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Private Markets Monthly Monitor

2020 in Review

In this year-end edition of the Private Markets Monthly Monitor we explore commitment activity across the various private markets asset classes and highlight top GPs and allocators. Click through the tabs below for all the insights.

In what was an undoubtedly challenging year, the private markets experienced volatility much like any other industry. For fundraising managers, the effects were felt acutely during the first half of the year which saw reduced commitment activity as pension plan investors as they grappled with the impact of the pandemic on in-person fund due diligence efforts.

Soon however Zoom meetings and virtual due diligence became the norm, and commitment activity picked up sharply in June as allocators worked to take advantage of market dislocation opportunities and keep up with commitment pacing plans. After a summer lull, commitments slowly began to tick back up and when it was all said and done, public pension plan investors had total reported commitments of $154.6 billion across the private markets. Compared to 2019 full year figures, this represents a 2% increase in reported commitments from public pension plans tracked by eVestment.

In this year-end edition of the Private Markets Monthly Monitor we explore public pension plan commitment activity across the various private markets asset classes and highlight the top GPs and allocators. Click through the tabs below for all the insights.

Top 20 of 2020

The lists below rank the top 20 GPs and LPs respectively in terms of total reported commitments from public pension plan investors across all private asset classes for 2020. Click through the tabs for asset class specific ranks and insights.

Top 20 GPs by Capital Raised

Top 20 LPs by Reported Commitments

Overview

In 2020, 120 public pension plans reported commitments of $83.1 billion to private equity funds. The year-end total represents a 20% increase from 2019, indicating that institutional investors were able to adapt to digital due diligence and push forward with commitment pacing plans.

The increase in commitment activity extended into the number of individual commitments reported, albeit to a smaller degree. The 2020 total of 1,047 individual commitments represents a 9% increase from 2019’s total. In terms of average commitment sizing, 2020 saw bite sizes grow to $79 million from $72 million in 2019.

On a per month basis, quarter end months of June and September saw the most commitment activity reported in 2020 with $19.0 billion and $12.7 billion in commitments respectively. March, April, and May, when the world was experiencing the first major waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the vacation month of August, saw the least activity.

Despite solid commitment activity in 2020, many public pension plan investors remain under allocated to private equity. As of 12/31/2020, 118 plans were under their targets allocations for the asset class representing $40.6 billion in open opportunities for managers.

Top Private Equity GPs

CVC Capital Partners took the crown as the number one destination for capital in 2020 from public pension plan investors, with $5.2 billion in total reported commitments. With 35 reported commitments, the fund manager averaged nearly three commitments a month for the year. CalPERS was the largest contributor for CVC, allocating $1.1 billion to the manager across two funds, CVC Capital VIII ($850 million) and CVC Capital Asia V ($200 million). Among the other investors committing to CVC funds were the five New York City public employee pension plans and three Los Angeles retirement systems.

Thoma Bravo finished in second spot for the year with a reported $4.2 billion raised. Commitments were spread across three different funds: Thoma Bravo XIV, Thoma Bravo Discover III, and Thoma Bravo Explore, each targeting control investments in technology companies in distinct market cap segments. Massachusetts PRIM made the most contributions to the manager in 2020, reporting $510 million in commitments across the three funds. CalSTRS, NY State Teachers, NY State Common Retirement Fund, and Washington State Investment Board all closely followed, each with commitments of over $400 million.

While finishing sixth in terms of total dollars committed, Clearlake trailed only the aforementioned CVC and Thoma Bravo in terms of number of individual commitments won. The fund manager won 27 commitments in 2020 with an average size of $67 million. These commitments flowed into two strategies, Clearlake VI and Clearlake Flagship Plus Partners. Wisconsin Investment Board was the manager’s largest public plan contributor in the year, making a reported $282 million in commitments to Clearlake across both funds.

Top Private Equity Allocators

The most active private equity allocator in 2020 was CalPERS with a whopping $14.6 billion in reported commitments to the asset class. This figure is more than double the $6.5 billion reported by second ranked New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and nearly a threefold increase over the $5.3 billion that CalPERS reported in 2019. NYSCRF also ratcheted up their commitments in 2020, increasing commitments 36% from the previous year.

These two pension plans were not alone in increased commitment activity, as 7 of the top 10 pension plan allocators in 2020 reported larger total commitment figures than they did in 2019.

In terms of number of commitments, Wisconsin Investment Board lead the way with 42 reported commitments in 2020, with an average commitment size of $75 million.

