Middle Eastern sovereign wealth money still flowing, despite oil woes

February 11, 2015

Private equity firm The Carlyle Group  CG 0.14% reported fourth-quarter earnings this morning, managing to beat analyst expectations despite a 68% drop in economic net income from the year-earlier period.

Carlyle also said that its assets under management climbed to $194.5 billion, in part thanks to new commitments to its latest European buyout fund, U.S. real estate fund, international energy fund and a new Asian credit vehicle.

Neither the earnings decline nor the fundraising success were terribly surprising. What was a bit unexpected, however, is where a lot of Carlyle’s new capital commitments are coming from.

Co-CEO David Rubenstein said during an analyst call that there has been a marked increase in commitments from sovereign wealth funds, including from Middle Eastern governments that are under fiscal pressure due to falling oil prices. Same goes for commitments from many Asian sovereign wealth funds that are facing domestic economic headwinds.

“The large sovereign wealth funds are now coming into the market… and making very very large commitments, larger than we’ve ever seen before” he said. “And I don’t think there is likely to be a diminution in that trend this year despite the fact that you may say, for example, “In the Middle East, because oil prices are down, won’t the sovereign wealth funds there be pulling back?’ We’ve actually seen the opposite. We’ve been there many times in the last several weeks with many different funds, and we’ve seen no decrease in interest from the large Middle East sovereign wealth funds in deploying large sums of capital. The same is true in the Asian sovereign wealth funds.”

Rubenstein added that Carlyle historically has raised around 17% of its outside capital from sovereign wealth funds, but that the figure jumped to 37% last year.

On the flip-side, Carlyle is seeing much less interest from U.S. public pension funds. Such groups — at both the state and municipal level — historically comprised 28% of Carlyle’s outside commityments, but that was down to just 18% in 2014.

Two other notes from the Carlyle earnings call:

  1. Carlyle’s Bill Conway noted that while energy prices have certainly taken their toll on Carlyle’s earnings, the lower prices have been positive for the firm’s overall portfolio. Two examples he gave were Exalta, which uses oil for its car paints, and refinery Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which is “benefitting from the very high spreads between what it buys oil for and what it sells refined products for.”
  2. Rubenstein gave a bit of history related to Carlyle’s relationship with energy-focused private equity firm Riverstone Holdings. The general assumption has always been that Carlyle bolted after Riverstone was implicated in the New York pay-to-play investigation five years ago, but Rubenstein today noted that the deal had economics unfavorable to Carlyle. Namely, Carlyle only received around 16% of the 20% carry from Carlyle/Riverstone funds, and its amount of cash fees was less than 10% of what was earned by Riverstone.