Private equity keeps focus on job growth

  • Industry looks to shed job killing image
  • PEGCC revamps its name
  • GPs play up hiring

With election season ramping up this year, jobs remain a major issue from Washington to Wall Street. For its part, the private equity industry continues to work to repair its lingering image from the 2012 presidential campaign as destroyers of jobs.

In a move to recast itself, the industry’s leading lobbying group, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, in May renamed itself the American Investment Council.

The label may be new, but employment, jobs and wages have always been major ingredients in the brew of private equity.

Like any other ecosystem, PE supports many different types of practitioners and strategies. Sometimes this leads to cutting jobs where warranted. Others invest in growth situations that, if successful, will result in job creation.

It’s trickier than ever. You may need capital to expand a company, but if it gets loaded up with too much debt, it could end up shaving jobs just to make interest payments.

Jobs also loom large in the low cost of debt for GPs since the global financial crisis.

Users of leverage keep close watch on the U.S. Federal Reserve and whether it’ll finally raise rates beyond the paltry quarter-point hike last year. The junk-bond markets went haywire in 2015, partly on jitters tied to higher rates. But then the Federal Open Market Committee signaled a more dovish stand on hikes this year and debt markets recovered.

The key metric behind all this remains job growth. If it’s sluggish, the Fed won’t act as quickly on raising rates and debt markets will remain calm.

After a steady economic recovery dating back to 2009 or 2010, the U.S. worker is in a stronger employment position. For the week of April 9, for example, Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 to 253,000, the lowest level since 1973. But the top line April new jobs report came in at 160,000, well below estimates and cool enough to keep the Fed from raising interest rates.

New Mountain Capital released its eighth annual social dashboard report, which said its portfolio companies employed 60,517 people at Dec. 31, 2015.  That’s up 62% from 37,403 since the firm began tracking portfolio-firm-employee growth in 2000. The increase at the portfolio firms reflects 10,994 new jobs through organic growth and 12,120 added through acquisitions.

Steven Klinsky, CEO of New Mountain, said in a statement that “properly executed” private equity amounts to a “socially positive pursuit.”

He’s not alone in promoting healthy wages and strong employment in U.S. business.

Zeynep Ton, an adjunct associate professor in the operations management group at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Good Jobs Strategy, focuses on similar themes.

The book studies the success of Costco, Merca­dona, Trader Joe’s and QuikTrip to demonstrate how high investment in workers results in lower costs, higher profits and greater customer satisfaction, Ton said.

Voices such as Ton and Klinsky could get more attention as the industry works to emphasize its role in economic growth. Expect to hear more about job creation, retirement security, innovation and economic growth.

Photo courtesy of ©iStock/Mark Stahl