Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tell-tale signs of tough times

It's been a tough year in the Asian private equity community, and it shows! The AVCJ awards dinner at the China Club was a time to celebrate those who survived and achieved against all odds. But the mood was not very uplighting.
Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley Asia set the tone with a speech about how a V-shaped economic recovery will be hit by four headwinds: the remaining half of the toxic assets still to be written down, the breadth of the downturn globally, an inability of China and India to boost the global economy by making up for a slowdown in U.S. consumer spending, and China's continued reliance on a boom to bust export-led economy. He encouraged those gathered to enjoy the night's food and wine because "it's not going to get any better soon."
On with the show: awards for best in the business, with a few asides. Picking up an award for private equity professional of the year, Jean Eric Salata of Baring Private Equity Asia took a look at his photo displayed on the screen, and couldn't help but remark about his thinning hair line. George Raffini of HSBC, collecting an award for lifetime achievement, also commented on his photo, where he sported brown hair, not the mostly grey today. It could be that photos used were out of date. But I think it's probably just a sign of how tough the business has been over the past 18 months.
Moving on, the venture capital of the year award went to Andy Yan of Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund. It's interesting to note that three of the five contenders for this trophy have Softbank in their careers. I think this says a lot about the venture empire that Softbank's maverick investor Masayoshi Son has built.
PS: Dan Schwartz (photo above) did not leave the event empty-handed. Though a nominee for the lifetime achievement award for his "lifetime's work in Asian private equity," the former publisher of AVCJ got a trophy, naturally enough, for publisher of the year. That brought smiles to those gathered, including those insiders (AVCJ publisher Allen Lee, for one) who master-minded the show. It's always good to have some light-hearted fun at these industry events, as Qiming's Gary Rieschel, who was taking bets on the winners, knows all too well.