US PE Fundraising Hit Record Highs in 2019 Despite Slight Dip in Dealmaking Activity
January 10, 2020
SEATTLE, Jan. 10, 2020 -- PitchBook, the premier data provider for the private and public equity markets, today released its 4Q 2019 US Private Equity Breakdown, which found private equity (PE) dealmaking activity remained strong, falling just shy of 2018's all-time-record pace, with over 5,000 deals worth more than two-thirds of a trillion dollars. Dealmakers put forth a cautious tone, yet pursued deals with fervor. Investors were able to shake off criticism from mainstream figures and overcome trade war uncertainty to reach record-high fundraising numbers, with over $300 billion raised despite a reduction in fund count. Mega-funds, those above $5 billion, accounted for 53.8% of capital raised, the highest in over a decade. These highs come as the PE landscape continues to evolve: several hedge funds raised their first-ever PE funds, nontraditional investors like sovereign wealth funds and public pensions completed more direct deals and tech-focused funds reached nearly 20% of all PE funds.
"Record-high fundraising numbers in 2019 coupled with recessionary fears will create an interesting dichotomy in the coming year," said Wylie Fernyhough, senior PE analyst at PitchBook. "PE firms with recently-raised capital from a record fundraising year will likely feel pressured to buy. With that said, we are seeing some peak-like indicators, including the rumored and audacious $70 billion+ potential buyout of Walgreens, and hearing PE firms are cautiously preparing for a recession during their holding time."
US PE investment activity totaled $678.0 billion across 5,133 deals by year-end 2019 – slightly below 2018 figures ($730.3 billion across 5,345 deals), which remains a record year for PE dealmaking.
Despite ongoing recession fears, dealmakers continued to pay elevated prices with median PE buyout EV/EBITDA multiples remaining relatively unchanged in 2019, sinking from 11.5x in 2018 to 10.9x. These conflicting actions likely stems from pressure to invest freshly raised capital, the uptick in larger deal sizes, as well as growing interest in technology companies, which tend to have higher multiples.
Multiples also stayed high due to increased competition from nontraditional investors, such as sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) and public pensions, which are increasingly bypassing the traditional fund structure and pursuing direct deals. In 2019, nontraditional investors participated in just 12.3% of traditional PE mega-deals, down from 24% in 2015.
The high multiple environment also drove many large-scale carveouts, a strategy some large public companies are pursuing to divest noncore assets and diminish their conglomerate discount. The $13.2 billion Clarios carveout from Johnson Controls was the largest US-based buyout in 2019 and Europe had several as well, including the carveout of data provider Refinitiv from Thompson Reuters and subsequent sale to the London Stock Exchange.
PE exit activity also fell year-over-year in 2019, finishing with one of the lowest totals in the last six years. By year-end, there were 1,035 PE exits valued at $318.2 billion, representing declines of 16.5% and 28.0%, respectively.
PE-backed IPOs dropped from 46 in 2018 to 23 in 2019, mirroring a feeble IPO market in general. Despite the anemic showing, PE-backed IPOs will likely rise in 2020 as a swelling backlog of companies looks to go public.
Partial sales and secondary transactions experienced a dramatic uptick in 2019, with the top decile holding times extending past a decade and LPs seeking liquidity options.
The proliferation of long-dated funds and growing competition from nontraditional investors is expected to increase holding periods over the long term and open up a whole new cohort of investable companies.
US PE fundraising hit an all-time high in 2019, surpassing $300 billion for the first time ever. In total, the PE industry raised $301.3 billion across 202 funds, representing a year-over-year 52.3% rise and a 5.6% fall, respectively.
After a lull in 2018, mega-funds ($5 billion+) accounted for the highest proportion of capital raised since 2007 – 53.8% of total capital raised in 2019. Fifteen mega-funds closed a total of $162.2 billion, including the record-breaking $26 billion Blackstone Capital Partners VIII fund.
Tech-focused PE funds – a growing trend in the industry – also had a record-setting fundraising year. The trend is spurred by appealing performance with tech-focused funds realizing an 18.9% 10-year horizon IRR figure – nearly five percentage points higher than that for non-tech PE buyouts and nearly double that for non-tech growth funds.
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