Carlyle Group cancels $450 million American Express deal


Private equity firm Carlyle Group’s abrupt decision to pull out of a $450 million investment in American Express’ troubled travel agency business could help it save a foundering new investment strategy, The Post has learned.

The $195 billion Washington, DC, firm last week said it would be bowing out of plans to buy a 20 percent stake in American Express Global Business Travel, a joint venture with credit card giant American Express that offers hotel and airfare booking services to mostly mid-sized companies.

In pulling out of the deal on May 9 — the day before it was set to take place — David Rubenstein’s Carlyle blamed American Express Global Business Travel, saying the company violated the terms of an agreement to use the money for acquisitions and for a dividend payment as the coronavirus decimates its business, according to court records.

But critics point out that Carlyle’s flip-flop comes amid trouble with a new investment strategy that aims to hold on to its target companies beyond the traditional five-year timeline.

Carlyle kicked off that strategy in 2015 after closing on its first long-dated fund, Carlyle Global Partners, with $3.6 billion. The fund has invested 78 percent of that money with net negative returns from inception to the end of March, regulatory filings show.

Carlyle was in the midst of raising a new fund focused on longer term investments, dubbed the Carlyle Global Partners II, when the coronavirus hit. That fund has raised about $2.5 billion, but has not made any investments, sources said. The American Express unit would have been its first, according to public filings.

But things have changed since Carlyle agreed to invest in American Express Global Travel in December in a deal that valued the company at $5 billion. The value of the joint venture has fallen by at least 20 percent as the coronavirus has ravaged the travel industry, multiple sources said.

Had it gone through with the transaction, which is now being litigated in court, Carlyle would have had to mark down the value of its $450 million investment soon thereafter — leaving its second long-term focused fund in the red, sources said.

American Express Global Business Travel and Carlyle spokespeople declined comment.

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