* Canada's CDPQ, with C$300 bln in assets, eyes direct investing
* Expertise required means approach still in early stages
March 19 (Reuters) - Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ), one of Canada's biggest public pension funds, has relied on private equity firms to invest in leveraged corporate buyouts. Now it is building its own investing team to depend less on buyout firms as middle men.
Private equity firms buy companies only to sell them a few years down the line for a profit. Their reputation as costcutters eyeing a speedier exit makes some companies more open to consider an investment from a longer-term investor such as CDPQ instead.
"These are interesting (opportunities) because typically these entrepreneurs or corporates didn't want to partner with standard private equity firms," Stephane Etroy, CDPQ's head of private equity, said in an interview.
In recent years, large pension and sovereign wealth funds have teamed up with private equity firms to co-invest in corporate takeovers, in a bid to earn a greater share of profits and reduce their fees. However, private equity firms offer these co-investment opportunities only to their fund investors, known as limited partners.
Investing without the involvement of a private equity firm is still rare, making up only 62 of more than 300 direct deals carried out in 2017 by investors who were not private equity firms, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The majority of these direct deals were co-investments.
CDPQ, which manages almost C$300 billion ($229.2 billion) for retirees in Quebec, now makes two-thirds of private equity investments without the use of external managers.
To be sure, investor demand to get into private equity funds is still outstripping supply, resulting in record fundraising for the industry in 2017.
The resources required for such deals, ranging from sourcing opportunities to industry expertise, mean the option is open only to larger players like blue-chip pension funds and sovereign wealth funds.
"When you think about going direct without sponsors, for us it's probably more the exception than the rule," said Simon Marc, head of private equity at PSP Investments, another Canadian pension fund.
"We will do that in situations, typically with entrepreneurs or families, where people are looking for long-term capital and they want to stay away from traditional private equity-type capital," he added.
CDPQ has much bigger plans for solo investing. The fund is looking to boost its headcount in Singapore - one of its three private equity offices along with London and New York - to more than ten in order to "have critical mass" for direct investing.
"We are looking to hire professionals coming from private equity firms," Etroy said.
($1 = 1.3087 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York Editing by Marguerita Choy)