Secondary Private Equity Market 

Authored by: Astrid Qing


Hello and welcome to my blog channel. Today, we're going to embark on an enthralling journey through the lesser-known but equally fascinating world of secondary private equity markets. While many of you may already be well-versed in the workings of primary and secondary markets in the public sector, it's time to shed light on the exciting and often misunderstood realm of private equity and its own secondary market.

Similar to the public market, the private equity landscape is divided into primary and secondary segments, each boasting its own distinct characteristics, challenges, and opportunities. In this all-inclusive guide, we'll delve into the captivating history of secondary private equity markets, highlighting their inception and growth over time. We'll also examine the various types of secondary private equity transactions, discussing how they provide unique investment possibilities and diversification options for investors.

Additionally, we'll outline the numerous advantages of participating in the secondary private equity market, such as increased liquidity, risk management, and the potential for higher returns. Finally, we'll explore the new directions and emerging trends within the secondary private equity space, which could pave the way for even more innovative investment strategies in the future.

So, buckle up and prepare to dive into the exhilarating world of secondary private equity markets as we break down its complexities and uncover the wealth of opportunities it has to offer.

Let's get started!

Why does the secondary market exist?

Secondary markets arise due to the presence of large amounts of capital. The evolving preferences and strategies of investors have resulted in an increasing demand for early liquidity. Private equity is recognized for its illiquid nature, with investors typically committing capital for extended periods, often exceeding a decade. Consequently, the development of a secondary market to enhance liquidity is crucial and inevitable.

While liquidity enhancement is not always the primary motivation for investors, many sales have been driven by new regulatory frameworks and investors taking a more proactive approach to their portfolios. For example, Basel III and Solvency II are two regulatory measures that pressure banks and insurance companies to strengthen their capital and minimize risks, leading to more secondary sales. Investors are also transitioning from broader investment strategies to more focused ones, concentrating their investments on major fund managers. As a result, many investors need to reconfigure their portfolios, which may involve selling assets through secondaries.

In essence, investing in asset classes like private equity and venture capital has become increasingly complex, requiring investors to adopt various strategies to optimize returns or comply with regulations. Consequently, more investors are turning to secondary sellers as a means to modify or enhance their portfolios while gaining additional liquidity that would otherwise be inaccessible. Over the next few years, the trend of investors utilizing secondaries is expected to rise further, largely due to the continuously evolving financial landscape.

What is a secondary private equity market?

Private equity secondaries refer to the acquisition of interests or assets from primary private equity fund investors, commonly referred to as limited partners (LPs). These transactions can be tailored to the requirements of the involved stakeholders. The private equity secondary market has become increasingly attractive due to its adaptability and potential advantages for stakeholders. Secondary transactions provide LPs with the chance to restructure or liquidate their portfolio, while buyers can benefit from shorter durations, faster returns on capital, discounted asset access, and increased transparency. By investing in firms that provide essential goods and services to stable end markets and successful businesses, investors may potentially decrease their exposure to market fluctuations.

Similar to the secondary public market, which encompasses stock trading, bond trading, derivatives trading, and more, the private equity secondary market also consists of a variety of transactions. The two key players in the market are General Partners (GPs) and Limited Partners (LPs).

General Partners (GPs)
General Partners are the investment professionals who manage private equity funds. They are responsible for identifying, evaluating, and executing investments on behalf of the fund. GPs typically have a high level of involvement in managing portfolio companies, providing strategic guidance, and creating value. In the secondary market, GPs play a significant role through the following:

GP-led secondary transactions
GPs can initiate secondary transactions to provide liquidity to existing LPs, restructure a fund's portfolio, or raise additional capital for new investments. In these transactions, GPs typically create a new fund or vehicle to purchase the existing fund's assets. This can result in a reset of the fund's lifecycle, extending the investment period and providing the GPs more time to realize value from the underlying investments.

Portfolio sales
GPs can sell a portion of their fund's portfolio or individual assets in the secondary market, which may be driven by a desire to exit non-core assets, optimize the fund's performance, or address regulatory or risk management concerns.

Limited Partners (LPs)
Limited Partners are the investors in private equity funds, typically comprising institutions such as pension funds, endowments, insurance companies, and high-net-worth individuals. LPs commit capital to the fund and receive distributions from the fund's investments over time. In the secondary market, LPs are involved through the following:

LP stake sales
LPs can sell their interests in private equity funds in the secondary market to other investors. Reasons for these sales may include rebalancing portfolios, exiting underperforming funds, or addressing liquidity needs. LPs selling their stakes might seek buyers who are interested in acquiring exposure to specific funds or industries.

LP-led fund restructurings
In some cases, a group of LPs may work together to initiate a restructuring of a private equity fund. This typically occurs when the fund's performance or management is not meeting expectations, and the LPs seek to replace the GP, restructure the fund's terms, or sell their interests to new investors.

