The United Kingdom’s National Union of General andMunicipal Workers (GMB Union) has recently accused privateequity firms of evading tax payments on billions of poundsthat have been borrowed to fund their buyouts. The Union hasblamed the tax code for encouraging investors to overloadcompanies with debt in order to claim tax relief on theinterest payments.
However, evidence indicates that the private equity housesare delivering enviable results for investors and in factthe private equity industry has become a great Britishsuccess story.
The benefits are not simply the high rates of return oninvestment. There is evidence that takeovers by privateequity firms will, in the medium term, generate jobs, ratherthan destroy them. For instance, a study by NottinghamUniversity’s Center for Management Buyout Research studiedprivate equity deals over a five-year period, (1999-2004),and concluded that there was a significant increase inemployment, up by an average of 26%, after five years. Thatstriking figure suggests that private equity injectsefficiency and generates growth.
As a result, the private equity industry is booming inmany parts of the world and is highly regarded in the MiddleEast and other emerging markets including China, Sydney andthe US. According to Thomson Financial, private equity netreturns outperformed the S&P 500 19% to 9.7% for the 12months to last September and 14% to 9.7% for the past 20years. The firm predicts that new money will keep flowinginto private equity as long as the public market fails toallocate capital efficiently.
The immense benefits of private equity to the overalleconomy make it a vital cog in any market. Private equityhouses and activist fund managers of all kinds, includinghedge funds, play a much more valuable role than anygovernment or regulator in propelling the liquidity of ourcapital markets, in reducing the cost of capital, in drivingforward a country’s growth and in equipping the industry tosurvive and compete in the more challenging global marketsof today.
What we also need to remember is that private equity hasproven its potential in enabling the institutionalization offamily businesses and in the implementation of propercorporate governance, key to the sustained growth of today’senterprises.
Critics of private equity also highlight the limitedaccountability as one of the drawbacks. What they fail tounderstand is that in reality, when a private equity firmpurchases a company, ownership and control are much moreclosely aligned on the main shareholders. On the otherhand, in public companies, mechanisms of accountability haveto be developed because of the separation of ownership andcontrol.
The concentration of ownership in private equity meansthat formal accountability mechanisms become far lessimportant and the owners are actively engaged in thesupervision and management of the business.
If the importance of private equity has been wellestablished in developed markets, its role in supporting thedevelopment of emerging markets will be even moresignificant, especially in sectors such as IT and telecoms.For instance, in China, the total investment for 2005 was anincredible $1.057 billion invested over 233 enterprises in2005. As a result, hoards of foreign private equity firmshave rushed to quickly establish a physical presence in thecountry to take advantage of its huge domestic market, largepool of low cost engineering talent, technologicalinnovation and fast growing economy.
In the Middle East, the Islamic module of private equitypractices presents the optimum solution for many of thechallenges faced by private equity. The shariah law governsthe mechanics as well as the integrity of the investingoperations. For example, the shariah law prohibits investingin industries that are considered detrimental, such asalcohol, tobacco and weapons. The money invested also needsto be from permissible industries and cannot be from a fixedincome ROI whether it’s interest-based or interest-like.Another shariah investment requirement relates to acceptableleverage ratios. The ratio of the total debt of a targetcompany to its total assets must be less than 33%.
In Malaysia, such Islamic banking practices are popularamong non-Muslims and have proved to be a mainstreambusiness in many emerging markets, especially in the MiddleEast where the Islamic funds are mushrooming at anaccelerated rate. Those funds have proved to be lucrativeand trustworthy, as they can be a good alternative to theconventional funds whose integrity is in question.
Unfortunately however, the campaign against the privateequity industry is not tenuous. The growing use of“shareholder loans” in highly leveraged structures allowsprivate equity groups to disguise the equity as debts andobtain tax deductions. On the other hand, controversialquestions are being raised over jobs and working conditions,about private equity firms who made staff redundant andintimidate workers to maximize short term profits in firmsthey buy out.
The UK private equity industry continues to be the largestand most developed in Europe, and accounts for more thanhalf of the total annual European private equity investmentin 2005. Although private equity has been criticized by thelabor unions, wisdom dictates that the issue is actuallyrelated to tax policies and not necessarily to thefundamental characteristics of the private equity industry.We need to realize that exceptions cannot become the normsin free and open economic markets if economic progress isour underlying concern.
Rami Bazzi is principal fund manager at Injazat Capital