Protecting Their Own: Fareed Zakaria Softens Up Private Equity's Bad Rep

The whole field of private equity has taken a hit in the reputation department, thanks to the Republican ads against Mitt Romney. Honestly, if you had told me in 2008 that I would ever type that sentence, I would have said you were crazy, but

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The whole field of private equity has taken a hit in the reputation department, thanks to the Republican ads against Mitt Romney. Honestly, if you had told me in 2008 that I would ever type that sentence, I would have said you were crazy, but here we are. I doubt very much if most Americans had really thought very much about the field, until Super PAC ads started showing up in their states, blaming the loss of jobs to greedy vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney during his tenure with Bain Capital.

However, it's key that the one percent protect their own, so Fareed Zakaria-- with his multiple degrees from Yale and Harvard, sitting board member of Yale University, the Trilateral Commission the New America Foundation and the Council of Foreign Relations--gives the fluffiest of softball interviews to David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group.

Rubenstein assures us that private equity is really not so bad, honest. They don't cut jobs...that would cut down on productivity and therefore profit, right? Well, not always:

Do private-equity firms create jobs, destroy jobs or neither?

The best empirical evidence says the answer is that private equity both creates and eliminates jobs. After a buyout, employment in existing operations tends to decline relative to other companies in the same industry by about 3 percent. (This may mean employment actually grows, but just by less than at other companies). At the same time, employment in new operations tends to increase by more than other companies in the same industry by more than 2 percent. Net job losses were relatively greater in retail buyouts. This is not surprising, given that Wal-mart and Amazon have put a great deal of pressure on retailers over the past 20 years. If retail buyouts are not included, it is likely that net employment growth was positive. In other words, there does not seem to be a large net employment effect. That is not to say, however, that some people do not lose jobs. The overall pattern suggests that private-equity firms make firms more productive. They make cuts or grow more slowly when that makes sense, and they invest and grow more quickly when that makes sense.

The goal of a private equity firm is not to keep people employed. It's to net the highest profit possible for their shareholders. They leverage these companies to the hilt and then they get out. So yes, it's possible to say that the jobs are there while they are managing the companies. But that debt stays once they move along and it is then that these companies file for bankruptcy, losing ALL the jobs in the process. Think Progress looked at some of Bain Capital's acquisitions and the resulting job losses:

Bain Capital, was in the business of buying up distressed companies, slashing them to bits, and then selling them off, resulting in lots of job losses:

– In 1992, the firm acquired American Pad & Paper. By 1999, the year Romney left Bain, two American plants were closed, 385 jobs had been cut and the company was $392 million in debt. The next year, Ampad was forced into bankruptcy.

– Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs bought Dade International for about $450 million in 1994. The firm quickly fired or relocated at least 900 workers. Over the next several years, it sunk increasingly into debt and laid off 1,000 workers. In 2002 — after Romney had left Bain — it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

A 1997 buyout of LIVE Entertainment for $150 million resulted in 40 layoffs, roughly one in four of the company’s 166 workers. The job cuts affected all aspects of the company, from production and acquisition to legal and public relations.

– In 1997, Bain bought a stake in DDI Corp., a maker of electronic circuit boards. Three years later, Bain took the company public and collected a $36 million payout. But by August 2003, the company filed for bankruptcy protection, laying off more than 2,100 workers.

22 percent of the money Bain Capital raised from 1987 to 1995 was invested in five businesses — Stage Stores, American Pad & Paper, GS Indusries, Dade, and Details. These five made Bain $578 million in profit, even as all five eventually went bankrupt.

It's sweet that Rubenstein wants to give us a kindler, gentler impression of private equity, but it's a dangerous misdirection of the vulture capitalism that has brought this economy to its knees. And let's be honest, The Carlyle Group is hardly a kindler, gentler kind of company.

About Nicole Belle

Nicole Belle's picture
Mom, Wife, Media Critic/Political Analyst, Blogger, Austen Fanatic, Unapologetic Liberal NicoleBelle@crooksandliars.com

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