My article, Private Equity Firms as Gatekeepers, identifies an important and overlooked way in which private equity creates value: private equity firms act as gatekeepers in the debt markets. As repeat players, private equity firms establish reputations with lenders that are tied to the credit performance of the companies that they acquire and manage. In turn, private equity firms use their reputations both to certify the creditworthiness of their companies ex ante and to bond against misconduct or poor performance by their companies ex post. Private equity firms thereby mitigate the problems of borrower adverse selection and moral hazard that plague the debt markets. These certification and bonding functions of private equity are best understood as gatekeeping: by causing companies to behave better toward creditors than they otherwise would, private equity firms afford companies access to more capital, and on better terms, than they could otherwise get. The article provides both conceptual and formal proofs of this gatekeeping hypothesis.
The most obvious benefit from private equity’s gatekeeping role is that, all else being equal, it should allow private equity-owned companies to borrow money on better terms than other companies. And crucially, this role will become increasingly valuable in light of sweeping changes in the corporate loan markets. Lenders’ traditional methods of controlling borrower adverse selection and moral hazard – screening, monitoring, and covenants – are in sharp decline. This decline is due to the major shift from relationship banking, in which a company borrows from a single bank that holds the loan until maturity, to syndicated lending. Syndicated loans are funded by large numbers of unrelated creditors and may be traded or securitized to reach still more creditors. As the chain from the borrowing companies to their ultimate creditors lengthens, the information gap between them increases significantly, while creditors’ incentives to monitor their borrowers decline. If private equity firms can credibly fill the void in monitoring left by lenders, their companies will get significantly better financing than other companies.