Just like the private equity business, Leveraged Buy Out (LBO) activity is usually subject to a cycle related to that of the stock market with a lag. On top of that in Europe there used to be laid a secular growth in LBO volume, and a long-term trend towards a wider variety of buy-out financing arrangements – reflecting the growth of mezzanine finance, the high yield market in Europe and credit hedging instruments. All that changed with the Credit Crunch of 2008-9, and some of the consequences of that period for the LBO market have been covered a couple of times articles here (1,2). The changes to the market have opened up some gross opportunities which hedge funds are expected to seek to exploit.
The summary of the DLA Piper Report for 2012 outlines a number of challenging conditions, in terms of liquidity, pricing and changes to capital structure requirements for new deals. The results also highlight the extent to which the risk-averse nature of banks and the predicted rising cost of debt funding are steering the markets toward alternative funding sources, alternative funding structures and own-cash/equity reserves. It states:
The inability or unwillingness of banks to provide the senior levels of debt to new deals in Europe will impact the scale of the whole new issuance market, and the complexion of others providing that funding. The constraints of re-building bank capital ratios will impact the volumes of deals they can commit to. This will impact price as well as volume of deal financing, illustrated below. Banks were expected to be 70% of the market last year, but this year and they are expected to be only 42% of the market. In addition PE specialist debt funds are expected to constitute less of the market this year (7.0% versus 14.7% previously). The finance providers taking up the share dropped by banks and PE debt funds are pension funds, CDOs and hedge funds. Whilst the DLA Piper surveys looks for CDOs to increase their share from 3.2% to 15.7% of the market, that does not look credible, unless CDOs have themselves found new sources of funding and/or they extend their lives. That leaves just two categories of investors with scope to grow in share of the senior debt for acquisitions in Europe – pension funds and hedge funds.
To an extent there are potentially rich pickings for the hedge fund industry whether the major re-financing required in the market happens or not over the next 2-3 years. If credit hedge or high yield hedge funds do not process the wall of re-financings ahead then the opportunity set for distressed investing hedge funds will become richer sooner. So if not one investment strategy, then the other will make out. Probably both sectors will benefit over a three-or-four year view, but if the distressed investors have a richer opportunity set in a year’s time then something very nasty will have happened in the European corporate bond market in the second half of 2012.