It is a well established trend that Australian LPs are increasingly looking to internationalize their private equity exposure, arguably at the expense of domestic GPs. Foreign investors looking to enter Australia are not deterred. Sebastiaan van den Berg, managing director at HarbourVest Partners, has no plans to scale back, citing the country’s stable economy, rule of law and experienced GP community.
He does admit, however, that the retreat of domestic LPs leaves their foreign counterparts in a bind. "Perhaps from a more selfish perspective, less capital driving up valuations is better - to the extent that less capital is raised, we probably benefit from that net-net," he tells AVCJ TV. "But we want the GP community here to be successful and it's important for Australian LPs to be long-term active participants."
Nevertheless, an increasingly discerning domestic LP base and weaker economic conditions - Australia's natural resources sector is thriving, but this doesn't extend to the retail space, for example - have created more challenging conditions for GPs. Van den Berg doesn't expect everyone to survive, noting that, unlike six years ago, a rising tide is no longer floating all boats.
"What is happening now, as it becomes increasingly difficult to rely on the global macro environment and multiples arbitrage, the only way you can get attractive returns is through strong operational improvements," he says. "Only a few GPs are really good at that, so you probably will see some go out of business or merge and consolidate. That in itself is not a bad thing."
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The Australasian alternative assets industry is evolving and this is creating a new set of challenges for participants. Funds seeking new commitments typically require the lion share to be from offshore, the deal environment is competitive and in general market activity has slowed reflecting the regions overall macro-economic story. However, a handful of funds have had successful fundraises and it is clear that the GPs that measure up when benchmarked on a global stage will continue to drive the domestic industry forward.
This is an intriguing time as Australasian PE matures. Succession planning strategies, sourcing offshore commitments, creating a team that can deliver real operational value, customising the PE model and finding attractive investment and exit opportunities in a slow market are all key topics for debate.
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