Advantages of GP-Led Secondaries

The current economic landscape has created challenges for many, however GP-led secondaries remain attractive in this environment. For every private equity fund nearing the end of their lifespan, continuation funds can help them monetize on past investments while allowing the GPs to keep any blue chip assets that have shown strong performance. This creates the opportunity to build buy and build businesses such as retail chains or health service providers with capital consolidation. By leveraging previously successful investments and diversifying into more attractive acquisitions at lower costs, these businesses stand to outperform even in a down cycle.

This trend is further supported by the desire of GPs to avoid selling prized assets, particularly during times of uncertainty when market prices may be relatively low. Thus, it has become increasingly important for these companies to take control of their portfolios and create long-term strategies for growth and value generation through continuation transactions or secondaries rather than selling all their valuable investments into pools of capital. Continuation funds have created an immense opportunity for these companies to continue holding onto their most successful investments while taking advantage of add-on opportunities that are now much more accessible via secondaries. This further serves to increase the overall appeal of GP-led secondaries in any given environment.

Here are some advantages of the GP-Led Market

Flexibility for GPs and LPs
The GP-led secondary private equity market provides flexibility for both GPs and LPs. GPs can sell their fund’s assets to a new investor, providing liquidity to LPs who want to exit the fund. This allows GPs to continue managing the remaining assets in the fund and potentially generate additional returns for the remaining LPs. LPs, on the other hand, can sell their stake in the fund to the new investor, providing them with liquidity and the ability to exit the fund early.

Improved Pricing
The GP-led secondary private equity market can provide improved pricing for both GPs and LPs. GPs can sell their fund’s assets at a premium to the current net asset value (NAV), providing a higher return to LPs who want to exit the fund. This can be especially beneficial in situations where the GP has successfully turned around underperforming assets in the fund. LPs, they can potentially sell their stake in the fund at a higher price than they would receive if they waited for the fund to reach maturity.

Reduced Dilution for LPs
In some cases, GPs may choose to raise additional capital for a fund through a secondary offering. This can dilute the ownership stakes of existing LPs. However, in the GP-led secondary private equity market, GPs can sell the fund’s assets to a new investor without raising additional capital. This reduces the dilution for existing LPs and allows them to maintain their ownership stakes in the fund.

Access to New Capital
The GP-led secondary private equity market can provide GPs with access to new capital. In some cases, the new investor who purchases the fund’s assets may also be interested in investing additional capital in the fund. This can provide GPs with the ability to continue investing in new opportunities and potentially generate additional returns for the remaining LPs.


Famous Private Secondary Marketplace

Alplnvest Partners: Dutch-French global private equity asset manager with over $85 billion of committed capital since inception as of December 31, 2022. The firm invests on behalf of more than 450 institutional investors from North America, Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. AlpInvest operates three investment teams focused on private equity: Primary Fund Investments, Secondary and Portfolio Finance investments, and Co-Investments.


Ardian (formerly Axa Private Equity): France-based, independent private equity investment company, founded and managed by Dominique Senequier. It is one of the largest European-headquartered private equity funds. Ardian's 880 investors include institutional investors, funds of funds, government agencies, sovereign funds, family offices, pension funds, and insurance companies). The firm has been ranked one of the largest companies by the amount raised in equity by Private Equity International and was named "Company of the Year" in 2013 by the readers of Private Equity International.


Coller Capital: The firm is now among the world’s biggest secondary specialists. It has raised over $ 30 billion across nine funds. Some of its transactions are among the largest in the private equity secondary market, including deals of $ 1 billion without the need for syndication. It has also made single investments as small as $ 1 million.


Lexington Partners: The largest independent manager of secondary acquisition and co-Investment funds in the world, founded in 1994. Lexington manages approximately $55 billion of which an unprecedented $14 billion was committed to the firm's ninth fund (Lexington Capital Partners IX, closed in January 2020).This renders it the largest dedicated secondaries pool of capital ever raised at the time.

Additionally, major investment banking firms including Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley have active secondary investment programs. Other institutional investors typically have appetites for secondary interests. More and more primary investors, whether private-equity funds of funds or other institutional investors, also allocate some of their primary programs to secondaries.


The secondary private equity market has experienced substantial growth over the past decade and is now a viable alternative to traditional primary investments. This growth has been driven by increasingly sophisticated strategies, as well as an expanding range of participants that span all stages of the private equity lifecycle. These include buyers such as institutional investors, pension funds, family offices, and other financial institutions.

Secondary investors can purchase interests in private equity funds or portfolios of assets at discounted prices and benefit from greater liquidity and diversification. The most common types of transactions involve the sale of LP interests in established funds, direct sales of portfolio companies, special purpose vehicles for syndicating portfolio company positions, and buying artificial portfolios constructed with underlying fund interests. In the future, the market is expected to further develop with an increasing number of participants and more sophisticated strategies.

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