Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A private credit boom leads to a new crisis

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If this is a “golden moment” for private lending, where will things go? What are the risks? Higher interest rates and turmoil in regional banks earlier this year have boosted confidence in the recovery of private credit. According to data provider Preqin, the market is expected to grow from $1.6 trillion to $2.8 trillion this year. BlackRock takes a more optimistic view, predicting the market will grow to $3.2 trillion.

Mark Rowan, CEO of private equity firm Apollo, sees “de-banking” in its early stages, while John Gray, chairman of BlackRock, coined the phrase “golden moment” to describe conditions in private capital at the start of the year. .

If the new banking rules under Federal Reserve regulations are considered a catalyst, capital requirements for the commercial banking industry in the US are likely to increase by up to 35%, according to Oliver Wyman, the world’s leading management consultancy. company — and no wonder Jamie Dimon said. , head of JP Morgan, said private lenders would be “very happy.”

How things develop in the market will be a key issue not only for large firms and banks in the private market, but also for traditional asset managers who have begun to use the capabilities of the private market to avoid the extreme rise of passive asset management. . This coincides with at least 26 traditional asset managers buying or launching new private credit units in the past two years.

This shift confirms the extent to which the structure of the financial market has changed. 20 years ago, when I was working at Morgan Stanley, I noted in a research paper that investor flows would split into barbells. On the one hand, investors would flock to passive, exchange-traded funds to get record returns. They are cheap and convenient. On the other hand, investors looking for higher returns will use asset allocation with specialist fund managers who invest in private equity, hedge funds and real estate. For traditional “major” fund managers, caught between the two, they will be pressured to make their investment machines more specialized or merge to increase their size, which has already been achieved.

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According to ETFGI, ETFs have grown from $218 billion in 2003 to $10.3 trillion last October, but what’s surprising is how unbalanced the situation has become in terms of returns, with management fees likely to account for half of the investment sector. to alternative asset managers in 2023 from 28% in 2003.

Central banks are now scaling back their quantitative easing, which was implemented to support economies and markets, which has traditionally supported corporate profits. Without these tailwinds, the pressures on fund managers become more severe. So, how will the transition to private lending proceed?

Currently, Preqin estimates that just 10 companies have received 40% of private credit resources in the last 24 months. There are three reasons why private credit growth has disproportionately favored these large firms.

First, a good amount of growth is expected from the sale of investment portfolios by regional banks, which have to reduce their debt and are forced to sell good assets. The central bank’s new rules signal an inability for big banks to step up. In light of the large portfolio sizes and the speed required for transactions, the acquisition of these assets is a specialized venture that is in the interest of large companies that can underwrite the risks.

Second, a growing number of deals require more money, and August saw a new record for the largest loan, reaching $4.8 billion for fintech firm Finastra. The third and most important reason is that banks prefer to enter into partnerships so as not to lose access to customers. Even though tougher rules mean they have to divest assets, banks want to continue lending and partnering to help manage deal flows, which could benefit larger firms.

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Several major banks have already closed deals and more are expected to follow. Citi is the latest bank to report its intention to launch a new unit in 2024.

A changing interest rate regime will mean loan losses rise as funding costs normalize and exposed weak balance sheets, which will be a source of challenges for private lenders. It may be unwise for new companies to try to exploit the growth. This requires a strong focus on the risks and rewards of selection and contracts, and teams that specialize in reconciliation, which many of the major players in the market have.

Of course, there will be key opportunities, such as hard credit or energy infrastructure credit, that are places that efficient companies can tap into, but they may not be on the scale that traditional companies need to maximize opportunities.

In general, a complete and comprehensive shift in capital allocation awaits us, requiring a major shift towards private credit, as Howard Marks recently argued, but the coming tide will not smooth all boats.

Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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