By Luke Johnson 2010-03-26

A number of myths have sprung up about the relationship between private equity and entrepreneurship, thanks to the fact that the sector’s operations are by their very nature not public. So I’ve decided to tackle the more common misperceptions.

● Private equity and venture capital are the same thing. Absolutely not. Private equity (PE) generally backs established businesses using debt and equity, normally carrying out leveraged buy-outs of entire companies. By contrast, venture capital provides development funding to early-stage companies, mostly in the high-technology or biotechnology sectors. The private equity industry is probably 50 times the size of the venture capital industry – partly because, until recently, it has shown better returns. This confusion is compounded thanks to entities such as the British Venture Capital Association, which in reality is dominated by private equity interests – but politically it pays to play the venture capital card.

● Private equity takes control of and runs companies. The people who run a business backed with private equity are usually the same executives who ran it before. PE managers may turn up to board meetings once a month but they are invariably non-executives who would not be able to take command if the entire team running the operation walked out. Well-run PE houses partner with entrepreneurs to create value – that is the only way the system works.

● Private equity executives are motivated exclusively by making capital gains. The managers of big PE funds make so much money from fees that the carry on any ultimate gains is merely a bonus. Obviously, if the fund fails to achieve successful exits, the manager’s ability to raise a follow-on fund is doubtful – but with seven years of 2 per cent on $10bn just for turning up, who really cares? Right now the industry has dozens of senior players at the top of giant funds whose hunger to carry on delivering must be open to question.

● The industry has taken all its writedowns of bad investments. From 2005 to 2008, almost half the private equity ever deployed was invested. A fair proportion of that is lost. There are hundreds of zombie companies where the equity is worthless, yet the banks have not assumed control – so far. PE houses remain involved in the hope that value can be recovered, perhaps in some sort of restructuring. But in almost all cases the conclusion must be inevitable – the entire deal was a total wipeout, and the private equity owners are in denial.

● The industry has emerged unscathed from the financial crisis. During the next few years, the PE business is likely to shrink materially. Many funds have wrecked their records, thanks to the devastating losses emerging from deals done before the recession. Plenty will never raise another fund – but will not admit this. Meanwhile, many limited partners who back PE firms have discovered just how illiquid and long-term holdings in the asset class are. Debt to back leveraged buy-outs is very scarce and expensive – so the entire financial model is under threat. And exits via an initial public offering appear to be impossible.

The private equity sector must get back to providing growth capital for industry – and forget about secondary buy-outs, refinancings and all the other wizardry that has contributed to its difficulties.

● Private equity is private. The scale and influence of PE is now so great that it has been unable to remain secretive. Regulators in Europe and the US are looking at forcing greater disclosure. Any such legislation is likely to be overkill. It would be better for the industry to volunteer more information about its structure and investments, and to educate policymakers about its merits.

● Private equity is easy. Finding and executing great private investments is hard. Decent businesses are rare, competition is fierce – and all the obvious financial engineering has been done. Only operators who are both talented and lucky will keep producing attractive returns.

PE真面目

作者:英国《金融时报》专栏作家 卢克•约翰逊 2010-03-26

从本质上讲,私人股本行业的运作是非公开的,因此,围绕私人股本与企业经营之间的关系,产生了不少荒诞的说法。为此,我决定在这里纠正一些较为常见的错误认识。

● 私人股本与风险投资是一回事。

绝对不是。私人股本(PE)一般通过债权和股权为已经比较成熟的企业提供支持,通常会对整个公司进行杠杆收购。相反,风险投资则是为初创公司——主要是高科技和生物技术领域的初创公司——提供发展资金。私人股本业的规模大概相当于风投业的50倍,这在一定程度上是因为,直到最近,前者的回报率一直高于后者。英国风险投资协会(British Venture Capital Association)等机构的出现,让人们更容易把这二者混为一谈。该协会实际上是由私人股本利益群体主导的,但从政治上讲,打风投这张牌较为划算。

● 私人股本接掌并管理公司。

在私人股本注资后掌管企业的人,通常就是注资前该企业的高管。私人股本经理可能会每月出席一次董事会会议,但他们的身份永远是非执行董事,即使整个运营团队都走人,他们也不能接掌企业。经营有道的私人股本公司会与企业家携手创造价值——这是这套体系能够有效运转的唯一方式。

● 私人股本高管的眼睛只盯着资本所得。

大型私人股本基金的经理能从管理费中获得极为丰厚的收入,以至于他们从最终所得中分到的那部分资本所得,只能算是一笔额外好处。当然,如果基金未能实现成功退出,那么很难说其经理能否筹建起后续基金——-不过,如果能连续7年、每年从100亿美元中赚到2%的管理费,而自己只需要露个面,谁会真正在乎这个呢?如今在大型基金的最高层中,有数十位资深经理仍渴望继续实现资本所得,这里面肯定存在问题。

● 私人股本业已对所有不良投资进行了减记。

迄今配置到私人股本行业的资金,几乎有一半在2005年至2008年间被用于投资。相当比例的投资打了水漂:有数百家获得注资的公司已变成股权一文不值的僵尸公司,只是目前尚未被银行接管。私人股本公司仍希望通过某种形式的重组,它们投资的价值可以恢复。但在几乎所有情况中,我们不可避免地得出一个结论:整个交易是一场彻头彻尾的失败,私人股本公司的老板们错了。

●私人股本业毫发未损地走出了金融危机。

在接下来的几年中,私人股本业很可能会大幅萎缩。由于本次衰退前所完成的交易出现极大亏损,不少基金的投资记录已严重受损。许多公司再也筹建不起一只新基金——不过它们不会承认这一点。与此同时,许多投资私人股本公司的有限合伙人发现,他们持有的此类资产流动性太差,且持有期过长。用以支撑杠杆收购的贷款目前非常稀缺,且成本高昂——因此,该行业的整个财务模式都面临威胁。此外,如今似乎根本不可能通过首次公开发行(IPO)来实现退出。

私人股本业必须重新回到为各行业提供发展资金的老路上来,忘掉二级市场收购、再融资和造成该行业当前困境的所有其它“花招”。

●私人股本是隐秘的。

如今,私人股本业的规模和影响力已大到使其无法再保持隐秘状态的地步。欧洲和美国的监管机构正在考虑迫使该行业加强披露。此类法规很可能会矫枉过正。私人股本业最好是主动提供更多有关其结构和投资的信息,并让政策制定者清楚其价值所在。

●私人股本很好做。

寻找并实施绝佳的私人股本投资很难。合适的企业很少,竞争又十分激烈——此外,所有看得见的金融工程手段都已得到运用。只有那些同时具备才华和运气的经营者,才能不断创造可观的回报。

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