The Disintermediation of Financial Markets: Direct Investing in Private Equity
Executive Summary — As numerous news stories document, interest on the part of institutional investors in undertaking direct investments—and thus bypassing intermediaries—appears to have increased substantially. More generally, the impact of financial intermediation has also been a subject of considerable examination in the corporate finance literature. On the one hand, these middlemen should be able to overcome transaction cost and information problems; on the other, they may be prone to agency conflicts that affect their performance. In this paper, the authors focus on private equity, a setting in which disintermediation has become increasingly common. Private equity might appear to be a textbook case where the benefits from financial intermediation—in this case, specialized funds—would be substantial: not only are the transaction costs associated with structuring these investments large, but substantial information asymmetries surround the selection, monitoring, and nurturing of the investments, giving rise to potential information advantages for specialized investors. Using proprietary data covering 392 deals by a set of institutions, both co-investments and direct investments, between 1991 and 2011, the authors find a sharp contrast between the performance of solo deals and that of coinvestment deals. Outperformance of solo direct investments is due in part to their ability to exploit information advantages by investing locally and in settings where information problems are not too great, as well as to their relative outperformance during market peaks. The underperformance of coinvestments appears to be associated with the higher risk of deals available for coinvestments. Key concepts include:
- The authors complied the first large sample evidence of the relative performance of direct investments by large institutional investors.
- Findings show a sharp contrast between the performance of solo deals and that of coinvestment deals. This indicates that there can be an agency problem when general partners selectively offer deals to limited partners for coinvesting.
- As striking as the findings are, they must be interpreted cautiously. For example, it is not clear whether this result is a reflection of the fact that the sample consists of large and sophisticated investors: small investors replicating a direct investment strategy may have different experiences.
- As institutional investors expand their direct investment programs, it is unclear whether returns on direct investment deals will continue to be as successful.
One of the important issues in corporate finance is the rationale for and role of financial intermediaries. In the private equity setting, institutional investors are increasingly eschewing intermediaries in favor of direct investments. To understand the trade-offs in this setting, we compile a proprietary dataset of direct investments from seven large institutional investors. We find that solo investments by institutions outperform co-investments and a wide range of benchmarks for traditional private equity partnership investments. The outperformance is driven by deals where informational problems are not too severe, such as more proximate transactions to the investor and later-stage deals, and by an ability to avoid the deleterious effects on returns often seen in periods with large inflows into the private equity market. The poor performance of co-investments, on the other hand, appears to result from fund managers' selective offering of large deals to institutions for co-investing.