Private Equity

Dubious Charts

Posted by Deepish Thinker on February 10, 2009
Current Events, Economics, Private Equity, Uncategorized / No Comments

Brad DeLong, in his “Fair, Balanced, Reality-Based, and More than Two-Handed” blog recently posted a couple of charts to buttress his contention that, “employment losses are about to be bigger than in any previous recession since the Great Depression itself”.

The more alarming chart is taken from Nancy Pelosi’s office wall:

A naive observer might conclude that the current recession is the worst since WWII.  Unfortunately this chart doesn’t adjust for the dramatic overall expansion of the labor force over the last fifty odd years.  William J. Polley has produced a more informative (less ludicrously tendencious) percentage based comparison.  Note that the current recession actually falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for post WWII recessions.

The second chart is an annotated copy of the Time Magazine original.

There is nothing actually wrong with the chart.  However, the annotations are interesting.  Mr DeLong has added the names of the Presidents who happened to be in office during the charted recessions.  It isn’t clear what Mr DeLong’s purpose in doing this was exactly.  Perhaps Mr DeLong is trying to suggest responsibility.  If so, he appears to have made the classic mistake of confusing correlation with causation.

The other questionable addition is the gratuitous highlighting of the current recession.  Painting something bright red and labelling it with a honking a great sign is not exactly the strategy of someone seeking to make a sober analysis.  Perhaps the real purpose of this overdone annotation is to conceal the fact that, when charted in relative terms, the trajectory of employment in the current recession looks a lot like that of the 1981 recession.  While certainly very unpleasant, the 1981 recession did not in fact result in the end of civilization, which is not the kind of thing you want to dwell on if you are trying to sell people on your, “the world is going to end if Congress doesn’t spend” view of the world.

An Indycar Opportunity?

Posted by Deepish Thinker on May 28, 2007
Current Events, Private Equity / No Comments

Sunday saw the 90th running of the somewhat faded crown jewel of American motor sport, the Indianapolis 500 (New Zealander Scott Dixon came second). While fan interest has rebounded over the last couple of years, thanks largely to the participation of the eminently marketable Danica Patrick, Indy car racing is still a pale shadow of its former glory.

It all went horribly wrong in 1994 when Tony George, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, founded the breakaway Indy Racing League. Since then the US has had two supposedly premier open wheel racing leagues, IRL and CART (now the Champ Car World Series), neither of which have enjoyed anything like the popularity of CART before the split.

The rump CART organization even declared bankruptcy in 2003 and had to be rescued by a consortium of team owners. Meanwhile rival NASCAR has grown to become one of the most popular sports in the US, with TV viewership second only to the NFL.

Ironically, the reasons for the split are now largely irrelevant. The IRL has come to be dominated by a few of the same elite teams whose hegemony over the old CART series helped motivate the split. Meanwhile, in order to control costs and promote competitive racing, the Champ Car World Series has abandoned its Formula 1 style technological arms race in favor of nearly standardized cars, similar to the system used by the IRL.

All of which suggests that there is a significant investment opportunity. Open wheel racing was once very popular in the US. There is no reason that it couldn’t be again if only the warring sides could be persuaded to bury the hatchet.

Is there a private equity group out there with the cash and, perhaps more importantly, the diplomatic skill required to put humpty-dumpty back together again? If this isn’t a merger and rationalization opportunity, I don’t know what is.