Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The decline of the public corporation"

Economist Nancy Folbre at NYT's Economix:
Public corporations that ordinary people can invest in and get rich from represent one of the great selling points of American capitalism – at least according to the salesmen.

Yet public corporations, which rose to dominance in the United States economy in the second half of the 20th century, are now waning in significance.

As Gerald Davis of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan points out, the number of public corporations in the United States in 2009 was only half what it was in 1997. The share of employment represented by the largest 25 corporations has also declined over time.

Professor Davis asserts these trends result from increased reliance on overseas contractors for manufacturing...

Public corporations have also become less public. Professor Davis contends that share ownership has become heavily concentrated through mutual funds, such as Fidelity, which he says now holds significant blocks of 10 percent to 15 percent in many large companies. Even Fidelity’s role is overshadowed by BlackRock, proprietor of iShares Exchange Traded Funds, which, Professor Davis estimates, was the single largest shareholder in one out of five corporations in the United States in 2011.

Private companies going public often rely on “dual-class shares” that give original owners more voting rights than other investors. The founders of both Groupon and Zynga gained extra clout in this way.

The incentives to “go public” are smaller than they once were, because the rise of private equity firms and hedge funds has made it easier to raise money outside the stock market. Private companies are less subject to government regulation and oversight...