Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 23 No. 1 (Winter 2009)


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Beware of Venturing into Private Equity

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Phalippou, Ludovic. 2009. "Beware of Venturing into Private Equity." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(1): 147-66.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.1.147


As a step towards understanding whether a private equity governance structure reduces overall agency conflicts relative to a public equity governance structure (as is often argued), this paper describes the contracts between private equity funds and investors, and the returns earned by investors. The paper sets the stage with a puzzle: the average performance of private equity funds is above that of the Standard and Poor's 500 - the main public stock market index - before fees are charged, but below that benchmark after fees are charged. Why are the payments to private equity buyout funds so large? Why does the marginal investor invest in buyout funds? I explore one potential answer (and probably the most controversial): that some investors are fooled. I show that the fee contracts for these funds are opaque. Considering this and the way that compensation contracts bury, in details, costly provisions that are difficult to justify on the basis of proper incentive alignment, it would be premature to assert that the agency conflicts are lower in private equity than in public equity.

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Phalippou, Ludovic (U Amsterdam)

JEL Classifications

G23: Pension Funds; Other Private Financial Institutions; Institutional Investors
G34: Mergers; Acquisitions; Restructuring; Voting; Proxy Contests; Corporate Governance
G24: Investment Banking; Venture Capital; Brokerage; Ratings and Ratings Agencies
G32: Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure


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