Regional PE deals on up as ESG investing takes lead

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Powered by strong economic growth, private equity (PE) investments in Southeast Asia rose to a record $25 billion in 2021, up 143 per cent compared to 2020. Vietnam’s deal value more than tripled to $2.1 billion.

The surge in dealmaking followed a sharp decline in 2020 amid lockdowns and restrictions. Each country in Southeast Asia set new investment highs last year, and five megadeals accounted for 33 per cent of the total deal value.

Andrea Campagnoli – Partner Bain & Company Singapore and Kiki Yang Partner – Bain & Company Hong Kong

Internet and tech investments made up the largest share of Southeast Asia deal value and volume in 2021. Overall, investments in early-stage companies increased fivefold in 2021 and those in growth companies rose 143 per cent. Exit value in Southeast Asia rebounded to $8 billion, with Singapore making up most of the increase. A sharp rise in initial public offerings (IPOs) across the region included Singapore’s Grab Holdings ($4.3 billion) and Straive ($1 billion).

The Asia-Pacific region’s pool of fast-growing internet and tech unicorns rose to 277 by year-end, an increase of more than 60 per cent over 2020, according to CB Insights. Asia-Pacific’s share of the global count of unicorns was 54 per cent at the end of 2021. To date, Southeast Asia has produced 50 unicorns, including 28 in Singapore, 12 in Indonesia, five in Vietnam, and three in Thailand, according to Tech in Asia.

A key trend amid record deal-making is the accelerating shift to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing. Like investments in digital technologies a decade ago, sustainability is fundamentally reordering priorities and strategies for businesses of all types. Many fund managers now view ESG criteria as a core consideration in investment decisions. That’s a 180-degree shift.

As governments and regulators speed the shift to a sustainable economy – including transparent supply chains and sustainable products and processes – PE funds see an opportunity. Nearly 40 per cent of PE funds in the Asia-Pacific region have begun embedding ESG considerations into their overall fund strategy for value creation. It is a significant shift and a trend that will accelerate in the coming decade.

At the same time, the increase in ESG regulations across the region has created a significant investor focus on companies with products and services linked to the environment, renewable energies, and clean technologies. Investments in clean technology in the Asia-Pacific region rose 230 per cent in 2021, following a 106 per cent jump in 2020. More than 95 per cent of PE investors plan to increase their focus on ESG-related issues in the coming 3-5 years, encouraged by investor demand, according to our 2022 Asia-Pacific GP survey.

Research by Bain and the Institutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA) shows limited partner (LP) attitudes and action in 2021 reached a turning point, both globally and in the Asia-Pacific region. Worldwide, a solid majority of LPs now require their general partners (GPs) to anchor ESG criteria in fund strategy and value creation plans. Seventy per cent of LPs say their organisations’ investment policies include an ESG approach, and 85 per cent of those have fully or partially implemented an ESG investment policy. In total, ESG considerations affect 76 per cent of PE assets under management.

Momentum is accelerating partly because society is demanding action, but also because LPs increasingly believe that incorporating ESG criteria into a PE fund’s investment strategy improves its performance. In the Bain-ILPA survey, half of global LPs said applying ESG criteria to investments boosts valuation premiums. For this group, leading on sustainability and climate change helps solve pressing global problems while increasing returns.

Global LPs are raising the bar for GPs, including those in the Asia-Pacific region. Two-thirds of global LPs avoid investing in funds at the bottom of the ESG performance scale, according to the survey. Nearly half think it is important to evaluate GPs’ ability to provide ESG-related key performance indicators, and more than 80 per cent plan to increase ESG demands on GPs in the next three years.

Countries across the Asia-Pacific region have recently pledged carbon-neutrality targets and begun implementing roadmaps and policies in line with US and EU targets. Moreover, the ESG regulatory landscape in Asia is evolving rapidly, making the criteria an increasingly integral factor in investment decisions. Over the past decade, governments throughout the region have implemented strict disclosure regulations for ESG data. Since 2020, for example, Hong Kong has required mandatory climate-risk reporting for all listed companies and pre-IPO ESG disclosures.

Leading investors are using the global momentum to address climate change as an opportunity to shift from a narrow, carbon-only approach toward a more holistic ESG strategy. They are going beyond compliance with regulations and seeking investments that will have a positive environmental or social impact while creating value.

ESG already has begun to significantly shape the PE segment. In the coming decade, the transformation will accelerate. Leaders are taking bold steps now to ensure they are on the front line of change. They are pioneering the way forward, embedding ESG in diligence and portfolio value creation – a path that will improve sustainability and generate financial value.

Vietnam standing its ground in private equity realm

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted countless lives and businesses, causing the world’s economy to slump as global GDP shrunk by 4.1 per cent in 2020, as estimated by S&P. Nonetheless, Vietnam stood out as one of the brighter spots of 2020 with an estimated GDP growth rate of 2.91 per cent thanks to its effective handling of the pandemic.

Private equity firms pivot investment focus in Vietnam amid crisis

Private equity firms are actively seeking potential investment targets in Vietnam with a number of deals being secured during the fourth outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Andrea Campagnoli and Kiki Yang