What Private Equity Does Differently: Evidence from Life Insurance
57 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2020 Last revised: 14 Jul 2020
Date Written: February 14, 2020
How do private equity firms impact their portfolio companies? We study this question using comprehensive data on their investments in the life insurance industry, which grew ten-fold from $23 billion to $250 billion between 2009 and 2014. Private equity-backed insurers exhibit superior returns. But there is no evidence that this is a consequence of general partners' skill. Rather, private equity firms increase the asset risk of their subsidiaries without commensurate capital charges and decrease tax liabilities. Results based on high-frequency event studies and matching techniques support a causal interpretation. Indeed, private equity firms deliver these changes to their subsidiaries within days of taking over. This improves insurers' performance, but also introduces risks that rating agencies appear to ignore.
Keywords: insurance, private equity, reaching-for-yield, financial crisis
JEL Classification: G22, G24, G11, G28, G32
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