Category Archives: Private equity

Gretchen Morgenson on the Damage of Private Equity Secrecy (and a Mention of Our CalPERS Suit)

Gretchen Morgenson filed a must-read story on the range and some of the consequences of the private equity fetish for secrecy. The short version is that if the private equity industry had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be hiding it.

Even so, Morgenson’s story is certain to be an eye-opener to readers fresh to this topic and has important revelations for even those who’ve been on this beat for a while.

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Invitation Homes Tenant Abuse Shows Incompetence as Well as Malfeasance

Readers may recall that we’ve been writing regularly about the single family home land grab by private equity firms. Blackstone has been far and away the biggest, though its Invitation Homes business. Readers and many institutional investors have been skeptical of PE landlords’ claims that they can manage single family homes cost effectively; it’s hard enough for mom and pop landlords, who often have some relevant maintenance skills, like plumbing or construction, to make a go of it.

But as reports come in from abused tenants, Blackstone looks not only venal in its efforts to shift costs on to tenants, but positively incompetent.

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Gretchen Morgenson Collects a Scalp: Blackstone Ditches Private Equity “Termination Fees”

There’s nothing like seeing the good guys score a goal. We have two this evening. One is a win by David Sirota, whose reporting on San Francisco’s plan to shift up to 15% of retiree funds into hedge funds appears to have led to a climbdown by the city. Sirota uncovered an unreported conflict of interest by the consultant recommending the change, who also operates a hedge fund of funds. Admittedly, CalPERS’ recent announcement that it was exiting hedge funds entirely also put pressure on the city to reverse course.

But Gretchen Morgenson collected an even bigger scalp in the form of Blackstone halting a practice that she highlighted in a May article: that of taking “termination fees” when portfolio companies are sold. However, as we discuss later, as positive as this move appears, this is almost certainly Blackstone throwing a big, visible bone to investors in the hope of deterring an SEC enforcement action.

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NJ Pension Fund Scandal: Chris Christie’s Nose is Getting So Long He Needs to Get a Hacksaw

If you see politics as a form of bloodsport, there’s nothing more fun that seeing a politician start attacking a reporter. That almost without exception means the charges have hit a weak spot, that the incumbent has little to no valid defense and instead starts lashing out.

In this case, it’s particularly amusing to see New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the would-be pugilist. We are seeing that while Garden State pols may be great on the offensive in bare-knucle fights, they have a glass jaw when put on the defensive.

Here, the combatants are International Business Times reporter, David Sirota, against various officials with close ties to Christie who administer state pension funds. Sirota has been making a mini-speciality of state pay-to-play scandals.

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“Private Equity at Work” Rigorously Debunks Industry Mythology

I must confess that I have been extremely tardy in discussing a tremendously important book on the private equity industry, Eileen Appelbaum’s and Rosemary Batt’s Private Equity at Work.

In the meantime, the book is getting the attention it deserve via a glowing review by Bob Kuttner in the New York Review of Books, Why Work Is More and More Debased.

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Is New Jersey Fudging Its Pension Fund Results to Defuse a Christie Scandal?

You cannot make stuff like this up. New Jersey, in its attempt to diffuse a pension fund scandal that implicates Chris Christie (it roused him to respond in public), looks to have committed the classic crisis management blunder of a cover-up worse than the original crime.

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Another Private Equity Scam: Clawback Language Does Not Work As Advertised

As the SEC, reporters, and analysts dig into the operations of private equity firms, it is becoming obvious that one of the reasons that these financiers have cornered the best legal talent in America is for the express purpose of better fleecing their investors.

A prime example comes up in the use of clawbacks in private equity agreements.

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Burger King the Latest to Jump on the Corporate Tax Inversion Bandwagon

A number of corporations have engaged in corporate tax “inversions” this year, which typically involves a large U.S. company merging with a smaller counterpart in a lower-tax country abroad, then moving the corporate billing address to the lower-tax country to reduce the overall tax burden. The actual headquarters and the executives go nowhere, but the nominal address changes so the company can avoid U.S. tax rates. A number of corporations in the pharmaceutical space have pulled this off in 2014, but it took the drugstore giant Walgreen to flirt with the idea (through a merger with the Swiss company Alliance Boots) for the non-financial press and the public to really catch on. Outcry actually stopped Walgreen from going through with the inversion; they merged with Alliance Boots, but kept their headquarters in the U.S. Clearly, it was easier to rally public scrutiny to a consumer-facing brand attempting to skip out on America while still using the public resources afforded any company selling their wares here.

Now, the same coalition that stopped the Walgreen inversion will get another chance with Burger King:

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Guitar Center and Private Equity’s Magical Growth Curve

Yves here. We’ve featured Eric Garland’s past posts on Guitar Center, a case study of how a private equity firms (originally Bain Capital, now Ares Capital as a result of a restructuring when the company was on the verge of failure) run businesses into the ground for fun and profit.  Garland stresses that the assumptions that Guitar Center and its owners are touting for growth, given the state of big box retails, amount to an advanced case of magical thinking. Garland also focuses on the broader impact of the Bain/Ares misrule, namely the damage done to employees and vendors.

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Hedge Fund and Private Equity Fund Rent Seeking: High Fees, Crappy Performance

We’ve written from time to time about the fact that alternative investments like hedge funds and private equity funds don’t live up to their marketing hype. For instance, hedge funds claim they deserve their outsized investment fees because they deliver “alpha,” meaning manager outperformance. In reality, it has long been known that at most what they really provide is “synthetic beta,” which is a return profile that investors find attractive because it is not strongly correlated with that of other investments, and therefore lowers portfolio risk. In reality, that “synthetic beta” is typical of the defective airbags all too regularly sold in finance: they fail when you most need them to work, which is in badly spooked markets.

Yet the marketing spin of wonky hedge funds touting intimidatingly complex strategies and slick private equity fund professionals with their cherry-picked success stories remain all too appealing to investors hungry for returns. And the most credulous and desperate are public pension funds, although many endowments and foundations and high net worth individuals are not far behind.

FT Alphaville has a devastating update on this front from Nomura along with other research findings.

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