Private equity is an alternative investment class and consists of capital that is not listed on a public exchange. Private equity is composed of funds and investors that directly invest in private companies, or that engage in buyouts of public companies, resulting in the delisting of public equity. Institutional and retail investors provide the capital for private equity, and the capital can be utilized to fund new technology, make acquisitions, expand working capital, and to bolster and solidify a balance sheet.
A private equity fund has Limited Partners (LP), who typically own 99 percent of shares in a fund and have limited liability, and General Partners (GP), who own 1 percent of shares and have full liability. The latter are also responsible for executing and operating the investment.
Private equity investment comes primarily from institutional investors and accredited investors, who can dedicate substantial sums of money for extended time periods. In most cases, considerably long holding periods are often required for private equity investments in order to ensure a turnaround for distressed companies or to enable liquidity events such as an initial public offering (IPO) or a sale to a public company.
Private equity offers several advantages to companies and startups. It is favored by companies because it allows them access to liquidity as an alternative to conventional financial mechanisms, such as high interest bank loans or listing on public markets. Certain forms of private equity, such as venture capital, also finance ideas and early stage companies. In the case of companies that are de-listed, private equity financing can help such companies attempt unorthodox growth strategies away from the glare of public markets. Otherwise, the pressure of quarterly earnings dramatically reduces the time frame available to senior management to turn a company around or experiment with new ways to cut losses or make money.
A spectrum of investing preferences spans across the thousands of private-equity firms in existence. Some are strict financiers – passive investors – who are wholly dependent on management to grow the company (and its profitability) and supply their owners with appropriate returns. Because sellers typically see this method as a commoditized approach, other private-equity firms consider themselves active investors. That is, they provide operational support to management to help build and grow a better company.
Private-equity firms perform two critical functions: deal origination/transaction execution portfolio oversight Deal origination involves creating, maintaining and developing relationships with mergers and acquisitions (M&A) intermediaries, investment banks and similar transaction professionals to secure both high-quantity and high-quality deal flow. Deal flow refers to prospective acquisition candidates referred to private-equity professionals for investment review. Some firms hire internal staff to proactively identify and reach out to company owners to generate transaction leads. In a competitive M&A landscape, sourcing proprietary deals can help ensure that the funds raised are successfully deployed and invested.