Deals

Chris Hughes is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals. He previously worked for Reuters Breakingviews, as well as the Financial Times and the Independent newspaper.

If you want a measure of how worried private equity firms are by political risk in Europe, these eight companies are a good guide.

Looming elections in France and the Netherlands are giving leveraged buyout firms an incentive to sell their remaining stakes in companies they've previously taken public.

Over the coming weeks, lock-ups that stop the firms from reducing their holdings in the companies in the table below will expire.

Heading for the Exit?
The owners of these companies will be able to start cutting their stakes in coming weeks
Source: Bloomberg

If recent activity is a barometer of private equity's mindset, expect to see chunks of some of these names hitting the market before long. The New Year rush of European share sales has continued into February -- and got bigger.

Private equity firms Advent International Corp. and Bain Capital LLC jettisoned their remaining stake in Worldpay Group Plc on Wednesday, raising 606 million pounds ($756 million). A day later, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s private equity unit almost halved its stake in Dong Energy A/S, raising 6.5 billion Danish kroner ($940 million).

Holding Up
European stocks have climbed since the U.S. Presidential election
Source: Bloomberg

Stock prices are still pretty high relative to their level prior to the U.S. election. Meanwhile, investors have lots of cash and want to find bargains: secondary stock offerings give them an opportunity to buy into companies at a modest discount.

Last month was the busiest January in more than a decade for the number of secondary share sales on European exchanges, although most were pretty small -- varying in size from $100 million to $400 million.

While much bigger, the Worldpay and Dong sales were completed at relatively narrow discounts to the stocks' previous closing prices. Goldman Sachs increased the amount of Dong stock on sale -- even though the deal came just a couple of weeks after another shareholder sold a block of shares in the company.

These are almost always good months, but activity seems unusually high. Elections, which will have implications of all of Europe, appear to be focusing the minds of private equity firms. Selling today means forgoing further potential capital gains, which could otherwise boost returns for the firms' clients. But the judgement seems to be better to take cash now while the opportunity is still there.

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

To contact the author of this story:
Chris Hughes in London at chughes89@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net