The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Big Casino

In venture capital, the "overhang" is the amount of money put into VC funds by investors which has not yet found a use in the economy. This overhang appears to have exceeded $50 billion in the U.S. alone. In other words, enough people believed that VC would make them rich that they put in more money than the world's startups could productively absorb -- by almost $200 per American.

Hedge funds, working with fungible assets, do not show a literal overhang. However, there is reason to believe that they are overinvested by a similar amount. [A too-large hedge fund cannot implement its profitable strategies without moving the market in the process; thus a portion of its money sits in low-risk passive assets, for which investors continue to pay a substantial management fee.] The investor psychology at work is the same as that in VC.

This appears to demonstrate negative risk aversion -- the VC firms are collectively saying that there are no opportunities worth pursuing, yet they have money thrust upon 'em by the investing public. Individual VC funds then have a choice: they can pocket a management fee (generally 1 to 1.5%) and sit on the cash "waiting for the right opportunity"; or they can gamble on a marginal (i.e., unattractive) startup.

Megan McArdle has noted that saving is a thing of the past, even with large tax incentives; this further shows that a substantial portion of what economists would classify as saving is really closer to gambling [in its motivations, not its economic effects].