The EU seems unintimidated by various threats the hedge fund and private equity fund industry have tried to make to forestall efforts to restrict the activities of those firms. The EU proposed both limiting the ability of EU nationals to invest in non-EU funds, and the ability of non-EU players to operate within the EU.
The idea that any government dare tell the moneybags what to do is a bit of a stunner to the industry, which has gotten used to having its way in the US and UK. But despite the loud noises from the industry, there has been no change in the stance of the Europeans.
Indeed, it gets even better. An EU parliamentarian who is the rapporteur on the proposed reforms, in effect said that what was at stake was 3000 hedge fund jobs….in the UK. That’s a rather pointed way of saying the EU thinks it has nothing to lose via this change.
From the Guardian (hat tip reader Swedish Lex):
The loss of up to 3,000 jobs in City hedge funds and private equity firms is a price worth paying for tougher rules on the sector, an influential MEP said today.
Jean-Paul Gauzès, the European parliament rapporteur on a proposed directive on alternative investment, said: “If the directive wipes out two or three thousand speculators, I am not going to be sad.”
In his first trip to London in more than 30 years, Gauzès said that Europe should become a “fortress”.
Non-European hedge funds should be allowed into the region only if they met certain criteria, he said, and the new directive should be enacted regardless of whether it led to an exodus of hedge fund and private equity managers…
The visit by Gauzès, aimed at increasing communication and transparency, only added to the anger felt in the industry.
“It takes chutzpah to come to London, without speaking English, to say you wouldn’t be sad if thousands of jobs are lost in London,” an industry source said.
Yves here. Do you see the stunning sense of entitlement? How many times have regulatory changes led to the loss of thousands of factory jobs? Did any of these Masters of the Universe have any sympathy? And the reason the EU wants to leash and collar them is that they have engaged in predatory conduct, a point that also seems to escape these “victims”.
Hedge funds continue to maintain that they had nothing to do with the crisis. I am hoping to put up a in the not-too-distant future on an April 2007 paper by Henry Maxey of Ruffer (a UK money management firm), “Cracking the Credit Market Code”. It was an amazingly prescient piece of work. It described how “funding liquidity” came from “non-bank financials”, which he calls “hedge fund banks” which are more fragile sources of liquidity. His paper (60 pages long, impossible to do it justice in a short space) demonstrates that structured credit arb (using lower-rated CDO tranches) as well as the lesser but still very significant leverage of CLOs were the major contributors to the liquidity boom that ended so badly.
And this post from the Columbia Journalism Review (hat tip reader Francois) shows that the European skepticism is warranted:
This from The Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street is the stat of the day (okay, it ran yesterday):
Nearly half the 163 U.S. nonfinancial companies that defaulted last year were backed by private equity.
Now I don’t have a number for how many U.S. nonfinancial companies overall are backed by private equity, but you can bet it’s nowhere near half. This disproportionate failure isn’t because private-equity companies are really bad at picking investments. It’s because they levered up their acquisitions with cheap debt to goose their returns, and now these companies, who employ (or employed) lots of people, can’t meet their debt service, much less invest in the business. That’s helping choke the economy.
This raises a critical point about private equity: Why isn’t that industry being included in financial reform? What about Blackstone?
If these firms destroy or hobble companies by loading them up with debt, sometimes to pay themselves massive dividends that recover all their equity with no earnings, where’s the legislative scrutiny. How many jobs have been lost because of the excess debt loaded onto otherwise healthy companies? It can’t be insignificant.