Saturday, 13 October 2018

How to Mitigate Against PE GP “Sharp Practice”

Fait ou fiction?

Ahmed Badreldin, Former Head of MENA for The Abraaj Group, has written an interesting article on the above topic for Private Equity International.  
He emphasizes enhanced controls over the GP by LPs and proper due diligence.  
A lot of good common sense suggestions. 
Some quotes that particularly resonated with AA:  
  1. “A key element of diligence is maintaining skepticism until the very end.”  
  2. “Furthermore, funds shouldn’t have large positive cash balances and alarms should go off if there are drawdown requests from funds that already have large cash balances.“ 
What I found particularly interesting was his focus on a three specific examples of GP “sharp practices”.   
Do you wonder if he witnessed these “sharp practices” first-hand during his career at one of his previous employers? Or is he just applying his theoretical knowledge to identify key risks?  
AA has his own opinion, but what’s yours? 
In his own words:

“A recent case involved a fund that had externalized fund administration, but where drawdowns were made despite the fund having large cash balances.  Monies ultimately went to a bidco SPV where the bank accounts and the SPV were controlled by the GP without external oversight by independent directors or fund administration (despite the actual fund having fully externalized its fund administration).”
“Funds should not have large cash balances for multiple quarters, especially given the risk of fund bank account balances with “quarter end window dressing”, where the cash balances of the fund can be temporarily shored up from external funding sources, which can be difficult to detect, resulting in reported cash in the GP reports not actually existing for the reporting period.”  
He also focused in on valuation of portfolio companies.  Suggesting that these be audited by independent third parties with perhaps the inclusion “simple” metrics such as EV/EBITDA versus comparables as a way of providing a check on the GP's valuation.  

AA would note that selection of “comparables” can allow the GP a great deal of discretion to achieve a desired result.  And there is always the possibility of manipulation.  

Bahrain International Bank valued its investment in Burger King franchises it owned in the Carolinas using a multiple based on an unconsummated offer to buy the Burger King company. Note that is comparing the value of a franchise (part of the chain) to the main company (ex the franchised outlets).  

That’s not to say the DCF produces a more accurate result.  Small changes to assumptions (discount rate, growth rate) can result in big changes to valuation.  

As he notes, valuation is an art not a science.  When the intended result is known, the artist can employ all of his talents to achieve that result.  Or just enough.  One hopes though that the arts employed are not the "black" arts.