Private Equity and Strategic Asset Allocation
Tom Idzorek, CFA, V.P., Director of Research & Product Development, Ibbotsen, October 31, 2007
Executive SummaryThis paper studies the role of U.S. Private Equity and Non-U.S. Private Equity in a strategic asset allocation. There is relatively little guidance in the literature on how much investors should allocate to private equity in a strategic asset allocation setting because of 1) confusion between the private equity asset class and private equity funds and 2) considerable debate over historical returns. Private equity is both an asset class and an investment strategy. Distinguishing between the private equity asset class and the private equity investment strategy can be confusing and creates challenges for asset allocators. Ideally, one could invest in a basket of all private corporations in which the weights of the companies in the basket are based on their true values. Such a basket would be a true representation of the private equity asset class. When investors make an allocation to private equity, it is not a passive investment in the basket of all private companies that form the private equity asset class. Rather, for most investors, the allocation to private equity is an investment in a skill-based strategy in which the two primary sub-strategies are leveraged buyouts and venture capital. The fragmented structure of the private equity market is such that private equity investors cannot fully-diversify away from private company specific risk; thus, all private equity investments are a mixture of systematic risk exposure to the private equity asset class and to private company specific risk. Securitization is changing the private equity asset class and, over time, what was once an alpha strategy will become a traditional beta asset class. In this paper, we use two new indices to proxy the private
equity asset class – the Red Rocks Listed Private Equity IndexSM (LPE IndexSM) for U.S. private equity and the Red Rocks International Listed Private Equity IndexSM (International LPE IndexSM) for non-U.S. private equity. The listed private equity indices may more accurately reflect the performance characteristics, especially the volatility, of the private equity asset class than appraisal-based private equity indices. In a series of historical optimizations, we find that including U.S. Private Equity in the opportunity set would have dramatically improved the risk and return characteristics over the past 10 year period. From the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2006, U.S. Private Equity and Non-U.S. Private Equity were the best performing asset classes in our opportunity set, although the performance of the private equity proxies appears to be highly sensitive to the weighting scheme of the proxies. This sensitivity highlights that all private equity investments still contain a high level of specific risk. Over time, we think securitization will reduce the amount of specific risk associated with private equity portfolios. In a forward-looking optimization using a set of returns based on a global implementation of the CAPM, the asset allocations with a standard deviation below 19% were only slightly improved by including private equity in the opportunity set. The benefit of including private equity in the opportunity set is most significant for higher risk, equity-centric asset allocations. Finally, listed private equity will make it possible to apply tactical asset allocations to the asset class.