggests that a look back at 2007, the last high-water mark, may be in order. Whenever the next downturn comes, many in the industry are saying that the industry may be in a better position now (Exhibit 4). Further, sellers have more options, notably secondaries; investors are more committed to pacing plans; and co-investment has replaced the ill-starred club deal. All of this suggests that LPs and GPs alike will better weather the storm, whenever it comes.

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Download Private markets come of age, the full report on which this article is based (PDF–5MB).

Private markets in 2017: The rise and rise of private equity

Our annual private markets review showed the market scaling in 2017. The way limited partners and general partners respond to the opportunities that arise will be critical to their success.

The year just past was, once again, strong for private markets.1 Even as public markets rose worldwide—the S&P 500 shot up about 20 percent, as did other major indices—investors continued to show interest and confidence in private markets. Private asset managers raised a record of nearly $750 billion globally, extending a cycle that began eight years ago.

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How private equity fared in 2017, and what’s ahead
The industry continued to scale, but amid growth in private markets, some challenges remain. Here’s the state of the industry and a look ahead to its future.

To understand the landscape, we conducted our second annual review of private markets, drawing on new analyses from our long-running research on private markets and conducting interviews with executives at some of the world’s largest and most influential general partners (GPs) and limited partners (LPs). Our latest report summarizes our findings, looking at the industry’s capital flows in 2017, including fundraising, assets under management (AUM), and capital deployment. It also reviews the implications of these dynamics for the relationship between GPs and LPs as well as discusses ideas for finding continued success.

Within 2017’s tide of capital, one trend stands out: the surge of megafunds (funds of more than $5 billion), especially in the United States and particularly in buyouts (Exhibit 1). Remarkably, the industry’s record-setting 2017 growth is attributable to a single subasset class in one region. Notably too, if mega-fundraising had remained at 2016’s already lofty level, total private-market fundraising would have been down last year by 4 percent. Of course, this trend to ever-larger funds is not new. Megafunds have become more common, in part as investors have realized that scale has not imposed a performance penalty. Indeed, the largest funds have on average delivered the highest returns over the past decade, according to Cambridge Associates. What was interesting in 2017, however, was the way in which an already-powerful trend accelerated, with raises for all buyout megafunds up over 90 percent year on year. Meanwhile, fundraising in middle-market buyouts (for funds of $500 million to $1 billion) grew by 7 percent, a healthy rate after years of solid growth.

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Investors’ motives for investing in private markets remain the same, more or less: the potential for alpha, and for consistency at scale. Pension funds, still the largest group of LPs, are pinched for returns. Endowments are already heavily allocated to private markets and do not appear keen to switch out. Meanwhile, sovereign wealth funds are looking to increase their exposure to private markets, increasingly using co-investments and direct investing to boost their ability to deploy capital. Fully 90 percent of LPs said recently that private equity (PE), the largest private-asset class, will outperform public markets in coming years—despite academic research that suggests such outperformance has declined on average.

And so, capital keeps flowing in. Our research indicates that, in the past couple years, the industry’s largest firms have begun to collect a growing share of capital, perhaps starting to consolidate a fragmented industry. Yet private-asset managers did not have it all their way in 2017. The industry faced some mild headwinds investing its capital. Although the deal volume of $1.3 trillion was comparable to 2016’s activity, deal count dropped for the second year in a row, this time by 8 percent (Exhibit 2). In two related effects, the average deal size grew—from $126 million in 2016 to $157 million in 2017, a 25 percent increase—and managers accrued yet more dry powder, now estimated at a record $1.8 trillion. Private markets’ AUM, which include committed capital, dry powder, and asset appreciation, surpassed $5 trillion in 2017, up 8 percent year on year.

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Why did managers hesitate to pull the trigger or struggle to find triggers to pull? One explanation is the price of acquisitions. Median PE EBITDA multiples in 2017 exceeded 10 times, a decade high and up from 9.2 times in 2016. With price tags increasingly printed on gold foil, GPs had to be smarter with their investment decisions and more strategic with their choices.

The byword of 2017 was scale. The way that LPs and GPs respond to the challenges and opportunities of scale will be critical to their success. No matter their size, LPs and GPs will need to hard-code discipline into every part of their business system. Before long, GPs might find themselves having to choose between two models: managers capable of deploying capital at scale, and specialists operating at a smaller scale. For the first group, capital will continue to pour in, but what counts as an attractive deal might shift given that asset classes like PE are not infinitely scalable—at least not with historical levels of performance. For the second group, a strategic decision is at hand: get bigger, or stay the course. Both options can be successful if firms recognize their differentiation and execute their strategies with the necessary rigor.

Download The rise and rise of private markets: McKinsey private markets annual review, the full report on which this article is based (PDF—8 MB).

Private markets in 2016: A routinely exceptional year for private equity

A new report from McKinsey finds that in 2016, private markets again defied expectations. But competition is getting tougher for both managers and investors.

In 2016, the most exciting news for private markets may have been what didn’t change. In these markets—mainly private equity, but also closed-end real estate, infrastructure, natural resources, and private debt funds—investors’ desire to allocate remains strong. Our long-running research on private markets finds that, whether performance is measured by fundraising (firms received $625 billion of new capital in 2016) or assets under management (AUM), now $4.7 trillion worldwide, 2016 was another impressive year in a long cycle of expansion that began in 2008. The industry continues to provide a source of excess capital for investors; in 2016, distributions outstripped capital calls for the fourth year running. New entrants continue to flock to the industry, and the number of active firms is at an all-time high.

While more fundraising, an increase in AUM, and greater capital distributions to investors are trends to celebrate, growth also presents challenges. The larger number of general partners (GPs) reflects the industry’s success but also heralds increased competition, which has contributed to rising deal multiples. As GPs have become gun-shy about today’s higher prices, deal activity has fallen, and dry powder has reached an all-time high—though our research suggests that dry powder is not nearly the problem that some have suggested. In fact, in this and other ways, the industry is overcoming its growing pains and finding new ways to deliver for its investors.

Our research included interviews with executives at some of the world’s largest and most influential asset managers, which revealed several common expectations for 2017. All acknowledge that an extraordinary number of wild cards are now in play, especially in geopolitics. While these unknowns will create opportunity for some, most GPs acknowledge that this sort of uncertainty is very difficult to price. As one CEO told us, “Some of these changes in the US will raise the base case for GPs, but the tails are very fat.”

Most agree that public markets, despite their recent run-up, are becoming structurally less attractive to many limited partners (LPs), who will likely respond by further raising their allocations to private markets. Creativity in fees and products will flourish, producing a range of options: we will still see full-service GPs offering closed-end funds, of course, but also more LPs in co-investments, more separate accounts, and at least a few more LPs investing directly. Finally, most executives believe emerging markets will normalize following the recent period of turbulence and will start to look more like the industry in developed markets.

As the challenges grow, we see four ways for GPs to prolong private investing’s remarkable ride: more proactive and creative sourcing, greater conviction in due diligence’s findings, new operational approaches to the portfolio, and greater flexibility in exit timing.

McKinsey’s Private Equity and Principal Investors Practice is pleased to publish A routinely exceptional year: McKinsey Global Private Markets Review (PDF–1.30MB), which details these and many other findings.

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