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Risk and Return of Private Equity: An Overview of Data, Methods and Results

29 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2009  

Ludovic Phalippou

University of Oxford - Said Business School; University of Oxford - Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance

Date Written: March 3, 2009


I cover the different methods to measure risk and return of investing into private equity (also called buyout). However, the reader may bear in mind that the challenges and methods are very similar for other assets classes such as venture capital, real estate or mezzanine. In terms of vocabulary, I call a (portfolio) company the entity receiving the financing from a private equity fund, and private equity firm the organization running private equity funds (e.g. KKR funds, Bain capital funds).

The capital committed to private equity funds increased from $3.5 billion in 1984 to over $300 billion in 2007 and more than $1 trillion of assets are estimated to be in the hand of private equity funds in 2007. This growth has often been attributed to a widespread belief of stellar performance and low risk but no rate of return has even been shown in support of this belief (only some multiples or IRRs) and no risk measure has been computed. Recent academic evidence which I document below is at odd with this belief.

In this chapter, I review studies of risk and return of private equity which I complement with original empirical work. I distinguish between four types of data. Each represents a different level of challenge for measuring risk and return. From the easiest to the most difficult: i) publicly traded vehicles, ii) round valuation data [the econometrician knows the initial and final value of the investment but does not know the time-series of investment values; there is no intermediary cash-flows], iii) investment level [cash flows realized by the fund from an investment], and iv) fund level [cash flows faced by investors for their stake in a fund]. In the last two cases, the econometrician does not have a correspondence between each amount distributed and invested. These two cases require the same method, are most challenging and are the most relevant in practice.

Suggested Citation

Phalippou, Ludovic, Risk and Return of Private Equity: An Overview of Data, Methods and Results (March 3, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Ludovic Phalippou (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

University of Oxford - Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance ( email )

Eagle House
Walton Well Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6ED
United Kingdom

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