Thomas H. Lee Partners still not fundraising

Feb 28, 2013

FORTUNE -- Thomas H. Lee Partners is taking it slow. No new deals since last June, and no plans to raise a new fund until later this year.

Last summer, things seemed to be moving in a much different direction. The venerable private equity firm agreed to acquire a majority stake in party supplies retailer Party City Holdings via a $2.69 billion recapitalization, and was telling people to expect fundraising -- or at least serious pre-marketing -- to begin by year-end. We reported on it in the Term Sheet email, adding that THL's current fund was 70% committed prior to Party City. Bloomberg followed up with an August story about how THL planned to seek $4 billion, and that the commitment level had risen to 75%.

But sources tell me that fundraising still hasn't started, and there isn't much sentiment that it will occur before the second half of this year.

At first glance, the delay seems surprising. Private equity firms typically begin raising new funds once existing ones are 70% committed, given that it can take anywhere from six to 24 months to complete a multi-billion dollar process. The difference here, perhaps, is that THL actually has plenty of capital remaining.

The firm's current fund officially closed in December 2007 with $8.1 billion, plus a $2 billion co-investment sidecar. And it hasn't announced any new acquisitions since Party City. So THL has at least $2 billion in dry powder, and possibly much more with the sidecar (which didn't necessarily participate in all of the main fund's deals). That figure wouldn't have meant too much back in late 2007, but today it's formidable. In fact, the better question may be if THL actually can put that much money to work by year-end -- or if it would be forced to request an investment cycle extension from limited partners.

Expect THL to spend the next several months trying to create a few more distribution checks for LPs, plus some refining of its going-forward team and investment strategy. Beyond that, nothing to see here. Yet.

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