Dodge on private equity

Private equity has raised more concerns on the other side of the Atlantic than in North America. Andrew Jackson made some comments on the topic on RPE a month ago. Whether David Dodge has been dropping in on RPE is not clear (we will FOI his browsing history), but at any rate, it is welcome for him to weigh in on the topic. I’m not sure about his comments about hedge funds, though, as it is not obvious at all to me how highly leveraged speculation in the financial markets reduces volatility.

Dodge frets over flood of fast money

Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge has signalled his growing concerns about the glut of global liquidity, as the private equity chase to buy public companies picks up speed.

“We do seem to have an inexhaustible supply of debt finance to facilitate … hedge funds or other private pools of capital, to take companies out of the public domain,” Mr. Dodge told MPs yesterday during testimony at the House of Commons finance committee.” That is an issue which, as a central banker, we have to be concerned about.”

The world is awash in fast money, he said, and it is changing the structure of capital markets.

“There seems to be a lot more global liquidity out there than one might have anticipated,” Mr. Dodge said. Spreads of high-risk investments are “pretty narrow” and don’t properly reflect risk, he warned. In other words, issuers of high-risk debt can get away with paying historically low prices to get investors to carry their debt.

That’s because there is so much money chasing a limited number of investment opportunities, driving down aversion to risk – especially for high-risk debt issuers such as companies with junk bond status or emerging market economies. As a result, spreads (a proxy for the price that bond issuers pay investors to carry their debt) have eroded steadily and steeply over the past five years, leading many economists to warn that they are too narrow, and that investors have become complacent. “That is a real issue … a very, very real problem and potentially a real concern,” Mr. Dodge said, especially as private equity firms race to buy up companies and take them out of publicly traded, regulated markets.

In the past, the central bank has said that it is not concerned about the proliferation of hedge funds, saying such investors serve global capital markets well because they diffuse risk.

“On balance, at most times, hedge funds make markets more liquid and efficient,” deputy governor David Longworth said in November. “And in all likelihood, this has contributed to reducing financial volatility, at least in some important markets.”


  • Andrew Jackson

    I dimly recall a day when privatization meant the transfer of public assets to private hands, and lefties made documentaries attacking the corporate legal form. (remember the corporqation as psychopath??) Now privatization apparently means the transfer of assets from the public corporate to private equity form. Should we lefties care? Perhaps. Private equity owners may actually turn turn out to have longer time horizons – we used to contrast short sighted corporations to patient capital in tightly held hands – or this may be just a phenomenon of cheap credit and lenient tax treatment of debt driving yet another asset bubble which will end in tears for investors (and especially workers), as Dodge implies. I suspect he is right, which just goes to underline the scary point that contemporary capitalism has more or less escaped any semblance of political overight and control – in the interests of stable capitalism itself

  • I think its too early to judge the influence (good or bad) of private equity on capital markets.

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