The folk legend Robin Hood was, as every child knows, the legendary outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. But in a reincarnation of a long-running Wall Street scheme, it is the wily financiers who rob from the ordinary folk holding investment accounts at Robinhood.
Today, private equity controls some 8,000 companies in the United States, more than twice as many companies as are publicly traded on U.S. stock markets. Private equity firms manage more than $4 trillion in U.S. assets and now own companies that collectively employ nearly 9 million American workers.
Like many PE firms, Sun Capital Partners often buys up existing businesses, loots their assets, squeezes workers, decimates jobs through layoffs and bankruptcy, and threatens workers’ retirement benefits.
The private equity industry, seeing a window of opportunity following the onset of the pandemic, has taken it upon itself to have the companies that it owns issue at least $10 billion in debt solely for the purpose of paying itself. This is yet another example of private equity looting.
In many ways, the private equity industry embodies some of the worst impulses of Wall Street, squeezing profits at the expense of workers and consumers, and insulating bad actors from risks. But these abuses are not inevitable. On the contrary, they are the result of laws and regulations that can and should be changed.
Fact Sheet: Private Equity Industry Poised to Profit from the Federal Reserve’s New Lending Programs
Private equity funds could access government assistance for their portfolio companies while avoiding any responsibility to repay any debt or obligations to the public purse. Private equity firms could also tap government aid to finance leveraged buyout purchases of additional companies, using public money to load target companies with debt and drain their assets while avoiding any responsibility for paying that debt back.
Yesterday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) rejected the proposed private equity takeover of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the non-profit that manages the non-commercial, charity, and non-profit internet domain registry for all Dot-Org websites. The decision recognized that the private equity debt loads and extractive business model would hinder Dot-Org’s ability to serve its non-profit clients without raising prices, compromising service, creating new revenue streams that comprise users’ data and privacy, or otherwise imposing unfair costs on 10 million organizations.
Now, with 26 million workers unemployed and countless businesses closing indefinitely, private equity firms are salivating at the potential business opportunities that might arise from the expected economic fallout. Unless we take immediate action to prevent it, private equity firms will take advantage of this unprecedented crisis to make even greater asset grabs.
“Coronavirus distress is the ‘opportunity of the century’ for real estate investors,” according to a recent headline in The Real Deal, a New York real estate news publication. The article quotes Meridian Capital Group’s David Schechtman saying “But I will tell you, real-estate investors — when you take the emotion out of it — many of them have been waiting for this for a decade.”
Together, these facilities could deploy up to $2.3 trillion in new credit to the economy during the pandemic crisis period. Without major changes these facilities will not be effective in getting assistance to those most impacted by the crisis, and disclosure and transparency regarding specific borrowers and loan terms is lacking. Our comment provides specific recommendations to address these issues.
Congress needs to resist calls from private equity executives to gain access to pandemic-related bailout programs. Private equity-owned firms are not comparable to ordinary small businesses, who cannot draw on deep-pocketed Wall Street owners who could support them if they chose to do so. Private equity (PE) funds are pooled investment funds managed by Wall Street firms that purchase operating companies. Prominent examples of private equity-owned portfolio companies include Toys ‘R Us, Shopko, and TeamHealth.
The track record of private equity funds demonstrates that these firms will wherever possible seek to divert income streams, including government support, to wealthy private equity executives rather than supporting employment and customer service at portfolio firms.
“PIR LLC will have to generate substantial additional revenue to service the debt which could force PIR LLC to take advantage of its monopoly position to raise prices to unsustainable levels, impose new service charges, reduce technical upkeep that could impair web connectivity or non-profit email traffic, or pursue other business strategies that could undermine the independence of non-profits including suspending or transferring domain names, in effect a censorship-for-profit strategy that has been used by other domain registries and internet companies.”