Top 20 GPs by Capital Raised

Overview

Private debt saw $33.7 billion in reported commitments from 79 different public pension plans in 2020, a 31% increase from the segment’s final 2019 figure. The 2020 total was comprised of 319 commitments representing a 46% increase compared 2019. While overall activity increased, on a per commitment basis, allocation sizes dropped 10% to an average of $106 million. All this suggests that pension plans sought to take advantage of market dislocation caused by the pandemic by increasing commitments to private debt across smaller commitments.

On a monthly basis, reported commitment activity to private debt began consistently in the first half of the year with monthly totals averaging $1.8 billion through May. The summer saw commitment activity spike in June with $6.3 billion in reported commitments and trend positively through the third quarter.

While the spike seen in November can be attributed in part to pension plan titan CalPERS reporting $4.5 billion of commitments in the month, the fourth quarter’s mixed results offer little insight into what demand for private debt might look like moving into 2021. That said, as of 12/31/2020, 43 plans were under allocated to private debt against their targets representing $9.4 billion in open opportunities for managers.

Top Private Debt GPs

Sixth Street Partners took the top spot in 2020 in terms of pension plan private debt commitments with $2.5 billion reported across seven allocations. A bulk of this amount ($1.5 billion) was committed by CalPERS across two Sixth Street strategies, TSSP Adjacent Opportunities and Sixth Street Fundamental Strategies. The manager also closed commitments for Sixth Street Specialty Lending Europe II, an €800 million fund targeting directly originated credit opportunities in the European middle-market.

Industry veterans Oaktree closely followed in second position with $2.4 billion in reported commitments. As with Sixth Street, CalPERS was the largest allocator for Oaktree with a $1 billion commitment. Virginia Retirement Systems and Minnesota State Board were also among the pension plans allocating to Oaktree with each plan committing a reported $300 million.

The investment memo from Minnesota State Board commitment to Oaktree Opportunities XI suggests that the $15 billion distressed debt fund was launched directly in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It notes that the fund was formed, “to take advantage of opportunities arising from financial distress, as well as to provide Oaktree with flexibility to react to changing market conditions in the distressed debt marketplace.”

HPS Investment Partners lead the way in 2020 in terms of number of private debt commitments. Ten different pension plans reported a total of twelve commitments to both commingled funds and fund-of-one vehicles managed by HPS. The fund manager’s largest reported commitment, $275 million from San Francisco ERS, went to the aptly named fund-of-one: Presidio Loan Fund.

Top Private Debt Allocators

Mentioned several times in the Top GPs section, CalPERS was the most active private debt allocator in the year with $4.5 billion in commitments. The plan’s $2.0 billion commitment to Goldman Sachs’ West Street Solutions Fund was the largest reported to any commingled fund in 2020.

Virginia Retirement System was another active allocator to private debt strategies in 2020 with a reported $4.3 billion in commitments. In addition to allocations to Oaktree and Ares, the pension plan committed $1.0 billion to The Carlyle Group. Plan documents describe a broad mandate for the allocation stating that the fund, “will invest opportunistically across credit markets, with a focus on private credit investments.” The plan’s 2020 activity in the asset class is a huge shift from 2019 where they allocated only $550 million to private debt strategies.

After CalPERS and Virginia Retirement System, New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) was the biggest allocator to private debt on a per commitment basis, with an average commitment size of $340 million. In addition to commitments to commingled funds managed by Vista Equity Partners, Neuberger Berman, and Avenue Capital, NYSCRF invested via separate account vehicles managed by Whitehorse Liquidity Partners and Pearl Diver Capital. The separate accounts are uniquely structured as fund-of-funds that invest in the various funds operated by the respective fund managers.

In terms of number of commitments, Florida SBA was the most active allocator in 2020 with 19 commitments to 17 different fund managers.

Top 20 GPs by Capital Raised

Overview

Real estate was amongst the economic sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and those effects were clearly felt by real estate managers fundraising through 2020. For the year, reported commitments by public pension plans totaled $24.4 billion, a 31% decrease from 2019. The figure represents 370 commitments from 91 public pension plans, averaging $66 million in size, a 26% drop from 2019’s average bitesize.

Reported dollars committed to real estate by this segment of LPs trailed 2019 monthly marks in each of the first five months of 2020 before jumping up to $5.9 billion in June. September also saw increased commitments with $3.6 billion reported, but fourth quarter figures dropped down again more in line with activity seen at the start of the year.

Moving into 2021, pension plans will likely continue with modest commitment pacing to real estate until the global economy shows signs of recovery from the pandemic. As of 12/31/2020, 129 plans were still under allocated to real estate against their targets, representing $37.1 billion in opportunities for managers.

Top Real Estate GPs

Taking top place for the year was PGIM Real Estate with $972 million in reported commitments. Over half this total was reported by one allocator, New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF). The pension plan committed a reported $500 million to PRISA LP, “a perpetual life, open-ended, commingled fund that invests primarily in core real estate assets located in the United States,” according to plan documents. NYSCRF also reported a £200 million commitment to PGIM Real Estate Capital VII.

