The Stop Wall Street Looting Act and other reforms are critical to address the growing impacts that private equity firms have on workers, tenants, healthcare consumers, communities and climate change.
In recent years, the private equity industry has grown dramatically. Private equity and other private funds firms had less than $1 trillion in assets in 2004. They now manage more than $7.5 trillion, and are growing quickly. In the first half of 2021, private equity firms had their busiest six months ever, announcing 6,298 deals worth $513 billion.
Private equity firms almost always use debt, often very significant amounts of debt, to buy companies. This debt ends up on the balance sheets of the companies that are acquired, rather than the private equity firms themselves. Even with uncertainty because of the pandemic, debt multiples increased in 2020, with almost 80% of deals leveraged at more than 6 times Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA), a proxy for cash flow.
In the past year private equity firms have also added record amounts of debt to the balance sheets of portfolio companies they already own to extract cash through debt-funded dividends.
Private equity firms’ heavy use of debt at companies at companies they acquire, growing extraction of cash from companies through debt-funded dividends, and limitation on their own liability increasingly set up a “heads I win, tails you lose” structure where private equity firms can make substantial profits for themselves regardless of the consequences for workers, consumers, communities in which their companies operate, tenants, government payors, and others.
As private equity firms and deals have grown, they have come to impact growing numbers of people. In the past year, private equity firms have acquired companies with hundreds of thousands of workers such as G4S (530,000) and Dunkin Brands (250,000). A private equity-owned rural hospital company, LifePoint Health, is in the process of trying to acquire competitor Kindred Healthcare. The combined company will have 77,000 employees in 34 states and will be the largest private-equity-owned healthcare company in the US.
The Private Equity Stakeholder Project’s written testimony for the October 20 hearing of the US Senate Banking Committee Economic Policy Subcommittee on “Protecting Companies and Communities from Private Equity Abuse” is here.
Workers and Jobs
Reports by the private equity industry‘s main lobbying group suggest that the number of US employees at private equity-owned companies has increased substantially in recent years – from 8.8 million in 2018 to 11.7 million in 2020 — a 33% increase — even as overall US employment dropped by 4.5% over the same period. This increase appears to be largely driven by private equity firms acquiring more and larger companies – putting the jobs of millions more US workers at risk as private equity takeovers typically result in job losses at acquired companies. These job losses can devastate local communities and ripple through the national economy as suppliers and local businesses feel the downstream effects.
Private equity increasingly makes up a substantial portion of investment in US healthcare companies, touching virtually every sector, and is expected to continue to grow. These firms benefit from trillions of dollars of government health care spending. In some cases, private equity firms’ aggressive profit-seeking may result in fraudulent activity, including providing substandard care, providing medically unnecessary services, receiving kick-backs for services provided, filing claims for services not provided, and providing services by unlicensed or improperly licensed providers.
The private equity industry has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into fossil fuel companies—buying up offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, propping up fracking operations, expanding infrastructure through pipelines and export terminals, spewing pollution from gas and coal power plants—with minimal public scrutiny. Private equity firms have invested around $1.1 trillion dollars into energy assets since 2010, double the market value of Exxon, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell combined. These investments and operations have significant and long-lasting impacts on the planet and its people, with communities of color shouldering a disproportionate share of the harms of fossil fuels including compromised health and damage from extreme weather tied to climate change.
A handful of private equity firms have invested heavily in companies providing services to prisons, jails, and detention facilities around the United States and the more than two million people housed at those facilities. Private equity-owned companies profiting from incarceration and detention provide phone services, commissary services, healthcare, and other services, serving thousands of prison, jail, and immigrant detention facilities around the country.
Over the last decade, private equity and private real estate firms have become major residential landlords, buying up millions of apartments, single family homes, and mobile home communities. Several private equity landlords have continued to evict residents during the pandemic.
https://inspirebrands.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Inspire-Brands-Fact-Sheet_March-2021.pdf, accessed Oct 11, 2021.
 “LifePoint Health Announces Agreement to Acquire Kindred Healthcare,” LifePoint Health press release, June 21, 2021. http://www.lifepointhealth.net/news/2021/06/21/lifepoint-health-announces-agreement-to-acquire-kindred-healthcare; David Muoio, “LifePoint Health purchases post-acute services company Kindred Healthcare, commits to 3-year, $1.5B investment,” Fierce Healthcare, June 22, 2021. https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/lifepoint-health-purchas-es-post-acute-services-company-kindred-healthcare-commits-to
 “Economic contribution of the US private equity sector in 2020,” Ernst & Young, prepared for the American Investment Council, May 2021, https://www.investmentcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/ey-aic-pe-economic-contribution-report-final-05-13-2021.pdf. “Economic contribution of the US private equity sector in 2018,” Ernst & Young, prepared for the American Investment Council, October 2019, https://thisisprivateequity.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/EY-AIC-PE-economic-contribution-report-10-16-2019.pdf.
 From 156.9 million in December 2018 to 149.8 million in December 2020. THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — DECEMBER 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan 4, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_01042019.pdf. THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — DECEMBER 2020, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan 8, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_01082021.pdf.
 Johns Hopkins Medicine Federal & State False Claims Act/Whistleblower Protections Policy. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/johns_hopkins_healthcare/providers_physicians/health_care_fraud_and_abuse/Federal_State_False_Claims_Act_Whistleblower_Protections_Policy.html
 According to an analysis of data compiled by Pitchbook on private equity energy deals since 2010.
 Market capitalization of Exxon was $233 billion, Chevron was $188 billion, Royal Dutch Shell was $155 billion as of Sept. 2, 2021
 American Journal of Public Health, “Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status,” April 2018 https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304297
“A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street,” New York Times Magazine, mar 4, 2020.“PRIVATE EQUITY GIANTS CONVERGE ON MANUFACTURED HOMES,” Private Equity Stakeholder Project, Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, MHAction, Feb 2019.