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Private equity for the people

By Owen Sanderson
18 Jul 2019

The biggest pot of money most people will ever have is their pension, so it’s vital that this cash is worked as hard as it can be.

The largest pension funds are increasingly choosing not to outsource investment decisions to fund management firms, but are taking them themselves. Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, for example, will become the sole owner of one of the world’s largest metal packaging firms, with a $2.5bn spinout from Ardagh, dubbed ‘Trivium’ — a classic private equity move.

The big Canadian funds — PSP Investments, CPPIB, OMERS, Teachers’, CDPQ — have long led the way in investing under their own names, rather than as limited partners in someone else’s fund. But these investments generally come when they are part of buyout consortiums.

Canadian pensioners part-funded last year’s biggest LBO, Refinitiv, and they’re part of chunky bids for Merlin and Inmarsat this year. It’s a natural evolution from consortium member to sole sponsor, as with Teachers and Trivium.

The question for much of the rest of the world ought to be: why should the Canadians have all the fun?

If private markets are increasingly where growth and interesting investment opportunities are to be found, there ought to be cheaper, better ways for pension funds to access these than through costly allocations to existing PE shops.

Canadian funds are ahead of the pack, but there are lots of other countries with large, concentrated, professional pension funds. Dutch healthcare fund PGGM is almost the same size, by assets under management, as Ontario Teachers. It buys infrastructure assets and all kinds of alternatives but almost never an entire company.

The jury is still out on whether or not the Canadians can match the performance of the longstanding PE shops but if they can, then there’s surely an opportunity for others too. As private equity booms, the people ought to to benefit.

By Owen Sanderson
18 Jul 2019