- The stock market is down 50 percent.
- Banks are in trouble and have curtailed lending.
- Commentators predict widespread industrial bankruptcies.
- Unemployment is rising fast.
- Interest rates are volatile.
It all sounds familiar. But those headlines aren’t from today. They’re from 1974. Doomsayers foresaw disaster 35 years ago, predicting hundreds of corporate bankruptcies. New York City and State, and utilities like Con Edison, seemed on the brink of collapse. Business publications wrote that major money-center banks would fail and ran articles like, “I’ll Never Own a Stock Again!” Struggling companies got little help from financial institutions, which had problems of their own. Businesses with the highest returns on investment, the most innovation and the fastest growth were starved for capital. The debt of good companies sold for pennies on the dollar.
In 1974, as now, those who once thought they had the answers came to realize their assumptions were flawed. But opportunity emerged from that crisis as people with creative solutions and the skill to implement them stepped forward and developed new ways to access capital. Over the next two years, the markets recovered strongly. That skill in finding new opportunities when things look bleak is part of what economists call human capital.
In financing companies that could grow and create jobs, I always considered management skills as important an asset as numbers on the balance sheet. And it’s never more important than in times of crisis.
While people worldwide have recently suffered some $60 trillion in losses on financial instruments and real estate, that figure is actually dwarfed by the value of the world’s human capital, worth substantially more than $1,000 trillion. With a value like that on our collective potential, a cancer cure would be worth more than $50 trillion in the U.S. and well over $100 trillion globally.
This suggests that investments in medical research may have more value than building new bridges or highways. And it underscores what we already know about education: in the long run, it’s the single best investment in stimulating the world’s economy.
Also - the human capital that private equity brings to a company is the reason their results are superior to the public market investments.