Cinven and Advent seek to offload risk on €17bn Thyssenkrupp deal

Cinven and Advent, the private equity firms behind the planned €17.2bn acquisition of Thyssenkrupp’s lifts business, are searching for other investors to help them pay for Europe’s biggest buyout deal in a decade, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The two groups are seeking to pull in additional equity to reduce their own exposure to the deal. They have spoken to investors including Canadian rival Brookfield, which was earlier defeated in the multi-month auction for the lifts division, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, people with direct knowledge said.

The elevators deal was struck in February, just as the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic started to roil markets. Its hefty €17.2bn price tag was emblematic of a multiyear boom in private equity-backed deals that had pushed asset prices higher.

While buyout firms often sell on chunks of equity after agreeing to large deals, the crisis has left Cinven and Advent trying to sell down at a high price tag when some investors have less funding to allocate to private equity. This has caused the process to take longer than usual.

“People will remember Thyssenkrupp in association with Covid, as a landmark deal before the market crashed,” said one investor not involved in the deal.

Cinven and Advent plan to fund the acquisition with about €7bn in equity and the remainder in debt.

So far the buyout firms have raised more than €2bn in equity from investors including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and a Ruhr Valley group, the RAG Foundation, people familiar with the matter said. Thyssenkrupp has previously said it will invest €1.25bn to keep a minority stake in the elevator business once it is sold off.

People close to Cinven and Advent said the majority of the equity syndication was accounted for and only a small chunk remained. Even if no more investors came in, the groups would still be able to complete the acquisition, the people said; the risk is only that they would end up holding more of the business than planned.

Typically, buyout groups try to avoid having too much of a fund concentrated in one deal because it can drag on overall performance if it goes badly. Advent’s latest fund is worth $17.5bn and Cinven’s is €10bn.

Some investors declined to buy in because of limits on the maximum percentage of their fund that they can allocate to private equity. A tumble in the value of their stock portfolios has pushed existing private equity commitments closer to that threshold.

“The deal got signed when it got signed and the world has changed,” one potential investor said. “There are way more investment opportunities available now than in February.” The buyout firms declined to comment.

Speculation has also mounted over whether Advent and Cinven will look to sell parts of Thyssenkrupp’s lifts business, such as the North American unit, after the deal completes. 

The battle for Thyssenkrupp’s lifts business was fiercely fought over for months, before Advent and Cinven finally saw off competition from Brookfield, Finland’s Kone, and an investor group led by Blackstone and Carlyle.

Meanwhile, some of the largest investment banks have been forced to take significant loan markdowns in their most recent results because of financing commitments made to pay for the deal. Some of the loan exposure was hedged, and some losses may have been partly offset by a subsequent market rally. 

Goldman Sachs has the largest share, at more than €1.5bn of the €8bn of debt exposure for the deal, three people familiar with the matter said in March. Barclays and Credit Suisse are also among the banks with large exposure, the FT has previously reported. On top of that there is €2bn in so-called “payment in kind” (PIK) debt, which is higher risk because the borrower can pay interest with further debt.

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The Thyssenkrupp lifts unit, which employs more than 50,000 people and generated €8bn in sales last year, is widely seen as relatively recession-proof because the majority of its revenues come from contracts to service elevators. The share prices of rivals Kone, Schindler and Otis have not been hit hard by the crisis. But the sheer size of the deal has complicated matters. 

Advent and Cinven’s bid values the company, whose lifts are installed in skyscrapers such as One World Trade Centre in New York, at about 14 times its adjusted earnings of just under €1.2bn, two people familiar with the matter said at the time of the deal. Its total leverage, the ratio of its debt to earnings, will be about eight times, one of the highest levels recorded on a large European private equity buyout in recent years. 

The deal is scheduled to close in July, people familiar with the process said. None of those contacted said they expected it to fall through, a prospect that would be disastrous for Thyssenkrupp. The German industrial conglomerate is relying on the money from the sale to fund billions of euros worth of pension liabilities and shore up its remaining steel, automotive and materials businesses.

Additional reporting by Robert Smith in London