LBO Firms Must Return Cash to Change Plan, Hands Says
By Edward Evans
May 28 (Bloomberg) -- Leveraged buyout firms should hand back investors' money if they change strategy because of the credit crunch, British financier Guy Hands said.
Buyout firms that once focused on large investments have ``suddenly'' started investing in distressed debt, while other firms with little experience beyond their local markets are targeting Asia to profit from the region's economic growth, Hands wrote in his quarterly report to investors. He didn't identify the firms in the document, which was published on his Web site.
``This approach means using the capital entrusted to one strategy to pursue another,'' Hands said. Firms should return to investors' money they haven't already spent and ask investors' permission to invest it in other ways, he added. ``The firm one chooses to back to do mega-deals may well not be the firm one chooses to back in, for example, the mid-market. The limited partners should have the opportunity to decide.''
The world's largest leveraged buyout firms are struggling to get loans for deals after the collapse of the U.S. subprime- mortgage market spurred investors to flee all but the safest forms of debt. The firms have announced $118 billion of deals this year, about a third as much as in the same period in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Few Return Cash
Few, if any, buyout firms have ever returned cash to investors, apart from a number of venture capital firms that were unable to find investments after the bursting of the dot- com bubble, Hands added.
Hands, who runs London-based private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., said his firm's only option is to invest in areas less affected by a slowdown in the economy, targeting asset-rich companies that require changes to their management and operations. He warned investors to expect short- term losses from this strategy.
``Whilst following this strategy early in a bear market may still lead to investors suffering mark to market losses in the short term, most private equity investors are more concerned about creating value over the whole economic cycle than they are with achieving performance in any particular part of that cycle,'' Hands added.
Hands, 48, built up Nomura Holdings Inc.'s buyout business in the 1990s before quitting to run his own firm with Nomura's backing in 2002. Terra Firma is investing a 5.4 billion-euro ($8.4 billion) fund that closed in May last year.
Terra Firma bought EMI Group Plc, the record label whose acts include the Beatles, for 2.4 billion pounds ($4.9 billion) last year. New York-based Citigroup, which financed Terra Firma's bid, postponed plans last month to sell the loans because of investor anxiety about EMI's turnaround under Hands.
``This is not ideal for EMI,'' Hands wrote. ``We have worked hard, and continue to work hard, to see if there are ways to help Citigroup syndicate or sell down this loan.''