Gillian Tan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals and private equity. She previously was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She is a qualified chartered accountant.

Back in 2013, Apollo Global Management's Leon Black said his firm was “selling everything that’s not nailed down." Three years on, his counterpart at Carlyle Group says it's still very much a seller's market.

"Maybe there is a time to sow and a time to reap," Carlyle co-founder Bill Conway said on the firm's second quarter earnings call Wednesday. "Right now is a pretty good time to reap, frankly."

The Washington-based private equity firm's bounty from cashing out of existing deals exceeded what it spent on new ones in the quarter, thanks in part to the sale of hair-care company Vogue International to Johnson & Johnson. It marked the 16th of the past 18 quarters that Carlyle has -- in Conway's words -- reaped more than it sowed. Collectively, in four-and-a-half years, it has spent less than half what it banked: $41.2 billion vs $82.3 billion, to be exact.

Cashing Out
Carlyle has sold $82.3 billion worth of assets in the past four-and-a-half years while spending half of that -- $41.15 billion -- on new opportunities
Source: Company filings

Elsewhere on Wall Street, however, the tide is turning. Apollo, for one, has been doing a lot more sowing (and not just this year). 

Big Spender
Apollo, after "selling everything that isn't nailed down," appears to be in investment mode.
Source: Company filings

Apollo has been willing to take on what others view as riskier deals like the buyout of struggling University of Phoenix owner Apollo Education and the purchase, announced this week, of DVD rental company Outerwall. By contrast, Carlyle has been biding its time in what it describes as a "challenging time to invest," due to slowing growth and low interest rates. It said it's being "constantly outbid" around the world by other private equity firms and strategic buyers.

Carlyle may be more occupied than others in coming quarters, either shedding stakes in its myriad of closely held companies or selling down shares worth a combined $12.5 billion in companies it has taken public.

Amassing Capital
Carlyle isn't sitting on record dry powder like rivals KKR & Blackstone. Still, as a percentage of its total assets, the firm has the most to spend.
Source: Company filings
*Based on figures as at Q1 2016 as firms have not yet reported Q2 earnings

But with $55.1 billion to spend, or roughly 31 percent its total assets under management (more than its rivals), the firm should rethink its approach. It must maintain a healthy level of investment lest it meet the fate of a farmer with little to harvest. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. Its largest positions include CommScope, Booz Allen Hamilton and Focus Media.

To contact the author of this story:
Gillian Tan in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at