US PE firm launches Australian fund

Harbert Management has plans to launch a $150m fund to invest in small businesses.

US-based alternative private equity player that counts the $92 billion Future Fund among its investors, Harbert Management Corporation, is launching a new Australian fund with plans to raise up to $150 million.

The company wants to buy stakes in small businesses.

Among its investments have been the locally based Emeis Holdings cosmetic company, which operates under the brand Aesop.

Harbert sold a 65 per cent interest in that business a year ago to Brazilian giant Natura Cosmeticos for $US71.6m.

Harbert, a family-founded company that is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, has $US3.2bn ($3.4bn) of assets under management and its origins in the construction industry.

It launched an Australian fund at the beginning of last year, raising $40m, with investment recently opening and the closure targeted towards next year, in the anticipation of raising at least $100m.

The first fund owns interests in companies including signage business Sumo Visual Group, Techdrill and software company FastTrack.

The group was targeting the healthcare, software and industrial services sectors, said the chief executive of its Australian private equity arm, Jeremy Steele.

"Healthcare for Australia and similar to other countries around the world is such an issue that is only going to get a bigger spotlight on it."

The second fund recently opened and Harbert would invest about $20m.

Yesterday, chairman and chief executive Raymond Harbert, whose late father founded the company, described its private equity arm as being a niche investor and said the company had previously scoured the Australian market for commercial real estate investments, but was deterred by the low yields offered compared with other international destinations.

"In the institutional property market in Australia the yields are really, really low -- 4 or 5 or 6 per cent," Harbert said.

Venture capital and mezzanine lending were also both hard to make work for the company, Steele said.

Among the group's other investments in Australia have been an interest of at least 80 per cent in the Melbourne-based cardiac testing service provider Cardioscan, which it bought last year in a deal putting the company's enterprise value at about $13m.

The company has hospital and pathology clients including Ramsay Health Care, Primary Health Care and Healthscope.