Nicholas Lockley, editor of PrivateEquityOnline.com, looks through his online window on the industry.
In the UK and across mainland Europe, unions and politicians are up in arms. The commentariat of broadsheet opinion-formers across the globe is delighted. It means that there is a new bogey man in town. And, dear reader, the bogey man is you.
As the leader of UK union the GMB said in an interview with a daily newspaper the other day: you are “the spirit behind the evil” of private equity. Or at least Damon Buffini, Permira's managing partner, is and by extension, so too is every other buyout partner in town.
Buffini has held a dignified silence during the GMB's vindictive campaign against private equity generally and Buffini himself personally. In February, however, in an effort to quell the rising storm about job cuts at Permira-owned businesses, Buffini finally attempted to book an appointment with his nemesis. He hopes to explain his firm's actions, before the debate transmogrifies into one about the tax deductibility of interest payments on corporate tax and lands at the UK Treasury.
However, you turned away from this story on PEO in droves and read instead about the massive return Apax has accumulated on its in investment in MOElnlycke. Apax sold the medical products business to Investor, the quoted asset management arm of the Wallenberg family – making 10 times its money in 18 months. It was a stirring tale of buyout success, a tertiary no less, and it made for excellent comfort reading.
Meanwhile the BVCA strode into the buyout debate to break bread with the bosses at the GMB and Uni, a global trade union. Philip Jennings, Uni's chief, had accused the industry of taking capitalism back to the dark ages.
But again, the BVCA's efforts failed to capture the eyeballs of our readers, who were feasting on our exclusive coverage of Graphite's latest fundraising, said by informed sources to be effectively finished before it has launched. Appetite for the UK mid-market's latest £400 million fund is such that some of Europe's finest investors will struggle to find a meaningful allocation once Graphite has catered for its existing customers.
Next into the fray was Richard Lambert, former editor of the FT and currently head of the UK's business lobby group the CBI. Lambert roasted the industry's critics with a staunch defense of both City bonuses and private equity. He did however caution there might be a real need for the industry to become more transparent in its dealings as its profile rises,
Not that it cut much ice with PEO's subscribers who were agog at the prospect of another record fundraising year in 2007. Research suggests that $500 billion will be raised globally.
And there perhaps lies the rub. For all the sound and fury in the mainstream press about the future of the industry, it signifies little to those that matter most: the investors. The returns they enjoy from their investments in private equity are what count. And for as long as the regulators and the legislators do not fundamentally constrain the activity of the most successful firms, then investors will continue to pile into the asset class in their ceaseless search for alpha.