This is courtesy of Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism, who’s been following the strange story of SEC Examination chief Andrew Bowden’s evolving position on financial corruption for a while.
That story blew up recently in a remarkable public appearance by Bowden, in which the would-be enforcement official cravenly compliments the industry he supposedly polices and then — get this — jokingly puts forward his own son as a candidate for a job in private equity. On video. You won’t see a more brazen example of regulatory capture anywhere.
Some brief backstory. Just a little under a year ago, Bowden, the SEC’s Director of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, gave a speech that was remarkably, unusually critical of the Private Equity field. Bowden had conducted a study of the Private Equity business and found that over half of the companies they looked at were guilty of ripping off their clients:
By far, the most common observation our examiners have made when examining private equity firms has to do with the adviser‘s collection of fees and allocation of expenses. When we have examined how fees and expenses are handled by advisers to private equity funds, we have identified what we believe are violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time.
To fully explain what Bowden is talking about here would require a much longer article, but the basics go something like this.
Private Equity reptiles like Mitt Romney make their living borrowing huge sums of money, millions and billions, from investors called “limited partners.” They then take that borrowed money and acquire companies with that cash, sometimes with the company’s consent, sometimes without it.
The ostensible object of the exercise (at least, this is the way folks in the Private Equity business would describe it) is to make money for the limited partners by acquiring flawed firms, turning them around, and channeling the profits from the reborn target firm back to the investors.
However, from another point of view, the more immediate object of the exercise is to make money for the Private Equity firm. This can be achieved in virtually countless ways once these takeover parasite-pirates have latched on to their target. But the most reliable way of making cash is to soak the acquired company for huge masses of fees, both legit and not.
The always-excellent Gretchen Morgensen brought up a great example last year, in a piece about a company called Biomet that had been taken over by a consortium of PE partnerships. She wrote that Biomet will be forced to keep paying about $30 million in “monitoring fees” through 2017, which as Morgensen notes is two years after the deal closes.
In other words, she wrote, “Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, K.K.R. and TPG will be paid for two years of services that Biomet isn’t receiving.”