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Investing in a public company may seem far superior to investing in a private one, but there are a handful of benefits to not being public. A major criticism of many public firms is that they are overly focused on quarterly results and meeting Wall Street analyst short-term expectations. This can cause them to miss out on long-term value creating opportunities, such as investing in a product that may take years to develop, hurting profits in the near term. Private firms can be better managed for the long term as they are out of Wall Street’s reach. An annual report by the World Economic Forum has detailed that productivity increases when a public firm is taken private. They can also create more jobs when run more efficiently and profitably.
Being an owner of a private firm also means sharing more directly in the underlying firm’s profits. Earnings may grow at a public, firm but they are retained unless paid out as dividends or used to buy back stock. Private firm earnings can be paid directly to the owners. Private owners can also have a larger role in the decision-making process at the firm, especially those with large ownership stakes. (To learn more, check out Why Public Companies Go Private.)
Types of Private Companies
From an investment standpoint, a private company is defined by its stage in development. For instance, when an entrepreneur is first starting a business he or she usually receives funding from a friend or family member on very favorable terms. This stage is referred to as angel investing, while the private company is known as an angel firm. Past the start-up phase is venture capital; investing where a group of more savvy investors comes along and offers growth capital and managerial know-how and other operational assistance. At this stage a firm is seen to have at least some long-term potential.
Past this stage can be mezzanine investing, which consists of equity and debt, the last of which will convert to equity if the private company can’t meet its interested payment obligations. Later-stage private investing is simply referred to as private equity and is currently a multi-billion dollar business with many large players.
For investors, the stage of development a private company is in can help define how risky it is as an investment. For instance, approximately 40% of angel investments fail and the risk falls the more developed and profitable a private company becomes. And although the goal of many private firms is to eventually go public and provide liquidity for company founders or other investors, other private businesses may prefer to stay private given the benefits given above. Family businesses may also prefer privacy and the handing of ownership across generations. These are important matters to become aware of when deciding to invest in a private company. (To learn more, see What Is Private Equity?)