Private equity has plenty of willing suckers… I mean, investors

Graph And Coins

"It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero-sum game: somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another."

So said Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, as he perfectly described the financial world's attitude to acquiring more and more money. It will probably be worth recalling that approach this week as we sit through two sets of results from firms just floated by Gekko's branch of finance, private equity.

On the real Wall Street, we get second-quarter numbers from King Digital Entertainment, the UK computer games group flogged to American investors earlier this year. The shares have lost 15% since.

On the same day we also get numbers from the takeaway food website Just Eat, sold to pension funds by venture capital in April, but now 17% cheaper.

There are plenty of similar tales about private equity's class of 2014 – all of which seemed to find obedient fund managers to buy the shares, despite all the warnings about being suckered in at the top of the market.

Still, those pension fund managers criticised for sacrificing our hard-earned can consult Gekko for a decent riposte: the money has not been lost, they can argue, simply transferred to an alternative perception.

A share price that actually rises

Despite recent form, it is possible for shares in new flotations to go up as well as down. For example, shares in the property website Zoopla are about 9% dearer since floating in June – and that's against a falling market.

Clearly, there's still time for the company to mess things up from here, and we get its trading numbers this week, but the City seems initially impressed by the unorthodox idea of pricing the shares so they have a chance of rising. That approach might catch on.

The theory is that those in senior management have quite a lot to do in actually running their businesses, so it might not be a brilliant idea to lumber them with the extra task of constantly explaining to disgruntled shareholders why their new investment has crashed so quickly.

Intriguingly, Zoopla's finance chief is Stephen Morana, who did the same job at the online betting exchange Betfair. The stock-market debut of his old employer is considered a test case of how not to float a company, and the capable Morana has frequently mused to friends about writing a book by that title. There's now a danger of a more positive sequel.

What odds on Ladbrokes chief?

Who will be the next manager to leave his post? The high street bookie Ladbrokes is offering 6-5 on West Ham United's Sam Allardyce, 6-1 on Aston Villa's Paul Lambert or 10-1 on West Bromwich Albion's Alan Irvine.

Disappointingly, there are no odds available on another well-known gaffer forced to endure speculation about his future: namely Richard Glynn, the chief exec of, er, Ladbrokes.

Glynn has been in the job since 2010, when he was charged with reversing a trend that had seen Ladbrokes fall well behind its bitter rival William Hill in online gambling. It was always a brave punt by the Ladbrokes board to hire Glynn, as their man formerly ran the much smaller betting group Sporting Index – and while that company had plenty of things to be proud of, its online presence was never one of them.

Unsurprisingly, the gulf with William Hill remains, and now Glynn desperately needs a decent show when he unveils interim results this week.

Apart from the performance, gambling experts still arch an eyebrow at him landing a £2.4m bonus last year when the shares (briefly) topped £2. They also reckon that with a new boss bedding himself in at Hills, now might be a more comfortable time for a new man to settle in at Ladbrokes.

What are the odds on that?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Simon Goodley, for The Observer on Sunday 10th August 2014 00.05 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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