Distressed Investments: Profiting from Economic Upheaval

Private equity firms are raising money for distressed-assets funds like never before.


Global turmoil and economic uncertainty can pay off . . . if you’re a private equity firm raising money for a distressed-assets fund. That’s because plenty of businesses are finding it harder than ever to succeed in today’s challenging marketplace, according to Anup Sathy, a restructuring expert with law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Sathy joined several investors on a recent Harvard Business School conference panel to speak about the latest opportunities in what has become a red-hot niche. Pension funds are looking for new ways to beef up their portfolios, and they’re discovering that allocating a slice of their assets to special situations is a good way to do it, Sathy said. But the distressed-assets arena isn’t without its challenges. “You want to fix everything, like a doctor treating a sick patient in the hospital,” he said. “But the company’s executives and directors usually want you to be out of there as quickly as possible, whether or not you’ve addressed all the problems.” For instance, Hostess Brands, the venerable company which produces the Twinkie, has undergone two restructurings in recent years. Another panelist, Centerbridge Partners senior managing director William Rahm, offered a solution: “We’ve never replaced a CEO and then lamented we did it too quickly.”