UK Accounting Glossary
J curve refers to the shape of a graph used in the fields of macroeconomics and finance to illustrate a turnaround. In macroeconomics, the J curve is typically used to show how the depreciation of a country’s currency tends to impact such a country’s trade deficit. First, the depreciation has a negative impact on the trade deficit caused by higher-priced imports (i.e bottom part of the “J”). Over time, however, the J curve effect shows that the trade deficit “turns around” (i.e. vertical part of the “J”) and decreases as the depreciation stimulates more exportations and reduces imports.
The J Curve is also used in the field of private equity where it refers to the performance of a private equity fund over time. The J Curve usually reflects performance as measured by internal rate of return (IRR). The J curve occurs because private equity involves large up-front injections of cash and usually takes a long time to return any of the benefits back to investors. In fact, the performance of private equity funds are almost always negative for a number of years before turning around and returning larger positive returns; hence the J Curve. The J Curve is caused by two main drivers. The first cause of the J Curve is the management fees that must be taken out of the cash infusion to account for management of the fund. The second main driver of the J Curve effect is that fact that companies in the portfolio of a private equity fund that go bad tend to do so earlier in the lifecycle of the fund than the turnaround by companies that will see growth. The write-down or write-off of the unsuccessful investments early on in the fund’s lifecycle serves to amplify the J Curve. The J Curve serves as a reminder to investors that private equity is a long-term asset class and positive returns in the early years are not to be expected. The J Curve is also known as the J-curve effect.
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This glossary post was last updated: 9th February 2020.