The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and for that we can largely blame policies of envy that increasingly restrict investors’ access to wealth-building instruments.
Case in point: I was recently invited to participate in a private placement, and the required paperwork was, to put it mildly, discouraging. I don’t just mean that it would have taken an inordinate amount of time to complete. I mean that no ordinary retail investor could easily fill out the paperwork without the assistance of an attorney or accountant — or both. The entire process is so convoluted and complicated it’s easier to take out a mortgage than to invest in private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC).
That is a shame because multiple studies have shown that alternatives such as PE and VC can far outperform publicly traded stocks. One study in particular showed that a hypothetical $10,000 investment in a fund that tracks the S&P 500 would have grown to $76,123 over the 30 years through 2017. Not bad, until you learn the same $10,000 invested in private equity would have grown to an average $211,071, or 2.5 times greater than the S&P 500 returns.
Granted, PE/VC have their own unique set of risks, and shares are extremely illiquid. But the way regulators have it set up, only the uber-wealthy — those who can afford a team of lawyers and accountants — are able to participate. The barriers are simply too high for 99 percent of investors, so they are locked out.
MORE COMPANIES STAYING PRIVATE
This all comes at a time when companies are tapping private financing more and more in an effort to skirt going public. There are a multitude of reasons why companies are choosing to stay private, including that publicly traded companies are facing tougher and costlier regulations. Growth in accounting and auditing fees for public companies nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017, while similar fees for private companies shrank somewhat.
And it’s not as if staying private is hurting companies. According to the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, U.S. companies have raised more than twice as much equity through private offerings than through IPOs. In 2016 alone, companies raised as much as $110 billion through private offerings, 340 percent more than companies raised with IPOs.
Compounding this is the fact that the percentage of Americans with money invested in the public stock market is trailing earlier years. In an April survey, only 55 percent of Americans said they owned stocks, either directly or indirectly. That’s down considerably from the series high of 65 percent set in April 2007, before the financial crisis.
So, if Americans aren’t invested in the stock market and are restricted from getting access to PE and VC, how are they growing their wealth? The unfortunate answer is that many are not. One in five Americans have nothing saved for retirement.
Frank Holmes is CEO and CIO of U.S. Global Investors.