Business, Finance & Economics

Mitt Romney, private equity and Wall Street


A royal vulture looks curious in the photographer's lens on 19 July 2005 at the zoo in Berlin.


Johannes Eisele

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has based his 2012 campaign on two big ideas:

1) He understands the economy and how business works, thanks largely to his experience at private equity firm Bain Capital. 

2) He can beat President Barack Obama.

But fresh off Romney's victory in New Hampshire his rivals are trying mightily to turn that first point into a negative, which if successful, would clearly hurt the second point.

The latest smart read on this emerging storyline comes from Peter Lattman and Annie Lowrey in the New York Times, who nicely dissect a growing fear among private equity professionals that the latest attacks on Romney threaten to taint the entire industry.

The issue boils down to this: are PE guys like Romney good stewards of companies — and by extension, the US economy — or are they fat-cat, job-destroying vultures and corporate raiders, to paraphrase the insults hurled by Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others? 

And what impact might these attacks have on Wall Street support for Romney, particularly the private equity subset that Gordon Gekko burned into American popular culture 25 years ago?

Here's the money quote:

The attacks have unnerved many buyout executives — especially those who have long used their fortunes to support the Republican Party. As Mr. Romney’s rivals have sought to turn the primaries into a referendum on his business career, the private equity industry finds itself under fire from those it thought were friends.

“We were bracing ourselves for this, but we’re not even in the general election yet,” a senior private equity executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Times. “Expect more pain.”

The Private Equity Growth Capital Council, an industry lobby group, is expected to roll out an image campaign in an attempt to blunt the collateral damage from attacks on Romney, the Times reports.

But the problem may run deeper than that. 

As Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy World) has illustrated, there is plenty of discontent about rising inequality. And Wall Street has, of course, been the main target of this general angst. 

To be sure, Romney is still in a very strong position, as evidenced by today's news that he raised $24 million in the fourth quarter. And he has promised a large payback to his donors, in the form of a huge tax cut for the rich

But as this "vulture" line of attack intensifies and the candidates roll into South Carolina, Romney is walking a fine line.

So, too, are all the other PE guys on Wall Street. 

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