Basics of Private Market Investing

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Contributor, Benzinga
September 13, 2023

Private market investing is an excellent way to diversify your portfolio and possibly generate higher returns. This alternative form of investing has become increasingly popular as investors seek to access unique investment opportunities and tap into the potential of fast-growing sectors such as technology, biotechnology and renewable energy. Benzinga reviews the basics of private market investing and how you can get started in this exciting asset class.

What is Private Market Investing?

Private market investing involves acquiring ownership stakes in companies, real estate, venture capital, private equity funds, hedge funds and other assets that are not publicly traded. Typically, investors in private markets obtain shares through direct transactions with sellers or intermediaries such as brokers, investment banks or online platforms. They may participate in secondary markets to buy or sell existing private market investments from other investors.

How Does Private Market Investing Work?

Private market investing works by connecting investors with private companies or assets seeking capital or liquidity. Investors can have different roles and expectations depending on the type and stage of the private market opportunity. For instance, private equity investors aim to acquire controlling stakes in established companies, enhance their performance and eventually sell. On the other hand, venture capitalists focus on nurturing innovative startups, hoping for substantial returns upon IPO or acquisition.

Investors can access these opportunities through direct investments, professionally managed funds, online platforms and intermediaries. The choice of approach depends on individual preferences, risk appetite and investment objectives.

Regulatory Considerations

Private market opportunities generally require investors to be accredited. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an accredited investor can either be an individual with a net worth of over $1 million (excluding their primary residence) or an annual income over $200,000 (or $300,000 jointly with their spouse) for each of the last two years. An accredited investor can also be an entity, such as a corporation, partnership, trust or fund that has a net worth of over $5 million or an owner who is an accredited investor. 

The accredited investor requirement ensures that only investors with sufficient financial sophistication and resources participate in certain private market investments.

Common Types of Private Market Investments

Private market investments can be classified into different categories based on the nature and characteristics of the assets. 

Venture Capital Investments

Investing in early-stage or startup companies with high growth potential comes with high risk. Venture capitalists provide funding and guidance in exchange for equity or ownership stakes. While successful companies offer high returns, failures can result in total losses.

Private Equity Investments

Private equity investments involve acquiring mature companies not publicly traded through leveraged buyouts. Private equity investors use debt and equity to finance the purchase and then implement operational, financial and strategic changes to improve company performance and profitability. 

Real Estate Investments

Real estate investments involve physical properties like land, buildings and infrastructure. Investors can acquire properties directly or through intermediaries such as REITs, real estate funds or crowdfunding platforms. The goal is to generate income through rents, leases or fees and capital appreciation from price appreciation or development. 

Hedge Funds and Private Debt Investments

Investors in hedge funds and private debt seek alternative assets like commodities, currencies or loans. They employ sophisticated strategies, including short selling, arbitrage and leverage, to generate high returns despite market conditions. Private debt investors lend money to private companies or individuals without access to traditional financing, while hedge fund investors rely on superior skills and insights to capitalize on market inefficiencies.

Benefits of Private Market Investing

Private market investing can offer several benefits to investors looking for more than public market investing can provide. 

  • Potential for higher returns: Private market investing can offer higher returns than public market investing because these assets tend to have higher growth rates, lower valuations and less competition than public market assets. 
  • Access to unique investment opportunities: Private markets offer exclusive investment opportunities not accessible in the public markets, including innovative startups disrupting technology, biotech and renewable energy industries. Underserved niche sectors like microfinance, social impact and emerging markets also fall under this category. These opportunities can lead to financial rewards as well as social and environmental benefits.
  • Flexibility and control over investment decisions: Private markets allow greater control and flexibility than public markets. Investors have more say in investment terms and conditions, can select their managers and advisors, monitor performance and progress and exit at a desired time and price.

Risks and Challenges of Private Market Investing

Private market investing is not without risks and challenges that investors should be aware of and prepared for. 

  • Lack of liquidity and longer investment horizons: Private market investments have limited or no secondary markets, making it difficult for investors to sell or exit their investments. They also require a long-term perspective, with holding periods ranging from 5 to 10 years or more. 
  • Higher risk factors: Investing in private markets is more uncertain, volatile and complex than in public markets. Operational, financial, legal, regulatory, market and environmental risk factors could affect performance and viability. Transparency, disclosure and governance standards may also be lower. 
  • Challenges in valuing and assessing potential investments: Private market investments can be challenging to evaluate and compare because of the absence of standardized and reliable data, metrics and benchmarks. Valuations may be influenced by various assumptions and methodologies that may not accurately reflect the investment's true potential value. Also, complex structures, terms and fees could impact investor rights and net returns. 

How to Get Started in Private Market Investing

Before diving into private market investing, evaluate your personal investment goals and level of risk tolerance. This type of investing requires a high degree of financial sophistication, resources and commitment, so it may not be suitable for everyone. 

To succeed, investors build a strong network of fellow investors, sellers, intermediaries and experts who can help evaluate potential investments. Seek professional advice from an accountant, financial advisor, lawyer or tax professional to fully understand the legal, financial and tax implications of your investments.

Due diligence involves verifying and validating the information and claims of sellers or intermediaries about investment opportunities. It requires a comprehensive analysis of market, industry, company, management, financials, risks and returns. Review all contracts and documents carefully.

Spreading investments across different types of assets, sectors and geographies can reduce your exposure to any single source of risk. Diversification can boost your chances of achieving higher returns while minimizing losses.

Private vs. Public Market Investing

Private market investing and public market investing are two different ways of investing in assets that have their advantages and disadvantages. 

  • Accessibility: Public markets are more accessible than private markets because of the availability and ease of buying and selling assets on regulated exchanges. Private investments are limited and can only be traded on unregulated markets, making them harder to find.
  • Transparency: Public market investments are more transparent because standardized regulations demand information disclosure. Private market investments are often subject to fewer regulations, allowing for greater discretion and privacy.
  • Volatility: Investing in public markets is inherently more volatile than investing in private markets because of the influence of supply and demand, news and events and sentiment and expectations, leading to frequent price fluctuations. Private market assets, on the other hand, tend to be insulated from these factors, resulting in more stable prices.
  • Returns: Private market investments can yield higher returns because of higher growth rates, lower valuations and lower competition than public markets. Public markets may offer lower returns because of their lower growth rates, higher valuations and higher competition.

Platforms for Private Market Investments

If you are looking to handle your investments, online platforms can aid you in sourcing, negotiating and finalizing private market investments. To help you choose, Benzinga has provided a comparison table of various online platforms offering different types of private market investments.

Invest in Private Markets Like a Pro

Private market investing can be a rewarding way to diversify your portfolio and generate higher returns. However, it also comes with significant risks and challenges that require careful consideration and preparation. Following the steps and strategies outlined in this blog post, you can learn how to invest in private markets like a pro.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Can a private limited company invest in the stock market?

A

Yes, a private limited company can invest in the stock market if it complies with the relevant laws and regulations that apply to its business activities.

Q

What are examples of private market investments?

A

Some examples of private market investments are venture capital investments in startups, private equity investments in mature companies, real estate investments in properties and private debt investments in loans.

Q

Do private companies have a market cap?

A

No, private companies do not have outstanding shares traded on public markets, so they do not have a market cap.

About Anna Yen

Anna Yen, CFA is an alternative investment writer with over two decades of professional finance and writing experience in roles within JPMorgan and UBS derivatives, asset management, crypto, and Family Money Map. She specializes in writing about alternative investment topics ranging from derivatives to real estate and cryptocurrencies. Her work has been published on sites like Quicken, the crypto exchange Bybit, and Credit.com.