Private equity activity soared to pre-global financial crisis levels last year, while venture capital and early stage investment slumped, a report says.

According to the New Zealand Private Equity and Venture Capital Monitor, total investment increased 88 per cent last year to $554 million, a value not seen since 2007.

The increase was driven by growth in "buy-out" private equity activity, which lifted more than 300 per cent on 2010 to hit $294 million, and a 71 per cent increase in "mid-market" activity to $223 million, the report said.

Colin McKinnon, executive director of the New Zealand Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, which produced the report with Ernst & Young, said buy-out deals were defined as transactions where the enterprise value exceeded $150 million and mid-market transactions were those valued at less than $150 million.


Buy-out investments included the secondary deal for Tegel Foods, the report said.

But while private equity activity surged ahead, venture capital and early stage investment fell from $94 million in 2010 to $36.6 million last year.

McKinnon said there had been some large transactions in 2010, and last year fund managers had been investing smaller amounts of capital in their existing portfolio companies rather than making new investments.

The drop in investment between 2010 and last year was not particularly worrying, he added.

"It's really a maturing of the process in that investors are spending time building the companies they've already invested in.

"It probably is a little worrying for those new companies that are looking for funding. The venture space is still very difficult and we need new funds to enter that space."

Association chairman Kerry McIntosh said the group issued a report last year alerting the Government to the "currently unsustainable state of the New Zealand venture market".

"Companies seeking to raise capital in the $2 million to $10 million range, to fuel growth plans, will find very limited capacity in the New Zealand market until new funds are established," McIntosh said.

The report said a total of 84 investments took place last year, two up on 2010, while the average deal value nearly doubled to $6.6 million.

Total divestment value lifted to $907.9 million as a result of four large divestments with a combined equity value of $891.8 million.