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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. private equity returns fell just below S&P 500 returns for the 10-year period ending last June, according to a report released Monday morning by Bain & Company.

Why it matters: Private equity markets itself as beating public markets over long-term time horizons, and usually providing an illiquidity premium to boot. These new performance figures not only dent such claims, but provide fresh ammunition to critics of public pension investment in private equity funds.

Specific numbers: U.S. private equity fund IRR was 15.3% for the 10-year period, versus 15.5% for the S&P 500 public market equivalent.

  • "While a 15% average annual return net of fees is impressive even by private equity's own high standard, parity with public markets is not what PE investors are paying for," writes Bain.

Private equity's defense would be fourfold:

  • U.S. PE returns were strong over the past decade, and top-tier funds outperformed the S&P 500.
  • U.S. PE returns outperformed the S&P 500 over most other time periods.
  • European private equity returns are higher than their public market comp.
  • The last time we saw this sort of inversion was for the 10 years ending March 2000, and private equity easily outpaced public equity over the subsequent 10 years.

The real question is if private equity will be held accountable for the relatively lackluster results by limited partners, particularly in an era of rising progressive politics and progressively lower buyout fund returns. Not by blanket failure to support new funds, but by demanding more LP-favorable terms.

The bottom line: Private equity promises alpha. It hasn't delivered over the past decade. Expect that to be a major bone of contention this week in Berlin, where the world's largest private equity fund managers and limited partners meet for the annual Super Returns conference.

Go deeper

Oct 12, 2020 - Podcasts

Jeffrey Epstein's money trail

Jeffrey Epstein died more than a year ago, but the investigation into how he made his money is heating up. The latest is a New York Times report that private equity titan Leon Black might have paid Epstein to up $75 million over the years, which is much more than was previously disclosed.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper with Matthew Goldstein, a New York Times business reporter who co-authored today's story.

31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump leaves White House for the final time

President Trump took off on Marine One at 8:17 a.m on Wednesday morning, departing the White House for the last time, en route to Florida.

The big picture: Trump's final hours will be marked by snubbing his successor and granting pardons to many of his allies who have been swept up in corruption scandals.

Inauguration Day dashboard

Screenshot: Fox News

President Trump has left the White House en route to a farewell event at Andrews Air Force Base, kicking off the day that will culminate with President-elect Joe Biden taking office.

What's next: The inaugural celebration for young Americans is being livestreamed, starting at 10am.