The Best Exits: Innovations in India’s Private Equity Market
How do you spot a Private Equity Investor at the Opera? He’s the one scouring the lobby for the best exit.
You’ve probably heard that one before. Its an old joke but still speaks to a fundamental truth about all private equity strategies: whilst looking resolutely to the long term (often more than ten years ahead), as soon as the initial investment is made Private Equity Investors will also be searching for the best exit strategy, and in today’s markets that usually means an IPO or a Merger. So next time you’re welling up with emotion at Turendot, keep an eye out for anyone scribbling one or other of those magic words in their programme: they’ll probably be managing a Private Equity Fund.
And given India is now the best performing Private Equity market in the world, it should come as no surprise to learn that the subcontinent is also at the cutting edge of the latest and most innovative of these long term exit strategies.
Take, for example, the Platform Acquisition model: not in itself a novelty, but now being given a fresh lease of life in India. In its new guise the strategy focuses on selected market quadrants and brings them together to create synergies for a targeted return as opposed to more traditional growth through capital infusions into the platform company itself. Think Indian IT and the subcontinent’s burgeoning consumer market, then think Flipkart and you’ll get the idea. Its an intelligent version of the old fashioned roll up strategy where multiple small companies in the same or complementary sectors are acquired or merged prior to being rolled up for exit, and in its new format it has made Private Equity a real force for consolidation and growth within the Indian economy.
Warburg, Pincus and KKR have all launched Platform Acquisition models for projects on the subcontinent, with chosen sectors including business services, media, hotels and hospitality all of which are, of course, already high growth areas. Mid market hospitality in particular is going through something of a renaissance at the moment with this year’s IPO of Lemon Tree Hotels being oversubscribed by a factor of 1.19 and Eco Hotels continuing to make strong inroads into the environmentally friendly segment. Everstone has a Food Services Platform following its acquisition of Modern Foods through which it has subsequently gobbled up Cookie Man; and Goldman Sachs, never slow to spot a trend, has a new Business Services Platform on the subcontinent, appropriately named First Meridian and focusing on HR and staffing companies for later roll up. Sutra HR had better be watching their backs…
Head of M&A at EY India, Ajay Aroa sums it all up nicely: “ The platform acquisitions and their roll ups have made private equity investors the main consolidation force in a number of India’s high growth sectors, standing to benefit equally from growth as well as multiple arbitrage”.
That last point is also interesting (and incontrovertibly right): smaller aggregated acquisitions, characteristic of those completed through a Platform Acquisition model, are very often delivered at a comparatively low exit multiple, giving the platform owner an enhanced arbitrage opportunity. Bearing in mind Blackstone’s private equity investments in India have delivered annualised returns of 30% since 2011, PE Platform Investors will usually lift the aggregate multiple by leverage or arbitrage (or both) in order to compete… and at the moment they’re competing very well indeed.
Red Ribbon Asset Management has placed India at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago, and nobody understands the subcontinent’s potential for growth better than Red Ribbon. Benefiting from an unrivalled knowledge of local conditions and more than a hundred local advisers reporting from some of India’s fastest growing markets, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers a unique opportunity to share in that potential.
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As any Private Equity investor will tell you, nothing is more important than having a clear and deliverable exit strategy, set out in detail at the earliest opportunity. Especially so as most funds will look to lock their investors in for an extended period, often for as long as ten years so that investors need to have a clear understanding from the outset of just how they will exit the fund to secure an optimal return on their investment. That used to be an issue in India where traditional family run companies were resistant to exit by private sale, but the subcontinent’s modern markets have now made the task a lot easier through the increased efficiency of IPO and M&A mechanisms: now, as the article points out, the two most favoured modes of exit for Indian companies.
I’m not surprised, either, to hear of the innovations currently taking place in the subcontinent’s private equity sector. After all India is the fastest growing Private Equity market in the world and it would be surprising if it should prove resistant to the innovative policies being rolled out elsewhere in the economy. You only need to look at the participants involved (KKR, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone) to get a feel for the underlying strength of the sector.
And of course I’m proud too that the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund is part of this process. We will always be looking for the most exciting opportunities India’s markets have to offer, using the most innovative strategies available so as to deliver the best above market rate returns for our investors.
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