private equity sponsors

Economic headwinds and the interest rate environment that developed over the course of 2023 increased financial stress on portfolio companies and portend heightened litigation risk in 2024 for portfolio companies and their private fund sponsors. Specifically, interest rate increases that accelerated through 2022 continued in 2023, and compounded existing economic stressors including tight liquidity and inflation coming out of 2020 and 2021, as well as increased cost and other burdens related to ESG and regulatory compliance. These pressures put portfolio companies in often unsustainable financial positions, causing them to prematurely seek liquidity events, violate debt covenants with lenders, and resort to bankruptcy, all of which has led to an increase in disputes and litigation, which we expect to continue in 2024.

Everything, everywhere, all at once is our risk thesis for 2023, but one must not forget about concentration risk.  This issue has rocketed up diligence agendas for LPs and GPs alike as the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank proved it really was the bank for venture capital.The entry of SVB into receivership on March 10, 2023 highlighted just how central it had become to U.S. venture capital, providing deposit and credit facilities not just to asset managers, but also to many (and in some cases the vast majority) of their portfolio companies and investors.  While deposit accounts were protected in full, companies unable to access those accounts for several days faced significant disruption.  Further, while borrowers were still bound by terms of credit agreements, there was no immediate obligation on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver to honor drawdown requests (although the bridge bank did announce it would honor credit facilities). Net asset value (NAV) lines, subscription lines and investors’ own deposit and credit lines were also affected. The deposits and loans of SVB were acquired from FDIC by First Citizens Bank on March 27, 2023.

Everything, everywhere, all at once, as a descriptor, captures the litigation and regulatory risks for the asset management industry in 2023. Every corner of the market faces greater risks than at any time since 2008. After years of breakneck growth fueled by low interest rates and a largely laissez faire regulatory regime, significant change is here.

As our other Top Ten posts have demonstrated, there is no shortage of risks for private fund sponsors to navigate in today’s economic and regulatory environment. Nevertheless, they need to prioritize the risk that hits closest to home – lawsuits by private litigants seeking to pull sponsors, their funds, and their board director designees into litigation. These suits most frequently arise out of portfolio companies and most notably sale, business combination, or other liquidity or change of control events at a fund’s portfolio company. We have seen a considerable uptick in these types of lawsuits over the last several years, and we expect the trend to continue – and likely accelerate.     

Private credit lenders began 2020 facing the dual challenges of an increased risk of defaults and a lack of strong financial covenants, and the pandemic sparked a significant increase in defaults to 8.1% in Q2. However, borrower defaults in Q3 and Q4 were lower than anticipated following the COVID-fueled spike