Torchlight Investor was far and away the leader in terms of number of commitments closed in real estate for the year, with fourteen individual commitments reported. Each of the commitments were allocated to the fund manager’s latest fund, Torchlight Debt Opportunity Fund VII. According to the investment recommendation memo from Ventura County ERA, “Torchlight will focus on senior and junior mortgage loans, CMBS, CDOs, mezzanine debt, and preferred equity.  Torchlight VII will seek to make investments in the $5 to $75 million range, and will be diversified by property type and geography within in the U.S.” Other pension plans who reported commitments to the fund include Florida SBA ($250 million), Wisconsin Investment Board ($100 million), and Connecticut Retirement ($100 million).

In terms of commitment sizing, Fairfield Residential Company earned the largest average commitment size of any manager recording more than a single commitment from public plan allocators with $270 million.

Top Real Estate Allocators

New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) took the top spot in 2020 as the most active allocator to real estate both in terms of reported dollars committed and number of commitments. The pension plan allocated $3.3 billion across 24 commitments to 21 different fund managers. In addition to the previously mentioned commitments to PGIM Real Estate, NYSCRF committed $600 million to Fairfield Residential and nearly $450 million to Ares Management. An interesting feature of NYSCRF’s commitment activity was the mix in commitment sizing, nearly half of the pension plan’s commitments were $20 million or less in size, clearly a sign that the plan is willing to invest in smaller managers in addition to the giants.

CalSTRS took a similar approach with their 2020 reported real estate commitments, which totaled $1.4 billion.  In addition to seven commitments in the $100 – $200 million range to fund managers including Ares, CBRE Global Investors, and Fairfield Residential, the pension plan made five smaller commitments averaging $54 million to CrossHarbor Capital and Beacon Capital, among others.

Top 20 GPs by Capital Raised

Overview

Public pension plans reported commitments to real assets funds dropped precipitously in 2020 to a total of $13.3 billion, a 38% decrease from 2019. The figure represents 180 individual commitments, a 26% drop from 2019’s mark. In total, 64 different plans reported commitments and the average bite size was $74 million.

Monthly results through the first seven months of the year were mixed to say the least. The first quarter saw the least commitment activity in the year as was followed by an up-and-down second quarter.

Increased activity through the second half of 2020 combined with a renewed focus on infrastructure investment from the new administration in the United States should be an encouraging sign for real assets fund managers moving into 2021. Also encouraging will be the number of pension plans under allocated to the asset class. As of 12/31/2020, 98 plans were under their target allocations for real assets which translates to $29.6 billion in open opportunities for managers.

Top Real Assets GPs

Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners took number one position in 2020 with $2.8 billion in total commitments from public pension plan investors. The total represents 17 individual commitments from 13 different plans. The largest commitments came from Washington State Investment Board (WSIB) who allocated $700 million to Stonepeak Infrastructure IV and $200 million to a separately managed account. The pension plan has a long-standing relationship with Stonepeak, having invested in each of the manager’s four prior infrastructure funds. New York State Common Retirement Fund and Oregon PERF also reported large commitments to the fund manager with $600 million and $500 million respectively.

Another infrastructure manager, I Squared Capital, raised the second most from public plans in the year with $1.6 billion in reported commitments. Like Stonepeak, I Squared also received large commitments from WSIB, who reported a $350 million commitment to I Squared Global Infrastructure Fund III and $150 million to a sidecar vehicle. According to plan documents from New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), who also reported a $350 million commitment, the fund will be focused on, “middle market investments in power generation, renewables and utilities, midstream energy, communications, water, and transportation.”

Grain Management was the third ranked real assets fund manager by reported commitments in 2020 with $810 million. Commitments were made primarily to Grain Spectrum Holdings III. According to Orange County ERS’ investment recommendation memo, the fund operates within the communications sector and, “seeks to acquire communications infrastructure assets or companies that own or operate communications assets.”

Top Real Assets Allocators

Washington State Investment Board (WSIB) was the most active allocator in terms of total commitments to real assets funds in 2020 with $1.7 billion. The figure is a 51% increase from their 2019 real assets allocation total. In addition to previously discussed allocations to Stonepeak and Brookfield, the plan also made commitments to Alinda Capital and Orion Resource Partners.

Also active in the year was New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) with eight reported commitments totaling $1.7 billion. In addition to previously discussed commitments to Stonepeak and I Squared, the plan reported commitments of $100 million each to Brookfield and Excelsior Energy Capital.

Top 20 GPs by Capital Raised

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