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Apollo's Joshua Harris defends private equity: 'It's easy to paint the industry in a negative way'

Key Points
  • "There's a populist climate right now, and it's easy to paint the industry in a negative way," Harris said. "We need to do a better job of telling our story."
  • Elizabeth Warren unveiled policy proposal to slap new rules on private equity, which makes PE firms responsible for the debt and pension obligations at the companies they buy.
  • The Massachusetts senator said PE firms often act like "vampires, bleeding the company dry and walking away enriched even as the company succumbs."
Joshua Harris speaking at the 2019 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 19, 2019.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Joshua Harris, Apollo Global Management's co-founder, has a message for private equity's naysayers in Washington.

"There's a populist climate right now, and it's easy to paint the industry in a negative way," Harris said at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor. "We need to do a better job of telling our story."

Harris was asked about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's policy proposal to slap new rules on private equity, which makes PE firms responsible for the debt and pension obligations that the companies they buy. The Massachusetts senator said PE firms often act like "vampires, bleeding the company dry and walking away enriched even as the company succumbs."

"The truth of the matter is over the last five years, if you look at the investments over a life cycle in private equity, it's roughly double the amount of the employment growth in the public markets," Harris said.

"We are adding about more than double what the public markets do. The productivity figures are also better. the industry is very very important to deal with the $1.3 trillion underfunded pension funds in the United States," he added.

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Warren said in July she would also "reverse the Trump-era weakening of rules on capital, liquidity, leverage, and resolution-planning for big banks."

Warren has been moving up in the crowded Democratic presidential field, polling only second to former Vice President Joe Biden in a new NBC/WSJ poll. She has proposed a wealth tax on assets above $50 million and a minimum tax on the profits of the largest corporations, to help finance new government benefits for child care, health care, housing and education.

Her ascendant candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination is causing a scare among finance professionals at the conference.