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April 14, 2011

LP Interview: Johanna Klein of ADB

Venture Intelligence recently spoke to Johanna L. Klein, Investment Officer, Capital Markets and Financial Sectors Division of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), who is active in the multilateral development financial institution’s investments into private equity funds across Asian emerging markets.

Venture Intelligence: What is ADB’s outlook on new Private Equity fund investments in India?

Johanna Klein:
Our starting point is that, as a development bank, we should always have some clear value addition in the role we play in private equity. Starting several years ago, there began to be a lot of money from commercial sources going into generic Indian PE funds, so we cut down our investing in sector-agnostic funds and started focusing on niche type funds. Subsequent to that, most of what we have invested in India has been in clean energy and cleantech type of funds. Going forward, apart from cleantech, we will look at the healthcare sector, the education sector, and other “bottom of the pyramid” types of sectors.

VI: How about infrastructure funds?

It’s certainly a sector of interest, but it is hard for us to play a significant role in large-scale infrastructure funds, given our typical bite size. We also have an in-house division that does direct investments in infrastructure

VI: How do returns from Indian PE funds compare to those in other markets?

JK: My feeling is that Indian funds have performed acceptably, particularly since they have been able to survive multiple large-scale events - like the 2001 and the recent financial crisis and various other upheavals. But it has taken a while to provide returns due to these macro events. In our portfolio, the China funds that have done really well are the ones that have timed the market very effectively and have gotten a few really big wins on IPOs to generate outsized returns. The Indian funds haven’t got their returns on the same scale; but they have gotten consistent returns through local IPOs and trade sales.

VI: What is your view of corporate houses floating PE funds?

JK: Sponsored funds and funds backed by financial institutions have a lot of scope for issues and conflicts of interest. When a big conglomerate has private equity as one of their operations, the value proposition they articulate to investors is always really good: they promise a lot of synergies and so on. But, in reality, it’s difficult to manifest that advantage, and overall I’m wary of such funds.

VI: What are the key challenges before Indian PE funds?

JK: I don’t think there are that many issues. In one instance, a fund manager had to make use of the Indian legal system to resolve a situation with a portfolio company. Eventually, they made it through, but the take away was that it was slow. Hopefully the legal process will become more nimble in the future.

The full version of the interview appears in the latest issue of the Venture Intelligence India Private Equity Roundup Quarterly Report.