Private Equity’s Election Bounce?

Photograph by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone Group LP.

Could all this madness actually be good for business?

After enduring almost a year of attacks on private equity, one of its chief practitioners seems to think the industry could come out ahead when the November dust settles.

Steve Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, sees this in all the attention paid to Republican Mitt Romney’s history at Bain Capital — including negative ads that paint his former business as plant-closing, job-slashing mercenaries.

“Ironically, it gave the public and other people a chance to think through these arguments,” Schwarzman said during an interview at the Waldorf-Astoria, the famed New York hotel that Blackstone counts among its vast corporate and real estate holdings totaling almost $200 billion. “I don’t think they come down with a huge negative on private equity despite the attacks.”

Schwarzman, whose interview aired today on Bloomberg Television’s “Money Moves with Deirdre Bolton,” argued his investors are willing to wade through the political noise to focus on the literal bottom line: What private equity funds like make for their backers. That’s more important than ever, as investors like public pensions struggle to reach the thresholds they need to actually keep their promises to retirees.

The election also has helped – or forced – private equity to come further out of the shadows. Blackstone alone has stakes in everything from Motel 6 to SeaWorld and the Weather Channel. Schwarzman’s competitors control Toys “R” Us, Outback Steakhouse and the gaming empire Caesars Entertainment.

A Romney supporter, Schwarzman spoke with the statesman-like sweep he’s adopted in recent years, painting a scenario “where we sentence ourselves to years of below expected growth and keep taking debt on, which ultimately is a drag not just for ourselves, but for future generations.”

He conceded that his firm has been among the beneficiaries of tighter regulation on traditional Wall Street players, as Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule have changed strategies of the likes of Goldman Sachs, one of Blackstone’s closest private-equity rivals during the LBO boom of 2005-2007.

Schwarzman has methodically expanded Blackstone to comprise far more than private equity. Its real estate business accounted for half its 2011 profits. The business of lending to companies and buying distressed debt has blossomed in a troubled global economy. Asked if his firm was, as some have surmised, the new Goldman, he struck a lighter tone.

“Given Goldman’s publicity, I hope that’s not the case,” Schwarzman said. “We’d rather just be the same old Blackstone.”


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