Leveraged buyout fever may plunge the nation into a major financial crisis, but the business community does not want the government to intervene in mergers and acquisitions, the Business Council said Saturday.
David Roderick, chairman of U.S. Corp., told the semiannual conference of the Business Council that Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan has expressed his optimism that leveraged buyout activity has peaked.The council, formed by the chairmen of major U.S. corporations, spent its final session of its three-day meeting in Hot Springs, Va., discussing the problems of leveraged buyouts - the purchase of a company using the company's own assets as collateral to finance the operation.
Leveraged buyouts "are a subject of great concern to all of us," said General Motors chief Roger Smith, chairman of the Business Council.
Leveraged buyouts often leave corporations saddled with heavy debts that reduce their available funds for investments and modernization. Many companies have to sell substantial parts of their assets to repay the debt, becoming vulnerable to economic downturns and higher interest rates.
Despite Greenspan's belief that leveraged buyout activity has peaked, Roderick warned at a news conference that "there are out there $30 billion in equity funds that could be used to leverage 10 times that" amount for more leveraged buyouts.
In addition, there are many companies that could be the target of takeover attempts because their stock is undervalued, said Robert G. Kirby, chairman, Capital Guardian Trust Company, a company that manages major pension funds.
Kirby said that apparently Greenspan believes the leveraged buyout fever has peaked because "the easiest, obvious transactions have been done."
General Electric chairman John Welch noted that what seems to have peaked is not so much the number of leveraged buyouts "as the value that can be found, the quality."
"Transactions are becoming more risky and more driven by the fees involved than the value to be obtained," he said.
Roderick was not optimistic about avoiding a crisis in increasing the debt load of American corporations.
"History teaches us we cannot avoid foolish excesses, crisis such as that caused by Third World debt, the savings and loans crisis or overbuilding in Houston," he warned.
Yet, the business community is adamant in its opposition to government regulation, Roderick said.
"We do not want Congress to tell us what is a good operation or not," he said.