Author Archive: Robert Bell

Private equity: A brief history of the trillion-dollar global industry

Image source: LOM Financial


The beginnings of private equity industry can be traced back the post-World War II era as a response to the economic gloom caused by the war’s aftermath. The late 1940s, in contrast to the state of the finance industry during those times, was the golden age of the formation of the world’s very first venture capital firms: the American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC) and the J.H. Whitney & Company.

In the 1980s, private equity investors in the U.S. recorded a boom in large buyouts on Wall Street, participated by two famous PE investors: Henry Kravis and Jerome Kohlberg, Jr. of the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), a modern global investment firm.

Over just a period of ten years (from the end of the 1970s through 1990s), records show thousands of leveraged buyouts, amounting to an overall transaction value of $250 billion.  The same decade also produced major private equity firms like Hellman & Friedman, The Carlyle Group, Bain Capital, and the Blackstone Group.

The deterioration in economic and financial performance in the U.S., for instance, totally changed the recent history of the private equity industry and the investment industry as a whole. Before 2008, private equity firms used to have the freedom and capacity to complete huge buyouts, thanks to low-interest rates, laid-back lending procedures, and even easy access to debt-financing.

Come 2008, fewer buyouts were observed, recording only small volumes of completed deals. The figures drastically dropped, from the early years of the 21st-century value of trillions to just over $400 billion from 2008-2010. However, as soon as the economy recovered from this recession, private equity buyouts slowly found its way back to the limelight, closing billion-dollar buyout deals once again.

Today, the global private equity industry holds over $2 trillion in assets and a committed capital value of $1 trillion.

Fashion juggernauts: Top design brands based on what you wear

Fashion has been and will always be part of modern human civilization. The demand for designer clothing increases every year as well as the number of people working in the industry—which some sources estimate to be enough to build their own country.

Today, fashion is one of the most lucrative businesses across the globe. Furthermore, the trends and styles that we follow are typically ephemeral and constantly changing—even from season to season. In addition, especially among women, wearing apparels and accessories with a designer’s label is more than just a social status. It defines every individual’s personality and may boost his or her confidence and self-esteem.

From the creations of well-known fashion designers and reputable fashion houses, here is a list of some of the most coveted fashion brands according to which type of garment you would want to wear:

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Lingerie – Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret is famous for its premium lingerie brand and sleepwear for women. It was founded in 1977 by an American businessman, Roy Raymond, and currently has over 1000 operating stores in the United States and the UK. In 2016, the company had an estimated global net sales of $12.6 billion and approximately $5.29 million net sales per store average.

This year’s highly anticipated fashion show was filmed in Shanghai, where 55 Victoria’s Secret models have donned their embellished lingerie and wings covered with tons of crystals while walking down the VS runway at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. In addition, Lais Ribeiro, a Brazilian model, has worn this year’s VS Fantasy Bra worth $2 million (£1.5m); this is by far the most expensive and famous lingerie brand in 2017 according to


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Haute couture – Michael Cinco

A Dubai-based Filipino fashion designer, Michael Cinco is widely known for his magnificent couture creation. He launched his first fashion line in Dubai, in 2003. Eventually, he became famous when he started dressing international celebrities such as Tyra Banks, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Mariah Carey.

One of his most expensive creations was worth $1 million, a six-meter long train wedding gown encrusted with Swarovski crystal worn by an Austrian singer and heiress to the Swarovski fortune, Victoria Swarovski, during her extravagant wedding in the Italian city of Trieste. And just recently, Michael showcased his Fall- Winter 2016-2017 couture collection during the Haute Couture event in Paris. He also designed the farewell gowns of the two latest Miss Universe winners, Philippines and France.


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Luxury bags and apparel – Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton is the epitome of luxury and one of the most recognized brand names in the world of fashion. It was established in France in 1854 and was named “The World’s Most Valuable Luxury Brand” for six consecutive years (2006-2012). This year, Louis Vuitton ranked again on Forbes list as the 20th Most Valuable Luxury Brand with $28.8 billion brand valuation and $9.9 billion revenue.

Furthermore, Louis Vuitton staged its Fall-Winter Collection for 2012 at Express Train Station in Shanghai. The runway was designed in a highly dramatic setting, with the models onboard all the way from Paris in a luxury train as their theme for the extravaganza and was reportedly cost $8 million for the steam train alone.

REPOST: Startup unleashes big data on art investing

Yes, even in the seemingly millennia-old realm of arts, artificial intelligence (AI) can have a big influence on. Read up St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s article on how Big Data on arts can affect people’s investing decisions when it comes to alternative investments:

Three pieces from a set of 18 Chinese export paintings (center) at Ely House in London on Oct. 12, 2015. Bloomberg photo by Luke MacGregor.

Hedge funds and some of the world’s biggest banks have embraced the predictive properties of machine learning to spot patterns and guide their investment decisions. Could this branch of artificial intelligence be used to divine the vagaries of the art market?

A New York startup says it can. Arthena analyzes hundreds of thousands of data points on works of art — artist, style, medium, size and so forth. Adding a touch of human insight, the company picks pieces it says will generate handsome returns for investors. Arthena currently manages several funds, ranging from low-risk ones that invest in modern art to higher-risk funds that buy works from emerging artists.

The startup, which is backed by Foundation Capital, Beamonte Investments and Y Combinator, recently teamed up with brokerage Charles Schwab, which offers a suite of alternative investment offerings.

