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Thursday, February 15, 2007


jon livesey

I happened to catch this radio program, and I noticed that as long as the moderator allowed Malony to make speeches, he came across as quite effective. A lot of scary-sounding sound bites about asset stripping, lack of transparency and "short-term-ism".

Eventually, the other participants grew tired of this, and simply told him to be specific. They asked for specific examples of companies that had come to harm through buy-outs, and what specific data he wanted private capital to publish that they don't already. At that point the air started to go out of Malony.

Also, Moulton - I think - did a pretty good job of explaining what timescales private capital really works on - seven years, he said - and how a buyout can actually bring more effective governance to bear on management than shareholders' meetings that few people bother to attend.

I was pleasantly impressed by how even-handed the BBC moderator was. Usually the BBC can make "profit" sound like a word you should not broadcast before 9pm.


jl: "Also, Moulton ... did a pretty good job of explaining what timescales private capital really works on - seven years"

The outcome depends upon the circumstance and particularly the size of the company.

Let's remember, for instance, that "private capital" bought out several British car companies ... to no avail. The cars, for the most part, are no longer produced in Britain.

Equity capital usually works best in highly specific circumstances where a company has been run for too long by the same hands (a family enterprise, for instance). Its management has become too attached to the business as well as the "honor and respectability" that goes with running a local business.

Equity capitalists come in with no such "silly" notions. They are heartless and apply Business School remedies that work – and that means first and foremost redundancies for its workforce. But, they keep the company alive and in many circumstances, save some jobs. It is the best that can be hoped for.

We have not understood, either in Europe or America, that there is no sense in competing with unskilled and even semi-skilled labor in the Far East. The challenge is therefore to upgrade our labor force with new skills and, thereby, new employment opportunities.

I know this seems without specifics. It is a long-term strategy of sorts because there are no short term fixes. The UK is ahead of the game because either it saw or was forced to regard in the face the fact that the country was transitioning from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.

That the Industrial Age started in Britain and left first from Britain should surprise no one. It is a question of pragmatism, which the rest of Europe and (surprisingly) America has yet to understand.


What's interesting about private equity that no one seems to mention is that the largest PE investors are typically pension funds managing the money of those typically complaining over such deals.

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One potential flip side of this—to my knowledge not yet the subject of any enforcement action—is whether ownership by a sovereign equity fund would turn someone into a “foreign official.” For example, Temasek Holdings is a Singapore government-owned fund. If it purchases a majority interest in a company, does that transform the employees of that company into “foreign officials?” It’s an open question.

I had to deal with that issue within a company when asked whether, for purposes of non-US anti-bribery acts (like the UK one), AIG employees count as foreign officials. The government owns about 80% (or did, at one point). Or when the government ousted Ken Lewis at B of A. Same idea.


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The size of the private equity market has grown steadily since the 1970s. Private equity funds tend to have much longer investment horizons than funds that hold publicly-traded securities. Private equity firms will sometimes pool funds together to take very large public companies private. Private equity consists of investors and funds that make investments directly into private companies or conduct buyouts of public companies that result in a delisting of public equity.

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