Masters of This Universe

The largest private equity firms are bulking up their war chests and readying themselves to make deals

Blackstone Group

Chairman: Stephen Schwarzman; Assets: $91 billionStrengths: The diversified financial firm invests in companies, real estate, mortgages, and debt. Blackstone made $410 million last year advising companies on mergers, acquisitions, and restructurings.Weaknesses: Shares are down 35% since the company's 2007 IPO. One holding, Hilton Hotels, has been battered by a drop in tourism.

Carlyle Group

Founders: David Rubenstein, Daniel D'Aniello, William Conway Jr.; Assets: $85.5 billionStrengths: Carlyle uses its political clout to land deals. Former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker III are among those who have worked for the firm.Weaknesses: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating whether Carlyle influenced pension fund managers to snag more business.

Bain Capital

Founders: Mitt Romney and seven partners; Assets: $60 billionStrengths: Turnaround artists known for their strong management skills, the firm bought a 93% stake in Domino's Pizza in 1998 and sold it to the public six years later, returning 400% to investors.Weaknesses: Bain's portfolio is filled with troubled retailers, including craft chain Michaels and Guitar Center.

Kohlberg, Kravis, & Roberts

Founders: Henry Kravis & George Roberts; Assets: $55 billionStrengths: The firm—whose 1989 takeover of RJR Nabisco inspired the book Barbarians at the Gate—is poised to capitalize on infrastructure spending. It also is eyeing a South Korean brewer.Weaknesses: One KKR unit's shares plummeted after suffering a $40 million loss on bad mortgage investments.

TPG

Chairman: David Bonderman; Assets: $50 billionStrengths: A specialist in reviving floundering businesses, TPG could scoop up assets in Chapter 11. The firm is skilled at collecting fees from its portfolio companies up front.Weaknesses: TPG lost $1.7 billion on its investment in Washington Mutual, which was seized by regulators and sold to JPMorgan Chase.

Apollo Management

Chairman: Leon Black; Assets: $45.1 billionStrengths: With hundreds of names in its portfolio, Apollo can weather the downturn. One holding, big-box grocery store Smart & Final, is surging as consumers look for discounts.Weaknesses: Apollo has plenty of clunkers among its companies, including Harrah's and Realogy.

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