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Understanding private credit

Growth in non-bank lending providing new options for companies and investors, says Metrics’ Andrew Lockhart. 

Key points

  • Private credit is a growing asset class worldwide.
  • It enables investors to gain exposure to non-bank lending.
  • The main risk in private credit is borrower default.

Many Australians are familiar with real-estate investing through home ownership or buying a rental property. But what about investing in real estate debt?

That is the essence of private credit, a fast-growing alternative asset class that targets capital-seeking companies and income-seeking investors.

Preqin, an alternative assets researcher, estimates private credit worldwide will nearly double in size to US$2.8 trillion by end-2028. That is partly because banks could reduce lending to certain types of assets, forcing companies to seek other funding sources. That, in turn, could create opportunities for investors.

Private credit (also referred to as private debt) occurs outside traditional bank lending or public debt markets. Although private credit covers a wide range of lending strategies (including funding for acquisitions of distressed assets), it is mostly used for direct lending to large and small organisations.

For example, a property developer building an apartment block might use private credit to fund the project. Here, the developer cannot secure traditional bank funding because their bank is reducing its exposure to apartment developments in certain locations (possibly because it already has too much exposure).

The private credit fund that provides capital to the developer generates returns through interest payments on the loan. Investors in the fund hope to receive a stream of distributions – and potentially higher income return than they could earn in a term deposit or from equities.

The main risk is loan default. Just as banks assess borrowers and monitor loans, so too do private credit providers. If the property developer in this example cannot repay the loan, the private debt fund (and its unitholders) has a problem.

Private credit funds typically spread risk by having many loans in their portfolio. But the potential for loan default – at a time when insolvencies in the property sector are rising – is an important risk to consider.

Transparency is another consideration. Unlike ASX-listed securities, private loans do not trade on exchanges. Some private credit markets can be opaque, less liquid and have less price discovery compared to exchange-listed assets where an asset’s market price is always known and securities have greater liquidity. One way to manage this risk is to consider private credit funds quoted on ASX.

Metrics Credit Partners, a leading non-bank lender and alternative asset manager in Australia, has two ASX-listed funds.

These funds provide exposure to private credit through a Listed Investment Trust structure. Investors buy or sell units in the trusts, both of which have target yields and aim to pay monthly distributions.

ASX Investor Update asked Andrew Lockhart, Managing Partner of Metrics, about the features, benefits and risks of including private credit in portfolios.

ASX Investor Update: Andrew, why is the private credit market growing?

Andrew Lockhart: There are a few reasons. For investors, private debt has the potential to deliver higher income returns. Also, the income stability associated with the underlying asset class is attractive to many investors, in Metrics’ view. For companies, private credit is becoming a more important source of funding.

ASX: Are you seeing more opportunities in private credit?

AL: Yes. At the moment, credit demand from companies across the market remains strong. Metrics has invested substantially in its loan-origination capabilities and relationships with borrowers, which in turn is driving more opportunities to lend funds and create opportunities for investors.

ASX: Is there more interest from retail investors in private credit? 

AL: Metrics recently completed a successful capital raising for one of our funds (the Metrics Master Income Trust) that raised more than A$195 million. This involved a placement to wholesale investors and we opened up the capital raising to retail investors (through a unit-purchase plan) to acquire up to A$30,000 worth of new units. Metrics’ unlisted retail fund (Metrics Direct Income Fund) has also had strong fund inflows in the past few years.

ASXWhat does a typical loan from Metrics look like? 

AL: Our loans are bespoke. It might be to finance the core operations of a business or fund its growth through capital expenditure. Or Metrics might provide a funding line to support a company’s working capital requirements. The loan could be for a large or small organisation. In property, Metrics might provide a loan for an industrial property development or a new high-density apartment. The terms and conditions of each loan are designed to match the intended use of the proceeds – and the risk profile of the asset.

ASXHow do you safeguard against loan defaults? 

AL: Before issuing a loan, Metrics does a lot of work to get comfortable that the loan can be serviced. We need to know if the organisation can service the loan under different conditions, for example, rising interest rates. We then structure the loan to ensure there are sufficient lending protections, and that the loan will still be paid if the organisation’s credit quality deteriorates.

ASX: Have you seen any loan deterioration as the economy slows? 

AL: Metrics has not seen any deterioration in the credit quality of its portfolio. We are the largest non-bank real estate lender in the country and 60% of our assets under management are focused on commercial real estate. So, we have a good view of the property sector. What we see now is strong demand for residential property, which is partly due to strong migration, low property vacancy rates and rising rents.

ASX: Why would an investor choose private credit for yield over, say, large-cap Australian shares that provide dividend yield?

AL: As an asset class, private credit has lower risk than equity because debt sits higher in the capital structure in the event of a liquidation. In our experience, that appeals to investors and advisers who want to reduce the volatility of a portfolio, while still potentially generating attractive income.

At the same time, other investors might be looking to replace equities in their portfolio with higher-yield credit, such as private credit. Thus, private credit can play dual roles in portfolios: as a defensive investment that can potentially provide capital stability and higher income; and as a replacement asset for equities that can provide income and potential equity upside through the skill of the manager.

ASX: What do you regard as the main risk in private credit? 

AL: The biggest risk is an investor is exposed to the risk of credit loss in the event of a loan default. If the credit quality of the borrower deteriorates, and the loan default becomes a loss, there is a potential risk that investors could lose their capital. But the same risk is true for equity investors in companies that cannot repay their loans. There are also a range of macroeconomic risks associated with private credit, for example, interest rates and the state of the economy. Again, these risks are not unique to private credit.

ASX: What will the private credit market look like in five years? 

AL: We expect private credit worldwide to continue its growth. Regulators want to reduce systemic risks in financial markets by ensuring banks are appropriately regulated. That will mean more organisations will have to turn to non-bank lenders for funding in coming years. In Australia, we don’t have a bond market of any size or scale, so private credit has an important role in supporting the growth of quality companies and projects. But for all the potential, private credit is only as good as the managers behind it, in terms of how they assess and monitor loans, manage risk and allocate capital.

ASX: What sort of allocation could private credit typically have in a balanced portfolio?

AL: It varies, but probably less than 5% of a portfolio. In some portfolios, private credit will be held in the alternative assets allocation. In other portfolios, it’s part of equity allocation through a Listed Investment Trust.

01 March 2024 | ASX Investor Update
The content is for educational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice.  Independent advice should be obtained from an Australian financial services licensee before making investment decisions.
The Trust Company (RE Services) Limited ABN 45 003 278 831, AFSL 235 150 is the Responsible Entity of the Metrics Master Income Trust and Metrics Income Opportunities Trust (the Trusts).
This content has been prepared by Metrics Credit Partners Pty Ltd ABN 27 150 646 996 AFSL 416 146 (Metrics), the investment manager of the Trusts. For further information on the Trusts and Fund, please refer to the relevant PDS and Target Market Determination available at metrics.com.au.
The information provided is issued by The Trust Company (RE Services) Limited and has been prepared to provide you with general information only. In preparing this information, The Trust Company (RE Services) Limited did not take into account the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. It is not intended to take the place of professional advice and you should not take action on specific issues in reliance on this information. Neither The Trust Company, Metrics nor any of their related parties, their employees or directors, provide any warranty of currency, accuracy, completeness or reliability in relation to such information or accept any liability to any person who relies on it. Neither The Trust Company nor Metrics guarantees repayment of capital or any particular rate of return from the Fund. Always consult a licensed and trustworthy professional before making a financial, taxation or legal decision.