In finance, the private equity secondary market (also often called private equity secondaries or secondaries) refers to the buying and selling of pre-existing investor commitments to private equity and other alternative investment funds. Given the absence of established trading markets for these interests, the transfer of interests in private equity funds as well as hedge funds can be more complex and labor-intensive.
Sellers of private equity investments sell not only the investments in the fund but also their remaining unfunded commitments to the funds. By its nature, the private equity asset class is illiquid, intended to be a long-term investment for buy-and-hold investors, including “pension funds, endowments and wealthy families selling off their private equity funds before the pools have sold off all their assets.”
For the vast majority of private equity investments, there is no listed public market; however, there is a robust and maturing secondary market available for sellers of private equity assets.
Buyers seek to acquire private equity interests in the secondary market for multiple reasons. For example, the duration of the investment may be much shorter than an investment in the private equity fund initially. Likewise, the buyer may be able to acquire these interests at an attractive price.
Finally, the buyer can evaluate the fund’s holdings before deciding to purchase an interest in the fund. Conversely, sellers may seek to sell interest for various reasons, including the need to raise capital, the desire to avoid future capital calls, the need to reduce an over-allocation to the asset class or for regulatory reasons.
Driven by strong demand for private equity exposure over the past decade, a significant amount of capital has been committed to secondary market funds from investors looking to increase and diversify their private equity exposure.