UPDATE 3-AXA private equity raises $8 bln for bank asset buys
* Expects $40-$50 billion of bank assets to come to market
* Raises largest specialist secondaries fund at $7.1 mln
* Initially targeted $3.5 billion
* AXA earlier bought portfolios from Citi, Barclays
By Douwe Miedema and Simon Meads
LONDON, June 18 (Reuters) - AXA Private Equity has raised a larger than expected $8 billion from investors, much of which it will use to take assets off the hands of banks cutting down their exposure in the face of growing pressure from regulators.
Banks, which urgently need to fortify their capital buffers, are in a rush to offload private equity assets they spent billions on in the heady days before the financial crisis, causing a flurry in so-called secondary sales.
"AXA Private Equity predicts a significant increase in activity in the secondary market over the next two years," the investment arm of French insurance group Axa, said in a statement on Monday.
The firm expects between $40 billion and $50 billion of bank assets to come up as a result.
New rules for capital known as Basel III make it much more costly for banks to hold risky assets, and they need to free up all the capital they can to support profits in their core lending and investment banking businesses.
Private equity portfolios - which expose the banks to any weakness in the companies that are part of them - are among the assets requiring higher capital buffers, making them an obvious target to shed for many banks.
Axa Private Equity had initially been after some $3.5 billion for its fund but ended up raising more than double that amount at $7.1 billion. An additional $900 million will go towards its primary fund of funds, the group said.
Traditionally, private equity houses buy companies with large amounts of debt financing. They then aggressively cut costs, improve performance, and sell it on for a profit, usually through a stock market flotation.
If they find no outside buyers, they often flip assets between rivals. The model for AXA Private Equity's secondaries fund is slightly different in that it takes investment portfolios off the hands of banks.
Last year, AXA bought a $740 million portfolio of private equity holdings from Barclays and earlier acquired a bumper $1.7 billion portfolio from Citigroup.
Its fundraising success follows U.S. Group Lexington Capital, which last year raised $7 billion, then the largest ever fund raised by a secondaries specialist. Rival Coller Capital is seeking to raise some $5 billion.
"The banks continue to sell ... There is no lack of dealflow, and there is no lack of demand for that dealflow," said Thomas Liaudet, partner at private equity advisory firm Campbell Lutyens.
BIG DEALS VANISH
Deal-making in the private equity industry - once home to conspicuous multi-billion deals such as KKR's 11 billion pound ($17 billion) acquisition of Alliance Boots and Terra Firma's 4 billion pound purchase of EMI - has been tepid ever since the onset of the financial crisis.
In the absence of finding new deals, as bank lending for the debt-heavy leveraged buy-outs has dried up, many firms have spent more of their time buying mid-sized companies from rivals. May saw a flurry of such deals.
Silver Lake and Partners Group bought Swiss tax-free shopping business Global Blue from rival Equistone, while two private equity groups are in the hunt for Europe's biggest frozen food company Iglo Group, now owned by buy-out firm Permira.
The former head of Britain's biggest mobile phone company Everything Everywhere approached private equity groups six months ago about an 8 billion pound buyout, but found no takers, sources said this weekend.
Not only have buy-out firms lost their access to funding, it is also harder for them to sell companies to stock markets, which are virtually shut for new entrants because of the weak global economy and the euro zone debt crisis.
The owners of German chemical company Evonik, for instance, are set to scrap plans for what could have been Europe's biggest initial public offering in more than a year, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday