Private equity’s banner year is not confined to the U.S. Onex Corp. announced earnings today, showing that it carved out its own slice of record industry deployment and asset sales. Surging valuations have pushed many private equity firms to accelerate exits, and Onex’s $3 billion in asset sales and distributions are no exception.
BDO’s Fall 2021 Private Capital Pulse indicates expectations are trending upward for private equity exits. Even after a ravenous M&A feast that saw 2020 backlogs picked dry, 42 percent of polled dealmakers see exits driving future deal activity up from 35 percent in the spring.
Private equity exit multiples continue to track higher, and the middle market is no exception. In fact, the share of middle-market exits as a portion of all PE sales reached 38.5 percent in the first half of the year, regaining ground lost during the pandemic. In the second quarter alone, such activity represented $87 billion in enterprise value. More of those exits are trending toward the $100 million to $500 million range, according to data compiled by Pitchbook, pointing to a premium awarded to platforms.
Onex’s $47 billion in assets under management makes it slightly more comparable to the middle market than U.S.-listed peers that start to clock in at 6 times that figure. And a look at a smaller firm could be more instructive—the number of companies for sale has plateaued from 1Q to a forecast of 4Q even as the targets’ average revenue and Ebitda margin have fallen, according to a recent Axial data dive.
In a marketplace increasingly awash in expensive, smaller companies, where does a midsized PE player place its money? Onex continues to make bets on travel, industrials, and business services, in expectation that the eventual easing of Covid and supply chain-related restrictions will provide upside in those sectors, president Bobby Le Blanc told Bloomberg recently.
In selective sweet spots, at least, private equity still sees deployment and realization opportunities.