Explaining Southern California's economy

Private-equity champion says attacks on Romney have 'tinge of McCarthyism'

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Rom

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney greets supporters after addressing a primary night victory rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012.

At DealBook, Andrew Ross Sorkin talks to Paul Levy of JLL Partners and a self-confessed small-fry among the big fish of the private-equity world. As you probably know, in recent weeks, private-equity — the practice of buying struggling companies, usually with debt, taking them private, turning them around, and re-selling them — has taken a drubbing, based on the notion that successful PE guys, like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are Gordon Gekko-esque in their commitment to greed.

Levy thinks this is terrible. How terrible? It's nearing red-scare levels:

...Mr. Levy has been dismayed that the industry’s heavyweights have not sought to publicly defend their industry in recent days. Private equity came under attack when Mitt Romney’s political rivals put his career at Bain Capital in the spotlight as part of the Republican primary.

“There’s a tinge of McCarthyism here,” Mr. Levy said in an interview. “I think it’s a pretty honorable industry, and I don’t know why people aren’t stepping up and defending the careers that define their lives. That’s a sad thing. What do they fear it will cost them?”

Mr. Levy, who voted for President Obama in 2008, is right. Virtually none of the big names in private equity have spoken up to defend the industry. Over the past several weeks, anytime my colleagues or I have sought comment about attacks on the industry, private equity’s kingpins have declined. (The industry’s lobbying group, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, has been working behind the scenes to shore up support and plans a more public campaign in the coming weeks, but with none of the leading private equity executives playing a significant role.)

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Romney tax returns: What would we learn?

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Rom

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a primary night victory rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

At last night's Republican debate, Mitt Romney said that if he sews up the nomination, he would likely release his tax returns, as opponents and the Obama Administration have demanded. This is from USA Today:

I think I've heard enough from folks saying, look, let's see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what's happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that's probably what I would do.

OK, so Romney isn't necessarily the most blissfully fluid speaker in the land. It's hard to blame him for nonlinear sentence structure after the 734 debates he's endured in his quest to take on the president in November. But a more important question looms: What would we learn from Romney taxes?

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Tom Barrack loses out on Summit deal, won't control studio that makes movies of his favorite 'Twilight' books

Twilight stars

AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Robert Pattinson, Left, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Launter, right, arrive at the world premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Los Angeles.

Lionsgate just announced that it's buying Summit Entertaiment, the studio that produces the popular "Twilight" movies, for $412.5 million. Not really hugely big news there, except that The Wrap is reporting that billionaire investor Tom Barrack's private-equity firm, Colony Capital, wanted Summit but dropped out of the bidding several weeks ago.

How can Barrack handle losing out on a chance to buy the studio that transformed the books he found...transformative! into movies? After all, it was the "Twilight" books that got Barrack through a dark night of the soul on a lonely yacht off the coast of Turkey.

I'm not making this up. The Wall Street Journal revealed all in 2010. The WSJ also ran the colorful memo that Barrack's "Twilight" experience compelled him to write to his employees.

Here's an extended taste:

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Mitt Romney and Bain Capital: He did what he had to do

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Rom

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney has been taking it on the chin from the unlikeliest of places: his fellow Republican candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, have claimed that Romney's time at private-equity firm Bain Capital was all about killing jobs, not creating them. Mitt says he "created" 100,000 jobs. Not so fast, say his detractors.

At the Huffington Post, Robert Lipton explains why this he-said/he-said doesn't entirely make sense:

The reality is both more simple and more complex than all those allegations would have one believe. It is simple because the function of Bain and other private equity funds has no planned relation to job creation or job losses. It is more complex, because the activities of Bain do tell us something about Mitt Romney -- having nothing to do with jobs. Let's look at how Bain and other private equity companies actually operate.

The business goal of private equity companies is to make profits for investors in the equity funds they manage. The greater the profits for the investors, the larger the take of the fund managers, who typically receive a base management fee of about 2 percent plus a portion of the fund profits, generally around 20 percent. If the fund manager is very successful then the manager's participation in profits may run as high as 30 percent, which investors may be prepared to accept just to be able to invest with that manager. We're told that Bain was very successful in creating very high returns on investment for its investors, said to be an astounding 88 percent per year, to the point where it could get 30 percent participation in profits. One tax advantage of the fund mangers is that although their business is to get paid by creating values, unlike other payment for services, which is taxed as ordinary income, their return for their services is treated as capital gain and taxed at the lower capital gains rate.

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France gets credit rating downgraded, joins USA

World Leaders Gather In Cannes For The G20 Summit

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

CANNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 03: US President Barack Obama is welcomed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the G20 Summit on November 3, 2011 in Cannes, France. World's top economic leaders are attending the G20 summit in Cannes on November 3rd and 4th, and are expected to debate current issues surrounding the global financial system in the hope of fending off a global recession and finding an answer to the Eurozone crisis. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The world's ninth largest economy is now joining the first largest in the unhappy doghouse of Standard & Poor's downgrades. Just as the U.S. was busted down from AAA (S&P's highest rating) to AA+, so, too will France see its "credit score" fall.

This is from Bloomberg:

A downgrade by S&P signals that the latest pledges by European leaders to clamp down on deficits and step up cooperation won’t be enough to end the region’s debt crisis and curtail the rise in France’s borrowing costs. The country’s benchmark 10-year bonds now yield 130 basis points more than debt of AAA rated Germany.

A downgrade of France may further complicate Europe’s efforts to stem the crisis by threatening the rating of the region’s bailout fund. The European Financial Stability Facility, which is funding rescue packages for Greece, Ireland and Portugal partially with bond sales, owes its AAA rating to guarantees from the euro region top-rated nations. A French downgrade may prompt investors to demand higher rates on the fund’s debt.

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