How To Assess Private Equity WaterfallsAdvisor Perspectives
Most private equity funds set their ”hurdle rate,” or preferred return, at around 8%, though this may vary depending on the fund’s strategy. This means the fund manager must generate an annualized net return of at least 8% for investors before the manager can share in any of the profits.
In an asset class where investors typically expect net performance of around 15%-20%, the preferred return is a critical tool to ensure that managers achieve a prespecified baseline return before they can collect incentive compensation.
However, it is important for investors to properly assess a private equity fund’s waterfall, or the allocation of distributions between the general partner (GP) and limited partners (LPs), in order to ensure proper alignment of interests. There are four primary components to a distribution waterfall:
- Return of capital: 100% of a fund’s proceeds are distributed to investors until they have received an amount equal to the total amount they have invested.
- Preferred return: Investors continue to receive 100% of fund proceeds until the fund has achieved its preferred return, or hurdle rate, as defined in the fund’s offering documents. While the typical preferred return in private equity is 8%, it is often 6% in the case of private credit funds, which usually have lower target returns than buyout funds.
- GP catch-up: Once a fund has returned all contributions to investors and reached its preferred return, the GP is then able to begin collecting carried interest, which is calculated by going back to the first dollar of profits generated by the fund. In order to recoup the GP’s share of returns accrued prior to reaching the hurdle rate, most managers include a GP catch-up provision, which allows a manager to retain most of a fund’s profits (often 80%) until it has received its stated share of the gains.
- Remaining distributions: After the manager is “caught-up” and has received its incentive for fund returns beyond the hurdle rate, all remaining proceeds are then allocated between LPs and the GP at the specified rate (typically 80%/20%, respectively).
While these four components are relatively standard across most private equity funds, there are variations on how a GP may implement its waterfall. The most common variations are the European and American waterfalls. The designation of European versus American refers to the way that the waterfall is structured, not the geographical location of the manager. Under a European waterfall structure (described above) carried interest is calculated at the fund-level across all deals. In this situation, the GP does not begin to take carried interest until the fund has returned all LP contributions across all deals, and delivered the preferred return.
Read the full article by Nick Veronis and Dan Fletcher, Advisor Perspectives