Global private equity

China private equity bitten again by Fang — Financial Times




Download complete text

By Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing

Financier Fang Fenglei is betting on private equity recovery

China’s unruly markets have vanquished many a savvy investor, but if one man knows how to play them it is Fang Fenglei.

From the establishment of the country’s first investment bank in 1995 to the complex partnership that brought Goldman Sachs into China in 2004 and the launch from scratch of a $2.5bn private equity fund in 2007, Mr Fang has been at the nexus of some of the biggest Chinese deals of the past two decades.

Even his abrupt decision in 2010 to start winding down Hopu, his private equity fund, was impeccably well timed. Since he left the scene, the Chinese stock market has been among the worst performers in the world and the private equity industry, once booming alongside the country’s turbocharged economy, has gone cold.

So the news that Mr Fang, the son of a peasant farmer, will return with a new $2bn-$2.5bn investment fund is more than a passing curiosity. The financier is betting that China’s beleaguered private equity industry will recover – a wager that at the moment has long odds.

The most immediate obstacle for the private equity industry in China is a bottleneck on exits from investments. Regulators have halted approvals for all initial public offerings since October, a tried and tested method for putting a floor under the stock market by limiting the availability of shares. But a side effect has been eliminating the preferred exit route of private equity companies.

Even before the IPO freeze, the backlog was already building up. China First Capital, an advisory firm, estimates that there are more than 7,500 unexited private equity investments in China from deals done since 2000. Valuations may have appreciated greatly but private equity groups are struggling to sell their assets.


In Global Private Equity, It’s China as #1

Qing ceremonial ruyi in China First Capital blog post


I spent the day in Shanghai on Friday, attending a private equity conference, and giving one of the keynote speeches. I’d thought about giving my talk in Chinese, but in the end, the discretion/valor calculus was too strong in favor of using my native language. I was one of only two speakers who used English — or in my case, a kind of half-bred version of miscegenated Mandarin and English. The rest of the conference participants — including two other Westerners and dozens who participated in panels – all spoke in Chinese.  It was quite humbling, and I’m determined to use only Chinese next time around. 

Shanghai has, so rapidly, become a truly international city. It’s one thing to say, as Shanghai’s leadership has been doing over the last decade, that Shanghai will surpass Hong Kong as Asia’s largest, most vibrant international financial center. It’s quite another to achieve this, or even make significant headway, as Shanghai has done. So many of the factors aren’t under the control of government authorities. They can only create the legal and tax framework. In the end, the process is driven by individual decisions made by thousands of people, who commit to learning English and mastering the basics of global finance. All are staking their careers, at this point, on Shanghai’s future as a financial center. 

It’s a version of what economists like to call “network effects”: the more individuals who commit to building Shanghai as a financial center, the more each benefits as the goal comes closer to fruition. On Friday, in Shanghai, I could see this process vividly displayed in front of me, of how widespread knowledge of English has become: of the 200 or so people who heard my talk, at a glance 99% were Chinese, and only a handful needed to use the translation machines.

My talk was titled “Trends in Private Equity: China as #1”.  In Chinese, it’s “私募股权投资:中国成为第一”

The basic theme was how “decoupled” China has become from private equity and venture capital investment in the rest of the world.  China is in the ascendant, and will remain that way, in my opinion, for the next ten years at least. It will be years before the PE and VC industries in the US reach again the size and significance they enjoyed a year ago. China, meanwhile, is firing on all cylinders.

There are many reasons for China’s superior current performance and future prospects. In my talk, I focused on just a few, including principally the rise over the last decade of a large number of outstanding private SME. They are now reaching the scale to raise successfully private equity and venture capital funding.

It’s another example of positive network effects: the Chinese economy is undergoing a shift of breathtaking significance: from dependence on the public sector to reliance on the private sector, or in my shorthand, “from SOE to SME”. The more successful SME there are, the more embedded this change becomes, and the more favorable overall circumstances become for newer SME to flourish. 

Here’s one of the slides from my PPT that accompanied the talk: 

—  Global Private Equity: in trouble everywhere except China

—  Recession; Credit Crisis; Over-leveraged ; closing IPO window

—  经济衰退,信贷危机,杠杆率过高,几近停止的IPO

—  Most PE firms dormant, can’t raise new equity or new debt; industry contracting

—  PE公司无法进行股权和债权融资,几乎处于休眠状态,行业萎缩

—  China is the exception:  strong economic fundamentals; shift from export to domestic market;  shift from state-owned to private sector;  rise of world-class SME

—  中国的独特之处:强劲的经济增长,从出口导向到关注国内市场的转变,经济从国有企业到私营企业的迁移, 富有成为世界级企业潜力的中小企业

 For anyone interested, the whole speech is available, in Chinese, at,1117,1134998.html