Some Buyout Firms Taking Debt-Laced Dividends

A new Moody’s report shows that certain aggressive buyout firms are taking debt-financed dividends from the companies they own, and “potentially jeopardizing their ability to navigate a downturn,” according to an article in Institutional Investor.

The report shows that, since the end of 2009, Leonard Green & Partners, American Securities, Golden Gate Capital, TPG, and Apollo Global Management “have most frequently taken debt-financed dividends from companies they’ve bought,” with Apollo standing out because the dividends are large or taken soon after a buyout. [Note: Moody’s views debt-financed dividends as “aggressive” when they are paid within a year after a leveraged buyout, or they exceed 75 percent of a private equity firm’s initial equity investment in the deal.]

In a phone interview for the article, Moody’s senior vice president John Puchalla said, “You prefer to see a company use its balance sheet for its reinvesting in its business.”

Since the end of 2009, Moody’s has rated 308 companies purchased by the top 16 private equity firms, the article reports. One of the firm’s analysts told Institutional Investor that the low interest rate environment since 2008 has resulted in a “reach for yield in risky deals in the leveraged loan and high-yield bond markets.”

“In the next downturn,” the article concludes, “investors may come to regret backing some of those dividend deals.”