A raft of U.S. private equity firms backed by the country's largest endowment and pension funds stands to reap big gains from Ant Group's highly anticipated initial public offering, even as U.S. lawmakers push funds to halt investments in China.
Silver Lake Management, Warburg Pincus and Carlyle Group were the biggest U.S. backers in Ant's latest funding round in 2018, investing at least $500 million each in the fintech giant, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
The funds invested in China's biggest payments company when it was valued at about $150 billion. Bernstein estimates Ant is now worth about $210 billion, which would generate a 40% return for the funds if they were to sell in the IPO at that valuation. The private equity investors will probably hold on to their stakes, betting on more gains, people familiar have said.
Ant and Silver Lake declined to comment in emailed statements. Representatives for Warburg Pincus and Carlyle declined to comment.
The investments are the latest example of a money trail that has fueled China's biggest national champions and fattened the pockets of U.S. pension funds, ultimately benefiting American firefighters and teachers. The investment model is now under siege as U.S. senators call for inspections to curtail U.S. pension fund support for Chinese tech companies, while Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is scrutinizing U.S. fund investments in the sector.
More than 90% of U.S. foundations and endowments have some exposure to China, mostly through a broad emerging markets strategy, according to a 2018 survey of 47 respondents by consultant NEPC.
Chinese tech companies secured a record amount of funding just before the trade war went into full swing last year. Some of the largest venture capital and private equity firms — including Hillhouse Capital, Warburg Pincus and Sequoia Capital — also raised billions of dollars from a clutch of high-profile U.S. pension funds.
Warburg Pincus' China-Southeast Asia fund raised about $4.5 billion from pension plans in Ohio, Colorado and Florida last year. Carlyle's Asia Partners V LP in 2018 added about $6.6 billion from pension funds in Kentucky, New York state and California. Silver Lake Partners V LP, which secured $15 billion from pension funds including Washington State and Texas, has invested in Ant as well as Chinese tech companies including artificial intelligence giant SenseTime Group.
SZ DJI Technology Co. became the world's biggest commercial drone maker with money from a venture firm whose investors include the $10.5 billion Delaware Public Employees Retirement System, Dover, and the $70.5 billion State of Michigan Retirement System, East Lansing. ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, has benefited from capital raised via pension funds in New York and Oregon.
Among these private companies, Ant's IPO has been the most anticipated for its sheer size. The company, controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, said last week it would pursue a simultaneous dual listing in Hong Kong and on the Shanghai stock exchange's STAR board. The Hong Kong share sale alone could raise about $10 billion, people familiar have said.
Ant raised about $14 billion in 2018 from backers including Singapore's GIC — which has more than $400 billion in assets; the $37.1 billion Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Kuala Lumpur; Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Toronto, which has C$409.6 billion ($305.3 billion) in assets; the S$306 billion ($221.4 billion) Temasek Holdings; Warburg Pincus; and Carlyle Group.