5 Private-Equity Firms Ready to Rally

08/14/2012 11:45 am EST


George Putnam

Editor, The Turnaround Letter

Private equity has been pretty quiet recently—and when it has come out of its shell, the deals that have come to market haven't been too thrilling—but these players may change that, writes George Putnam of The Turnaround Letter.

One of the groups that has proven to be most disappointing to IPO investors in recent years is the private equity sector. These firms garnered big profits as private companies, only to largely fizzle after going public.

Results have generally been lackluster since 2008. Nevertheless, these companies tend to be run by smart guys, and we expect private-equity firms to begin taking steps to boost their stock prices. Here are five potential turnarounds in the sector.

Apollo Global Management (APO)
This company began operations in 1990, when several executives of the collapsed Drexel Burnham firm turned their attention to buying distressed companies.

While distressed debt remains a core activity, Apollo today covers many aspects of the private equity landscape. Like others, Apollo is eyeing distressed opportunities in Europe, but deals have been slow to develop.

As with many of the companies we review here, Apollo’s dividend will vary. They have a base rate of 7 cents quarterly, but management will disburse all free cash flow not required for operating expenses.

The shares, trading below their IPO price from March 2011, appear attractive for long-term investors.

Blackstone Group (BX)
This company has operations that span private equity, real estate, hedge funds, credit products, and advisory services.

Though operating results have struggled due to challenges with existing investments and tight lending conditions, the company has been able to grow assets under management to more than $190 billion. Blackstone too is raising money to take advantage of expected opportunities in Europe.

Some more patience may be required before the company really begins to capitalize on its portfolio holdings. But in the meantime, the firm is well financed and pays an attractive core dividend.

Fortress Investment Group (FIG)
This was the first private equity group to tap the public markets in early 2007, just in time to see its stock crushed by the recession. But operations have steadily improved since then.

Key markets include senior living, financial services, transportation, and infrastructure. The dividend was reinstated at the end of 2011. One sign of Fortress’ improving outlook is its recent agreement to sell its RailAmerica unit for $1.39 billion.

Icahn Enterprises (IEP)
Of course, this is run by Carl Icahn, a well-known activist. The company has interests in automotive, gaming, railcar, food packaging, metals, real estate, and home fashions.

The company is structured as a master limited partnership, so earnings are passed through to shareholders. The stock took a hit in 2008, and after a modest rebound it has stagnated for about three years. As a result, its valuation looks attractive.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)
One of the best known private equity firms, KKR was immortalized in the 1990 book (and subsequent HBO movie) Barbarians at the Gate, which chronicled the firm’s battle to take over RJR Nabisco.

The firm went public in 2010, and the stock has been fairly volatile since then. Senior management is made up of some of the most experienced executives in the sector, and they are backed up by plenty of hungry younger managers.

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