The saddest part of this job is discovering a beautiful thing that someone has created as a way around financial regulation, and then watching philistine regulators destroy it. But the happiest part is dreaming up a come-on-that-could-never-work ploy to get around some financial regulation, and then finding out that someone’s actually doing it. Extra points if the someone is Goldman Sachs.
Two weeks ago I thought I’d concocted a way around the Volcker Rule’s porous and silly restrictions on banks running private equity funds. My solution involved (1) having a merchant banking business that took no outside investors (which the Volcker Rule does not restrict), (2) having a private equity fund that took no bank money (since the Volcker Rule limits banks to owning 3% of such funds), and (3) having your merchant bank and your private equity arm co-invest in deals. Since that doesn’t quite work,1 I later modified it a bit to have the outside investors co-invest directly, rather than through a private equity fund, and give the bank its management fee in the form of better economics to the merchant bank in each investment.
Reuters has a delightful story today about Wells Fargo’s merchant banking business, Norwest Equity Partners, which owns among other things the quite horribly named rifle maker Savage Sports. I can’t get too worked up about the likelihood that a fifty-year-old, smallish ($3.7bn), carefully managed, moderately gun-toting, otherwise wholesome private equity business will bring down the global financial system, but then I’m not Sheila Bair:
“Is that really what you want institutions that have safety net support doing? Is that an appropriate use for a government backstop?” she told Reuters.
I dunno, Sheila. Who is “you”? What do you want institutions doing? Something, right?
The point of the Reuters story is mainly that the Volcker Rule is expected to limit banks’ ability to invest in private equity funds, but that Norwest’s business is likely to be exempt because it runs only Wells’ own money. If you put bank money in a separate PE fund with outside investors it’s caught up in the Volcker Rule, but if you just make private-equity-type investments on your own it is not. This is no way to run a railroad: Read more »