Greenberg warns of unrealistic P/E ratios

The American billionaire, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, gives his views on private equity, China and the price-to-earnings ratios in the A- and H-share markets.
Maurice ôHankö Greenberg took a stab at fresh-from-college earnings analysts, warned of unrealistic price-to-earnings ratios in China, and side-stepped any questions about AIG at the Hong Kong Venture Capital and Private Equity AssociationÆs 20th anniversary dinner at the Four Seasons hotel last night.

The 82-year-old American businessman and former chairman and CEO of American International Group, posed the question: Why has private equity been growing?

ôA lot of companies are fed up with having to file quarterly earnings because if you miss by a penny youÆre trashed,ö he says, laying blame in part on young analysts whom he described as ôtwenty-one-year-olds fresh from college who think they know how to run companiesö.

Add the hassles of filing earnings reports to over-regulation and ôat some point, some reach the conclusion: why be public?ö says Greenberg, who is now chairman and CEO of CV Starr & Co.

Turning to the subprime fallout, he says: ôItÆll be some time before credit gets anything like it used to be û so there will be far more discrimination in what deals you do and who will get access to debt.ö

He adds: ôIÆm not suggesting private equity will come to a screeching halt, just suggesting it will be far more discriminatory.ö

After heaping praise on the growth of China he warns, however: ôWhatÆs not healthy is the unrealistic P/EÆs in the A- and H-shares. IÆd be suspect of anything selling at 30x to 60x earnings.ö

He sums up the issue by saying: ôThe area would be better served if there was a little more control.ö

Greenberg was ever the gentleman and didnÆt dish dirt on AIG even when an audience member asked him his views on loyalty û a reference to how after decades of work for AIG, in 2005 its board forced him to resign from his post as CEO. This was because Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York state, alleged Greenberg was guilty of fraudulent business practices. (After a subsequent investigation, however, all criminal charges were dropped.)

And when asked about ChinaÆs political system, Greenberg (perhaps reflecting his thoughts these days given his age) took a religious bent. ôThereÆs more than one road to heaven. . .you canÆt impose a political system from outside. Not successfully. You can impose, but it ainÆt going to work. China has to find its own way.ö
¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.

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