When two forces compete, how do you come out ahead? When two forces compete, how do you come out ahead?

By Andres Saenz

EY Global Private Equity Leader

Trusted advisor to leading private equity professionals and their portfolio companies. Ardent student of consumer behavior. Marathoner. Family man.

5 minute read 16 Oct 2019
Related topics Private equity

How PE's growing role in capital formation is creating critical implications for investors.

Over the last few years, new capital raised from private markets has exceeded capital raised in the public markets in the US. It's a development that's gone largely unnoticed, yet the implications are significant and wide ranging.

From their roots in commingled buyout and venture funds, over the last two decades PE firms have innovated a wide array of vehicles designed to provide funding at virtually all stages of a company’s life cycle – from seed, to growth capital, to newer long-life funds that are beginning to open the investible universe to entirely new types of businesses not suitable for more traditional fund structures.

The result is a shift in the way that companies are being funded

PE firms now manage commitments of nearly US$3.4t, up from less than US$500b in 2000. Including other asset types in the private capital universe – infrastructure, real estate, private debt, natural resources, etc.– brings the total to more than US$6t.

Global commitments to private equity funds


PE commitments have increased dramatically from 2000 when they managed less than US$500b.

In contrast to the rapid growth in private markets is the stagnation that’s increasingly evident in the public equities markets. Since the 1990s, the total number of publicly listed companies in the US, for example, has roughly halved. And while not as pronounced in all other large economies, public listings in other countries have shared a similar downward trend. Today’s public markets are increasingly defined by smaller numbers of larger companies that are further along on their maturity curves.

The public markets are increasingly dominated by fewer, larger companies - number of US-listed companies and their market capitalization/GDP

Market capitalization chart

 New avenues for growth

However, as more capital flows into the asset class, PE firms will be increasingly challenged to deploy it.

While the traditional buyout space will remain core to PE, some of the industry’s most attractive opportunities will come from segments of the market that are less well-developed.

  • Opportunities outside the US and Europe, where penetration is much lower

    PE activity in the emerging markets has seen tremendous, albeit uneven, growth.  According to data from the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA), activity in the emerging markets represented 23% of global PE investment activity in 2018, up from just 9% a decade ago. Powerful secular trends, including a growing middle class, an emerging consumer culture and strong demographics, make the emerging markets one of the industry’s clearest growth opportunities. In the US and UK, for example, average annual PE investment activity represents 1.7% and 2.1%, of GDP, respectively. In emerging markets such as India, China, Brazil, and sub-Saharan Africa, the penetration rate of PE is far lower – just 0.36% in India, and 0.16 in China, for example.
  • Opportunities outside the equity stack

    Some of private capital’s most significant growth may not come on from the equity side at all. Assets in the private credit space, including direct lending, distressed, and mezzanine funding have grown dramatically in recent years – from approximately US$240b a decade ago, to US$837b as of September 2018, according to Preqin. Investors appreciate the diversification benefits of the space as well as the opportunity to access returns (and risk profiles) that are generally higher than their other fixed-income portfolios. And while the industry is certainly subject to the economic and credit cycles, the longer-term trend is toward more activity shifting from traditional lenders to nonbank lenders. Recent years in particular have seen PE-backed credit funds underwrite larger deals that would once have been the exclusive province of the leveraged loan and high yield markets.
  • Additional areas of growth

    Many opportunities may come from companies that have traditionally been outside of PE’s purview. Longer-term funds, for example, are designed to hold companies for periods of 15 – 20 years or more, opening the investable universe to companies which may not be suitable for shorter hold periods.

The new imperatives

With each passing year, the size and influence of the PE industry have grown tremendously, encompassing a wide range of investment models.

It’s critical for stakeholders to appreciate the degree to which our capital markets are headed toward a new stasis. For much of the last century, the ambition for many entrepreneurs and family businesses was to grow to a size where they could be listed on a public exchange. Increasingly, this is no longer the case, as innovations in private capital provide businesses with a growing array of compelling options. For a wide range of capital markets stakeholders, the implications are significant, as more and more of our economic growth occurs within the realm of private capital.

PE firms will continue to aggressively innovate new structures that can access previously uninvestable segments of the company universe. They’ll continue to expand geographically into regions where PE penetration is much lower. In the developed markets, they’ll continue to build out operational capabilities so that they can justify higher multiples. Sector specialists will use their expertise to uncover hidden opportunities and position themselves as the “best buyer” for an asset. And large managers will increasingly leverage their scale to operate in parts of the markets where competition is dramatically lower.


Private equity is in the middle of one of the most profound shifts in the capital markets since the 19th century, when public equities markets became widely accessible to both investors and a broader array of enterprises seeking funding. Now, the way that companies are being funded is once again changing — and in the middle of that is private equity (PE) and other private capital providers.

About this article

By Andres Saenz

EY Global Private Equity Leader

Trusted advisor to leading private equity professionals and their portfolio companies. Ardent student of consumer behavior. Marathoner. Family man.

Related topics Private equity