Private Equity’s Final Profits From Foreclosure Carnage
Private equity spent the week defending itself, and not all that expertly. Accounting firm Ernst & Young released a paper funded by the American Investment Council, the industry’s chief trade group, with a host of half-truths and misleading statistics, including estimating the annual salary of workers at private equity–owned firms at $71,000 a year by including the executives and the private equity portfolio managers in the equation. Blackstone’s Steven Schwarzman took home $786 million in 2018; once you average him in with a bunch of part-time Toys “R” Us workers, the numbers start to look pretty good.
Then, the American Investment Council’s CEO touted the Popeye’s chicken sandwich—that great invention available only to companies owned by financial managers—as an example of private equity’s value to the economy. Companies used to praise themselves for saving lives and connecting the world, now it’s for adding a pickle and mayo to fried poultry. By the way, the same private equity group that owns Popeye’s, Brazilian firm 3G Capital, was last seen taking two iconic brands in Kraft and Heinz, merging them, running the company completely into the ground, and walking away.
Speaking of walking away, private equity just closed a chapter on the opportunity it sought out of the misery of the financial crisis. As millions of families suffered the sting of foreclosure, private equity firms fanned out to distressed areas across the country and scooped up foreclosed properties, spending about $100 million a week. They quickly turned over the properties and rented them out, behaving exactly the way you’d expect a Wall Street landlord to: offering substandard and often dangerous rentals with mold and busted pipes, dragging their feet at making repairs, jacking up rents at will, layering on hidden charges, evicting aggressively.
After inventing the industry, firms sought to cash out, consolidating the Wall Street rental market into a few firms. Blackstone, the largest private equity firm, was the last, merging Invitation Homes with Starwood Waypoint for an empire of 82,000 homes. On Wednesday, they sold the last of the stock, bringing their haul to $7 billion since the 2017 Invitation Homes IPO. That’s more than double the initial investment. So Blackstone disrupted rental markets, delivered poor-quality homes to many of the same people who lost theirs in the first place, contributed to the global affordable-housing crisis, according to a U.N. special rapporteur, and made off with billions in the process.
No wonder those defenses ring hollow.
LINKS TO MY STORIES
Centrist Senator Chris Coons has a primary challenger in Delaware.
UPDATE: Paul Blest did a great interview for us with the challenger, Jess Scarane.
The ridiculous D.C. invite of the week involves Facebook reminding congressional staff how important they are for their political ad campaigns.
ALSO AT THE PROSPECT
Congressman Bill Pascrell on what workers need from the new NAFTA.
Marcia Brown on Filipino workers who refused to cross a U.S. picket line being jailed for union activism.
WPRI in Rhode Island talked to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about our story about a bill he co-authored that would encourage deep cuts in mandatory spending. Whitehouse said that he would not support any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which is fine, but it’s up to the Senate, not just him, after he puts this process in place. “Our reform bill simply requires the Senate to periodically consider legislation to cut the deficit,” Whitehouse says, and that’s the point. Sometimes Republicans will be in charge of government under that requirement, so what Whitehouse personally supports is immaterial. He’s creating a monster that will not be under his control.
YES, I KNOW
Meth, we’re on it.
SHARING THE WEALTH
Speaking of private equity, Alden Global Capital buys another large newspaper group, which in the past has meant serious layoffs. (The Wrap)
Here’s the Utah Statement, put together by leaders in the anti-monopoly (New Brandeis) movement. (Medium)
Federal Reserve waves through the SunTrust/BB&T bank merger. (Federal Reserve)
Google hires an anti-union consultant. (NY Times)
Progressives circling the wagons on Medicare for All. (Politico)
Payday industry lobbyist formerly Mick Mulvaney’s chief of staff. (Washington Post)
Netanyahu indicted in Israel. (NY Times)