In an era of cheap money, traditional havens for investment offer just low yields. Private equity firms provide their well-off clients with better returns and, as such, are making their way out of the financial crisis.
Expensive suits, an impeccable demeanor and fluent English are the prerequisites at a meeting of representatives from Düsseldorf's private equity branch. The almost exclusively male finance experts invest money from banks and private individuals in leveraged company buyouts or mergers, and they also manage funds that buy shares in companies in an effort to sell them for a profit.
Germany's private equity branch invested around 5.8 billion euros ($7.57 billion) in 2012. Although that marks a six percent decrease compared with 2011, the branch has left behind the rough times that immediately followed the financial crisis.
There are signs of a private equity renaissance. Foundations, banks and a number of wealthy individuals in Germany have much capital on hand that they went to invest lucratively. But due to low interest rates, people with lots of money on hand see only limited profits from traditional types of investments, says Rainer Effinger of the private equity firm Nord Holding: "Investors looking for possibilities beyond five percent returns are very limited."And Triginta Capital partner Anthony Bunker agrees, adding, "Private equity sells itself by promising to earn three, four or even five percent more than other investment classes."
Lucrative business model
The branch's model is based on simple mathematics. Private equity firms buy shares in companies or take them over completely. The money for doing so comes from their investors and borrowed foreign capital. As the proportion of foreign capital rises, so, too, do the yields for investors. A simple example illustrates this. Assume a company costs ten million euros to buy, and the private equity firm finances the purchase with three million of its own money along with seven million in capital borrowed from a bank. If the firm then sells the company later for 11 million, then the total profit is around 10 percent. However, the yield for the direct investors is much higher: 33 percent minus the bank's loan. Those working in finance tend to call the borrowed capital "leverage" - the lever that pushes up yields.
During the boom times of 2006 and 2007, this model generated incredible profits for private equity firms and their backers.