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Beware the elephants of Asia

Is there too much capital trying to find a home?

Asia’s gravitational pull on global capital markets is now affecting private equity. According to banking sources, perhaps as much as $20 billion has already been raised by global private equity funds specifically for investment in Asia. That is a staggering number in its own right. But add to that the leveraged capital that such funds employ to boost equity returns and the firepower likely to be trained on Asian targets in the next few years could be as high as $100 billion.

Investment bankers might salivate at the fees bonanza that this sum implies but a dose of sobriety is due. Asian markets are a far cry from the homogeneous US or European markets, where commonality of currency and regulatory environment provide one deep pool in which to fish. Although it is true that Asia’s private equity pioneers have made some spectacular gains, competition for assets early in the investment cycle was light to non-existent and success often comes at a high political price: witness events in Korea and Japan.

Despite the obvious challenges, private equity firms are queuing up to open Asian offices, especially as valuation expectations among buyout vendors have soared in the US or Europe.

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