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What is 'Private Equity'

Private equity is capital that is not listed on a public exchange. Private equity is composed of funds and investors that directly invest in private companies, or that engage in buyouts of public companies, resulting in the delisting of public equity. Institutional and retail investors provide the capital for private equity, and the capital can be utilized to fund new technology, make acquisitions, expand working capital, and to bolster and solidify a balance sheet.

BREAKING DOWN 'Private Equity'

Private equity investment comes primarily from institutional investors and accredited investors, who can dedicate substantial sums of money for extended time periods. In most cases, considerably long holding periods are often required for private equity investments in order to ensure a turnaround for distressed companies or to enable liquidity events such as an initial public offering (IPO) or a sale to a public company.

Since the 1970s, the private equity market has increased enormously. Pools of funds are sometimes created by private equity firms in order to privatize extra-large companies. A significant number of private equity firms perform actions known as leveraged buyouts (LBOs). Through LBOs, substantial amounts of money are provided in order to finance large purchases. After this transaction, private equity firms attempt to improve the prospects, profits, and overall financial health of the company, with the ultimate goal being a resale of the company to a different firm or cashing out through an IPO.

Fees and Profits of Private Equity

The fee structure for private equity firms typically varies but usually includes a management fee and a performance fee. Certain firms charge a 2% management fee annually on managed assets and require 20% of the profits gained from the sale of a company.

Positions in a private equity firm are highly sought after and for good reason. For example, consider a firm has $1 billion in assets under management (AUM). This firm, like the majority of private equity firms, is likely to have no more than two dozen investment professionals. The 20% of gross profits generates millions in firm fees; as a result, some of the leading players in the investment industry are attracted to positions in such firms. At a mid-market level of $50 - $500 million in deal values, associate positions are likely to bring salaries in the low six figures. A vice president at such a firm could potentially earn close to $500,000, whereas a principal could earn more than $1 million.

Transparency Concerns Around Private Equity

Beginning in 2015, a call was issued for more transparency in the private equity industry due largely to the amount of income, earnings, and sky-high salaries earned by employees at nearly all private equity firms. As of 2016, a limited number of states have pushed for bills and regulations allowing for a bigger window into the inner workings of private equity firms. However, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing back, asking for limitations on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) access to information.

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