DLA Piper's market outlook for private equity in Central and Eastern Europe in 2023
The private equity market in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is forecasted to have a sluggish start in 2023, but with expected growth in the second half of the year. This can be attributed to the global recession and its effects on banks and consumer spending in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Additionally, sectors such as technology, healthcare, and energy are expected to see the most private equity activity. Read below to learn about DLA Piper’s perspective on each of the regional markets where we are seated.
Private equity in Austria has tended to increase in recent years. Historically, Austria was not particularly strong in Private Equity and Venture Capital. Only 0.045 percent of GDP comes from PE investments. There are few PE funds in Austria, however, and investments from international PE funds occur regularly.
Even during the Covid-19 period, transactions were happening and there was no apparent slowdown. After a strong expansion in the first half of 2022, the Austrian economy was in a slowdown phase towards the end of the year. The economic slowdown is spreading to all value adding sectors. Real GDP is expected to roughly stagnate in 2023, with inflation remaining high throughout the year.
“The PE outlook remains positive for 2023. However, access to leveraged finance is getting significantly more difficult given the implications resulting from the war in Ukraine, growing energy prices, inflation and the overall economic environment,” says Maria Doralt, partner in the Finance & Projects and M&A teams. “In the medium run, we expect PE to grow in Austria, especially given the pace of technology-driven change. We also expect investors to increasingly invest in a targeted manner, with PE being an important tool in this respect.”
“I see the forecast for the Czech PE/M&A market in 2023 split into two different periods,” says Miroslav Dubovský, country managing partner and head of the Corporate team DLA Piper’s Prague office. “In the first half of the year, there could be a slowdown. The reasons are obvious, although the average inflation in 2022 was more than 15%, the Czech Crown strengthen to the unprecedented levels with the help of Czech National Bank interventions, with current exchange rates around 24 CZK per 1 EUR. That makes potential targets for acquisitions in the Czech Republic more expensive for any foreign investor. On the other hand, it creates opportunities for the Czech investors going abroad.”
Miroslav continues: “In the second half, I expect that the M&A market will revitalise as the sellers pricing expectations will adjust to the market value, and lower exchange rate of the Czech Crown will help to realise their gains and the need to finally invest capital will increase on the side of the investors.”
“In 2022 we already saw major ups and downs in the M&A activity in Hungary, including PE,” comments Gábor Molnár, partner and head of the Corporate and M&A team at DLA Piper Hungary. “The general elections and the resulting governmental reshuffling, the war in the neighbouring Ukraine, the ongoing dispute with the EU concerning Hungary’s access to the EU funds, a weak HUF and the EU’s highest inflation had a paralysing effect on the transactional market in H1 2022 but it slightly improved in H2. Particularly, we saw some truly successful PE exits and capital raises, so last year was not all black,” Gabor adds.
Looking forward, considering the global uncertainties, it is expected that PE firms may become more cautious on their investment decisions, particularly as to what (sub)sectors, countries, companies they still consider relatively “future proof”. This may lead to longer decision making and transaction timelines. Due to the high interest rates, availability of acquisition financing is also an issue (similarly to the other CEE markets). “If I had to name one segment that remains active, I would say proprietary software development and SaaS – the successful exits and capital raisings last year may be an indicator of the resilience of this area and also the continuing appetite,” says Gábor. W&I insurance is expected to be considered more and more often in the Hungarian transactions. “This was rather rare in the past. Long (60+ days) completion time appear to remain with us given that the Hungarian FDI clearance laws catch almost all major cross border transactions, not only those concerning strategic assets,” concludes Gábor.
“The private equity (PE) market forecast for 2023 can be divided into two parts,” says Jakub Marcinkowski, partner and head of the Private Equity team DLA Piper’s Warsaw office. “The first half of 2023 will be stagnant, but we can expect growth in the second half, occurring in parallel to expected economy recovery.” This perspective can be attributed to several factors, but the root cause is the global recession.
Banks are feeling the knock-on effects of the global economic downturn. In November, inflation in Poland was at 17.5%, resulting in high interest rates, less consumer spending, and more defaults on loans. Additional factors to bear in mind are significant exposure to Swiss franc credits and the high volume of mortgage payment deferments occurring currently. The “Credit Holiday Act” came into effect in August 2022, and within two days 500,000 borrowers had enrolled. According to Credit Information Bureau (BIK), there are nearly 3.5 million mortgage borrowers in Poland. All these reasons have an impact on banks’ ability or willingness to provide loans.
“Banks are in a tough position right now and any potential expenditures are being extremely scrutinised. There is an unwillingness to provide leveraged financing which PE houses rely on,” says Jakub.
However, in the second half of the year, after summer, a stabilisation of inflation and economy recovery is expected. “Recovery is no doubt coming, we just don’t know precisely when. Businesses will eventually find a way to get deals done,” says Jakub. The sectors that are expected to see the most PE activity are technology, healthcare, and energy, particularly renewables such as photovoltaic and wind.
“With a growing economy and businesses reaching critical mass, as well as generational transfers in some cases, Romania is ripe for dealmaking these days. Debt funding, however, is a key issue and, as it becomes less available and more expensive, valuations are under pressure – which means that deals may not progress as quickly as in the past. Also, after several good years for new deals, several Romania-focused funds may need to complete new fundraising drives to replenish their dry powder. All this points to a slower start in 2023,” says Marian Dinu, country managing partner and head of the Corporate M&A and PE/VC team at DLA Piper’s Bucharest office.
Annual inflation rate for December, in Romania, was 16.4%, but it is on a downward trend.
“I see a year with opportunities for transactions, but, overall, PE funds will be prudent on new deals and perhaps more active on exits. Bolt-on transactions will continue to occur at a normal pace,” added Marian.
The number of PE deals in Romania in 2022, as reported by Mergermarket, has slightly decreased by 20% versus 2021.
“Despite quite turbulent times now in Slovakia, as in many other countries with the energy prices rising and interest rates growing, the Slovak private equity and venture capital market remains active and there are some positive expectations for further growth in 2023. I expect the second half will be more active than the first. This may be supported by the new Slovak government following the expected autumn elections.
As Slovakia is quite a politically stable country in comparison to other countries and has EURO currency – these factors make it attractive for investors despite all uncertainties. Thanks to nuclear power, Slovak industry may benefit from self-sufficiency of electric power and a reliable grid. We expect certain investments to continue in areas such as Information Technologies, Retail, Agriculture, Telecommunications, Energy (including hydrogen energy) and Education” says Michaela Stessl, country managing partner of Slovakia’s DLA Piper office.
In conclusion, the private equity outlook in Central and Eastern Europe remains positive for 2023, despite the challenges faced by the global recession and the economic slowdown in some countries. Access to leveraged finance may be more difficult, but businesses are expected to find a way to get deals done in the second half of the year. Additionally, technology-driven changes are expected to drive growth in private equity in the medium-term, with investors increasingly investing in a targeted manner.