Apr 1, 2020 - Economy

Private equity hits the brakes amid coronavirus recovery uncertainties

An illustration of George Washington.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Private equity is still working on opportunistic deals when it can get a break from portfolio triage, but it's also boarding up the exits amid new questions about the speed of the coronavirus recovery.

The state of play: Sale processes are being shelved daily, even ones that already launched with investment bankers, data rooms, and interested suitors.

Within the past 24 hours:

  • KKR ended its efforts to sell Goodpack, a Singapore-based bulk container maker that was expected to fetch at least $2 billion, per Reuters.
  • EQT Partners suspended the auction for IFS, a Swedish ERP software company that had been expected to fetch more than €3 billion, per Bloomberg.
  • Bridgepoint stopped the sale process for Portuguese agrochemical company Rovensa, which was expected to be valued north of €1.2 billion, per Bloomberg.

Between the lines: Part of this is in-the-moment pricing difficulties, but it also reflects broader uncertainties about what the recovery economy will look like. Three weeks ago, private equity execs were telling me that we should expect the summer to feel much like January and early February. I'm not hearing that anymore.

  • One concern is that legacy customers both consumers and businesses won't have spending capacity on the other side, or at least will be much more frugal.
  • Another is that consumer and business behaviors might be permanently changed in unpredictable ways.
  • And then there are growing doomsday fears over leverage, with a default chain reaction that could spread from corporates to financials to municipalities.

The bottom line: Harvesting season got hit with a hard freeze.

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