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PE industry’s latest challenge: zombie funds

After grappling with less-than-expected returns and an absence of opportunities to exit, the private equity (PE) industry in India is facing yet another challenge—a growing number of funds that are turning inactive, or zombie.
Almost one-fifth of funds that were investing in India till 2009 have gone cold and stopped investing. There are only 219 active funds in the country and 41 funds have become zombie, according to VCCEdge, which tracks investment activity in the country.
Roughly, for every five active funds, there is one zombie.
The active funds are those that have made at least one investment since 2009.
The so-called zombies broadly refer to those investment funds that have become inactive and are not expected to make a profit on the investments they made.
Globally, 1,200 PE funds (worth $116 billion) are classified as zombie, according to data from industry tracker Preqin. Asia accounts for about 10% of the assets under management.
“Limited partners (or LPs, investors in venture capital and PE funds) are discouraging general partners (GPs) from investing in India,” said Vikram Utamsingh, an independent PE expert, adding that the Indian PE market has become unattractive. “The smaller population of PE firms that remain active in India are either the ones who have seen success here or those who have invested heavily and are waiting for exits.”
Experts say investors had been betting on the Indian dream, given a growing economy, young consumption-driven demographics, and aspirational middle class, among others reasons. “In the last couple of years, investors have done a reality check. The policy quagmire, distrust in the political and judicial systems, and a long line of scams have definitely given pause to the enthusiasm that once existed around India,” said Mohanjit Jolly, managing director, DFJ India, a venture capital firm which has gone slow on investing in the country.
“With the number of companies in the portfolio, it made sense for the firm (DFJ India) to more actively manage the existing investments rather than be aggressive about new ones,” said Jolly.
Investment funds normally shy away from allocating additional capital to a particular geography until the earlier investments have returned capital—and this is what is resulting in a lower investment allocation towards India. In 2012, the total fund value allocated to India was only $3.5 billion, compared with $6.8 billion in 2011, according to Bain and Co.’s India Private Equity Report 2013. Experts say the majority of those which have become inactive are the ones which entered India after seeing the success of first movers. “Mostly these are the funds that don’t have large allocations for India. They were exploring the market and entered it late. They dabbled with the Indian market,” said Utamsingh, adding that, in his view, they won’t be back in a hurry.
Firms that did not invest in the period between January 2009 and June 2012, as identified by VCCEdge, include global firms Och-Ziff Capital Management Group Llc, Avenue Capital Group, PineBridge Capital, Blue Ridge Capital Llc and Rutley Capital Partners Llp. Domestic funds include Unitech International Real Estate Fund, CapitaRetail India Development Fund, Urban Infrastructure Opportunities Fund and Crossover Trusts.
According to a Unitech spokesperson, they shelved the fund-raising plans after Unitech decided not to go ahead with its Mumbai development plans. Unitech had raised a small capital but returned it to individual investors once the fund raising plans were shelved, he said.
Experts say while there are various reasons for funds to become inactive in a particular geography, it does indicate a lack of confidence in that market. An investment fund can become inactive as it could be in a fund-raising mode but could not get a closure. Equally, there are instances where a fund manager has been able to get a successful first closure and then made a few investments, but was unable to go beyond that stage. A third scenario includes LPs requesting GPs to be more cautious with new investments.
“Inactivity has to have a reason. It could indicate a lack of confidence or it could also mean LPs themselves don’t have capital. It could even indicate that LPs are short on making good on their commitments,” said Avinash Gupta, senior director and leader, financial advisory, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd in India.
According to Gupta, there will be activity from those who invest from global or regional fund. “It’s ambitious to expect new funds to enter Indian markets right now,” Gupta said.
Meanwhile, deal-makers say India’s long-term outlook remains positive. “Investors are seeing value in the long term. Right now, sentiments are not positive but India is a great opportunity in the long term,” said Harish H.V., partner, India leadership team, Grant Thornton.
Source: Livemint

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