Western Australia is the country's fourth-largest state by population but the richest by natural resources and this has seen it emerge as the primary source of economic growth. This shift in momentum from east coast to west – coupled with the cyclical downturn in retail sector – is reflected in private equity investment trends.
"When I look at the Advent V portfolio, about one third of the investments are infrastructure or mining focused," says Rupert Harrington, managing director of Advent Private Capital, an Australian mid-market private equity firm. "In one case, there is full exposure to mining because it's an underground mining services company. In others, there is a variety of exposure to mining-related markets. In Advent VI, which we are currently raising, our first investment is mining services and about one third of the portfolio will be in this area."
As for retail, Advent has never been a big investor in the sector and this is unlikely to change. Harrington notes that retail sales are at a 50-year low in relation to real growth - an unusual situation in Australia, but perhaps one that reflects the commodities boom - while the sector itself is incredibly competitive. The highly concentrated ownership of shopping malls doesn't help firms with an eye on expansion.
"When we've looked growth businesses, there has been a significant increase in the rents in shopping centers," Harrington adds. "In essence you get a profit shift from the business to the landlord, and the disparity of negotiating power is a problem."
Looking at the principal challenges facing Australian private equity, Harrington highlights fundraising, primarily due to domestic LPs cutting back on their exposure to local funds. GPs that already have exposure to international investors - and can point to strong track records when pitching them for larger allocations - are therefore best positioned to cope with the changing environment.
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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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