11 12, 2023

Karen Petrou: Unicorns, Zombies, and Capital Regulation

2023-12-11T10:23:04-05:00December 11th, 2023|The Vault|

As was again clear at last week’s Senate Banking hearing, credit availability is much on the mind when it comes to LMI communities and small business.  This makes a good deal of sense given the capital proposal’s unintended consequences, but it’s only part of the story.  When start-up ventures are unable to get bank loans, they turn to the capital market.  This is often necessary due to the start-up’s risk, but in recent years it’s also been driven by hundreds of billions of investor dollars desperately chasing higher yields as the Fed year-in, year-out kept real rates below zero.  Now that rates are finally, really positive, yield-chasing funds have evaporated.  As the New York Times made clear, unicorns have turned into zombies.  Some of the walking dead deserved to die long ago, but the flood of capital-markets funds exiting this sector also strands ventures that could and should have been vital innovators.  Had these entities been buoyed by bank loans as soon as they were viable, many would still be walking.

Not every zombie is an innovator we’ll sorely miss.  Many bet big on not-so-critical products such as still more scooters.  However, one sector left high and dry – early-stage biomedical research – is literally a matter of life and death.

In February of 2021 when the economy was growing but real yields were negative, the total enterprise value of approximately 700 publicly-traded biotechs was $598 billion.  As of the latest data, this is down to $213 billion …

27 03, 2023

Karen Petrou: Another SVB Casualty:  U.S. Biomedical Research

2023-03-27T10:27:35-04:00March 27th, 2023|The Vault|

As seems always the case when fear has the banking system in its maw, myths have proliferated that are now also magnified and amplified by viral social media.  One such myth about Silicon Valley Bank has it that most of its depositors were high-wealth, high-tech folk whom the government should never bail out.  In fact, many depositors had no choice but to park all their funds at SVB, a more-then-dubious practice at the bank that almost brought biomedical research to its knees.  Had these depositors been forced to bear losses, treatments and cures for life-threatening and-changing diseases would have stalled, likely for years.  We need not only to prevent future researchers from being put at such risk by a single bank, but also to change the biomedical-funding model from one at the mercy of high-cost equity investors to a stable sector for which lower-cost debt is readily at hand for any researcher with demonstrable ability to repay.  Think what debt funding did for sustainable energy via green bonds and you’ll see what a like-kind model for “biobonds” could do to speed urgently-needed treatments and cures.

The link between SVB and biomedical research is not the stuff of moral-hazard myth, but rather a complex tale of a specialized institution serving a sector that came to hold unique sway over a vital public good:  lengthening life and easing suffering.  Providing banking services to venture capital (VC) is a high-risk business unless a financial institution devotes expensive intellectual capital to the sector and …

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