Skip to comments.You can blame Mitt, but not for Bain
Posted on 01/12/2012 1:09:55 PM PST by freespirited
Im all in favor of piling on Mitt Romney for any number of reasons: his come lately embrace of hard right conservatism, his periodic malapropisms (I like being able to fire people) and above all, the nonchalance with which he displays a dazzling shortage of principles by incessantly flip-flopping on issues, sometimes the same day.
But these latest salvos being fired at his service as the founder and head of Bain Capital go too far. Having spent nearly three decades on Wall Street, when it comes to Bain Capital, I feel equipped some might say too equipped to parse fact from fiction. (Full disclosure: In the post-Romney era, I worked with Bain Capital on several projects.)
Most important, Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path
Wall Street has its share of the vulture capitalists that Texas Gov. Rick Perry enjoyed mocking in South Carolina earlier this week. But Romney was almost the furthest thing from Larry the Liquidator.
Instead, with modest exceptions (keep reading to learn more about these), Bain Capital was a thoroughly respectable nay, eminent investment manager that successfully discharged its responsibility of earning high returns for its investors by deploying capital in companies privately rather than by buying shares in the public market. (Hence the name, private equity.)
Over Bain Capitals 27 years, its private investments generally fell into two buckets. The firm, particularly in its early years, made dozens of venture capital investments taking stakes of a few million dollars or less in young companies, in hopes that they would grow and prosper. A good example: Its investment of $2.5 million in Staples in 1986.
As the years clicked along, Bains emphasis shifted toward what was then known as leveraged buyouts, and is now called private equity. Typically, those investments are larger, made in more developed companies and heavily financed with debt. In 1998, for example, Bain invested $189 million in the pizza chain Dominos, from which it reportedly reaped a fivefold return.
Overall, Bain Capitals record was extraordinary, among the best in the business. According to a Bain placement document, through the end of 1999 (effectively, when Romney left), the firm had achieved annual returns of 88 percent per year.
That is not only wildly more than the single digit returns most investors achieve by buying stocks or bonds, it is far higher than those of typical private equity or venture capital firms.
Of course, a number of its early stage investments failed. That is the nature of venture capital an industry not unlike baseball in that a .300 batting average can be excellent performance. But who can quarrel with an investment firm trying to nurture and finance young companies?
The story of the private equity business is somewhat more complicated. Almost by definition, a private equity investment is made with the hope of improving the profitability of the portfolio company, as it is known in the parlance. Often, this means replacing management or reducing unnecessary headcount firing people.
While no one likes seeing jobs disappear, eliminating unnecessary overhead and even entire divisions if they cannot be made sufficiently profitable is at the heart of a successful economy the process Joseph Schumpeter famously described as creative destruction. How strange for conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Perry to be questioning the core of free market economics.
I have no idea whether Bain Capital created 100,000 net new jobs, and I think Romney was silly to even engage in that debate. What we know for certain is that Bain Capital more than fulfilled its responsibility to a gaggle of investors, who were mostly foundations, endowments, pension funds and the like.
So what are the question marks (promised above) around the story of Romney and Bain Capital? First, its fair game to question the amounts of debt that are sometimes used in leveraged buyouts. While higher debt usually means higher returns because debt is cheaper than equity, thanks in part to its tax deductibility it also means higher risk of bankruptcy.
Bain had less than its share of bankruptcies, but it had a few it appears four that are particularly troubling. In all those cases, when the portfolio companies initially showed signs of promise, Bain took advantage of their progress to borrow more money, which it took out as a dividend. Later, the fortunes of each company turned down, ultimately into insolvency.
When Bain releveraged those companies and took the cash out, the investment managers of course had no idea that the companies would later falter. But with the benefit of hindsight, taking a more conservative approach and refraining from squeezing these dividends out of the companies would certainly have been more prudent.
Lets be sure to keep these few problem children in perspective. During the Romney years, Bain made 77 significant investments and a number of smaller ones. It made billions for worthy investors and, yes, doubtless created some incalculable number of net new jobs for the U.S. economy.
Thats the story of Bain Capital. Its certainly fair game for any candidates opponents to dig into his record. But in Romneys case, focusing on questions about his principles and his currently staunchly conservative principles could be more productive than trying to rewrite the firms history.
Isn’t he also a communist or close to it?
You mean Obama’s car czar? They’re still trying to salvage that Romney nomination..
The man who made the movie used to work with Romney. He said he had trouble narrowing the choices to four in it. There were many many many more of healthy companies Bain took over, pumped up with loans, took out their precious dividends, then left them to go broke ...
with the sucker investors(like you and me) who got in at the releveraging level.. SOL.
Still a lot of questions. Still no answers from Mitt.
Whats more, a federal government insurance agency had to pony up $44-million to bail out the companys underfunded pension plan. Nevertheless, Bain profited on the deal, receiving $12-million on its $8-million initial investment and at least $4.5-million in consulting fees.
I still believe it would be far preferable to focus on his performance as governor.
It took me a while to think it through, what with all the accusations of gutting companies for profit, but here goes anyway.
When Romney was head of Bain, what was and to whom was his duty? Wasn’t it to make money for the investors in the company? Didn’t he carry out that duty? He did not have to like what he was doing, so long as doing it fulfilled his obligations.
If he is elected, will he treat his duty to the citizenry and to the Constitution the same way?
I am NOT a Romney supporter, Romneycare alone being a disqualifier in my mind. But four more years of Obama is unthinkable! If he gets the nomination, I’ll have to vote for him, not very happily.
(Donning NOMEX overalls) Feel free to flame away.
True, but it wasn't taxpayer money as previously reported here.
Pretty much my sentiments too. Don’t care for him as a candidate, but not for Occupy Wall Street reasons.
Bain Capital was founded in 1984 by Romney and 2 other men, T. Coleman Andrews III, and Eric Kriss.
One wonders why he cares so much.
Uh.............if not taxpayers, where does government get their money?
That is a misdirection! And I'm getting sick of it. Romney is a dishonest politician and you think he's an honest businessman? This has NOTHING to do with capitalism. It has to do with ROMNEY.
Bain ALWAYS made tons of money by getting loans on assets of companies then selling off the assets and bankrupting them. Did you watch King of Bain?
Pension funds pay a premium to the Pension Benefit Guarantee agency. In the event of a problem like this one, the funds come out of the premiums paid by participants, not from the taxpayers.
“How strange for conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Perry to be questioning the core of free market economics.”
Neither one has worked in private industry, very much at all.
Since they have been mostly in government, the would know about the crony capitalism involved, whereby those in government deal with quid pro quo opportunities, to benefit from dealings with companies, etc.
They would know much less about the activities described in the article, about venture capital, mergers & acquisitions, etc.
Who are the participants?
A surprisingly reasonable essay, considering the source.
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