MICHAEL Queen, 3i’s chief executive, has been quietly repairing the firm’s balance sheet since he arrived in January 2009. Yesterday, he was keen to signal a change in direction; having spent over a year preparing for growth, he said he would now start delivering it.

There is some evidence to suggest the new era has already begun. Investments in the first-half rose to £327m (compared to £190m in 2009) while realisations fell to £293m, from £507m in the first six months of 2009.

Still chunky debt acquisitions worth £110m accounted for around half of its investments, and there were just two new buyouts: French healthcare firm Vedici (£35m) and Trescal (£23m), a precision measurement expert. 3i’s dealmakers might have woken from a long slumber, but they are hardly alive and kicking.

In many ways, buying 3i is really a punt on the private equity space. If it does recover, Queen’s hard work coupled with 3i’s liquidity should ensure the firm still trades at a relatively small 2.4 per cent discount to its 30 September net asset value.