On Monday, The Carlyle Group published its own in-house estimate of third-quarter US GDP, along with four other leading economic indicators.
The figures were based on performance data gleaned from its current portfolio of over 200 companies – spanning everything from telecoms to (as of this week) trailer parks – which it typically uses to inform its investment decisions. But with half the federal government out of action, Carlyle chose to step into the breach.
“Several of our monthly data series are highly correlated with, and therefore may serve as reliable proxies for, US official data that are not currently reported due to the government shutdown,” Carlyle’s chief economist Jason Thomas said in a press release.
Some commentators were a little sneering about this, presumably on the grounds that it’s a little overweening for a private equity group to try and step into the shoes of the government. And amid all the hoopla over the debt ceiling negotiations, it may not live long in the memory of the general populace. But it's both noteworthy and admirable, for two reasons.
For a start, it's worth reflecting on the very fact that Carlyle is actually able do something like this. Ten years ago, it was a relatively obscure firm in a relatively obscure niche of financial services. A decade later, it's managing $180 billion of assets across 118 funds and 81 funds of funds, with an investment empire so vast and sprawling that it can plausibly serve as a proxy for the entire US economy. That's an extraordinary growth story by any standards.
The second significant point is the fact that Carlyle chose to publish this data. Nobody asked it to, it could easily have just waited until its third quarter earnings call next week. But instead, it chose to take the opportunity to tout its expertise as an economic commentator.
Again, it's worth putting this in context. This is an industry that has, in the past, displayed an almost pathological desire to stay out of the spotlight. Even today, most of its leading lights very rarely give interviews, or opine publicly on the big issues of the moment. The calls from people like us to engage more with the broader stakeholder base have largely fallen on deaf ears.
To be fair, Carlyle has been a notable exception to this general rule, even before this week. Through its social media efforts, its podcasts and the high public profile of founder David Rubenstein, it has tried perhaps harder than any other group to get its messages out to the wider world.
Of course, it’s now a public company, so it has more of an obligation than most to speak to a wider audience. It also has plenty to gain from it, particularly as it seeks to put its brand in front of fresh sources of capital, including from retail investors.
So yes, this was an entirely self-serving exercise. But we’d still argue that this is the kind of proactive PR that the industry needs to be doing more of. Bravo to whoever came up with the idea.