Private equity firms in the U.S. alone are reportedly sitting on over $US 1 trillion in funds whilst at the same time economies are being hollowed out as cash strapped businesses go to the wall. But a surge in buyouts in the first quarter of 2009 suggests that equity investors are emerging to pick over the fallen carcasses of once great firms. In Asia, private equity firms successfully raised over $US 50 billion in 2008. Now with the faltering of several leading equity firms in Australia, there has been a resurgence of interest by Asian firms in that market especially.
It remains to be seen how the rebalance of power across Asia-Pacific will impact on New Zealand. But one thing remains certain, private equity deal-making is alive and well across the region and New Zealand will not go untouched. One example of this is the sale of accounting software provider MYOB. Although critics claimed at the time the price was too low, there was an ironic twist when founder Craig Winkler reinvested some of his winnings in a direct competitor. Small shareholders in such target firms would be well advised to remain alert to any further machinations that may impact on the value of their holdings.
What is clear at present is that there is generally a dearth of quality assets on the market. Profitable medium sized firms are hard to come by, but this situation will change. In particular family owned firms that survive the recession may attract more attention as their baby boomer owners head into retirement and look to offload. At the other end of the scale relatively new companies, that have a unique value proposition, may begin to look more interesting. But current indications are that such businesses are few and far between and even some local venture capital firms are struggling to place cash.
So what does this mean for New Zealand technology companies? Asia-Pacific looks like becoming the “buyout destination of choice”, according to the Asia Venture Capital Journal. Deal flow was up in the first quarter of 2009 and (surprisingly) the more developed economies benefitted most, as opposed to the emerging economies of China and India. The implications of that fact are that eventually a bunch of cashed up former business owners from around the region, like Craig Winkler, are going to be looking for new projects.