Valuing art is inherently subjective, and many experts are skeptical that it can be profitably bought and sold simply by the numbers. But Arthena co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Madelaine d’Angelo says AI could shed light on a market where deals are often done privately, lower the barriers to entry and help democratize art investing.

“Most people in the art world don’t like what we’re doing,” d’Angelo says, noting that she’s been accused of stealing the soul from art investing. “We’re not advocating that art shouldn’t exist for art’s sake, or that people should stop building collections, but we want to make it more widely available as an asset class and investment opportunity.”

Read more HERE.

Economics of Christmas: How much money is made and spent during the holidays?

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The Christmas season is perhaps one of the most celebrated holidays in the world and while many countries consider it as a religious festivity, other nations have created their own definition of this joyful event.

From sharing meals among one’s family and friends, exchanging gifts, to selfless giving to the less fortunate, these are just some of the ways to celebrate the essence of the holidays—and all of these typically come from careful budgeting and stretching one’s finances.

If you scratch the surface and look at it from an economic perspective, how expensive really is Christmas and how much money is made during the most wonderful time of the year?

According to several statistics, Christmas is one of the strongest economic drivers among many nations globally, reporting rapid and dramatic sales increases in almost every retail store worldwide. In the United States, for instance, the retail industry recorded a staggering three-trillion dollars in the 2013 holiday shopping season.


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A recent study by the National Retail Federation further revealed that in 2016, an average American spent over $900 for their holiday gift list – and researchers are expecting that this year, it will go up and reach almost a thousand dollar per person.

On a comparative perspective, the spending habits of Australians—for example—are not far from that of the Americans. In fact, they’re one of the most generous in the world when it comes to gift-giving, spending over $11 billion during the holiday season. It is estimated that this year, the average Australian will spend almost $600 for gifts alone. In the developing world, however, spending can be understandably lower but also growing over time.

The commercialization of Christmas season started a long time ago and its influence as strong economic stimuli is expected to grow in the future. People are expected to spend thousands of dollars on gifts, decorations, holiday parties and more. In fact, Christmases around the world, especially in the West, are anticipated to be increasingly extravagant every year.

Wealthiest teenage celebrities in the world

Is there a perfect formula to become a millionaire at a young age? While some of the richest people in the world managed to be on top of the list because of their family’s influence and wealth, others succeeded through hard work and raw talent.

Let’s take a look at the young people who dominate the list of the wealthiest teenage celebrities today:


  1. Elle Fanning (estimated net worth: $5 Million)

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Age: 19 years old

Born on April 9, 1998, the younger sister of the iconic Dakota Fanning is making her own name in the industry. In 2005, Elle was a main part of the Studio Ghibli animated film, My Neighbor Totoro for her role as the English voice for Mei Kusakabe. The following year was the period that catapulted her to success, accepting major leading roles. It is estimated that the sisters have a combined net worth of over $21 million.


  1. Cameron Boyce (estimated net worth: $5 million)

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Age: 18 years old

Cameron Boyce was born on 28 May 1999 in Los Angeles and is one of today’s highly recognized celebrities. Most of his projects involve film and television series, and even at a young age he was known for his talent in his craft. Included in his acting portfolio are nine TV performances, product ads, five major film roles and one Young Artist award in 2012, and lastly, an Apple Design Award in 2014.  The success of his projects earned him an amazing net worth of $5 million.


  1. Jaden Smith (estimated net worth: $8 Million)

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Age: 19 years old

Jaden Smith is an American rapper, singer, songwriter and actor and is the son of one of the most successful actors in the world, Will Smith. The young Smith has been following his father’s footsteps and it started when he landed his first acting role in the film, The Pursuit of Happyness—and many other movie projects followed. Jaden Smith was born on July 8, 1998. In his younger and early teenage years, his character was considered eccentric and one-of-a-kind.


REPOST: Could buying paintings make you rich?

Depending on the circumstances and on a number of factors, one can actually make immense money from art. Financial advisors, however, recommend exercising proper caution. Read more insights on BBC:

Online sites like Artfinder are enabling less well established artists to sell their works

It’s a fantasy akin to winning the lottery.

That painting you spotted in an antique shop for a tenner turns out to be worth thousands, or the ugly painting gifted to you by your grandmother and hidden in a cupboard ever since is actually worth a pile of money.

For one investor that dream has come true.

A painting of Christ believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci has just sold for a record $450m (£341m).

Just under 60 years ago, the very same painting, then generally reckoned to be the work of a follower of Leonardo and not the work of Leonardo himself, sold at auction for a mere £45.

Even accounting for inflation that’s a pretty dramatic return on your investment.

So is investing in paintings a good way to get rich fast? And how should you invest in art?

Continue reading HERE.

The evolution of art and its value to society

The creation of art has been observed in many cultures and even from the prehistoric times, it has served many purposes from a means to communicate belief systems, to expression of ideas about humanity’s day to day struggles. Aside from being a testament of the human experience, it has also served as valuable documents, proving insight, inspiration and wealth to those who possess them.

Let’s take a look at the history of art from the antiquities to the modern times and understand the special role that they played in many civilizations.

Art in Prehistoric Times

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Life was hard for the hunter-gatherers during the prehistoric times (30,000-10,000 BC) but it was a crucial moment for humans to finally evolve from their abstract thinking to discovering and creating art.

The main purpose of the early humans’ art forms was for mere expression and description of their day-to-day life as hunters and gatherers. Cave paintings for instance, often show impressions of food and wild animals.

Art in the Middle Ages

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The dawn of the 1st Century marked the age of early-Christian Art. Most art works were created to honor and praise the divine and the Bible. Catacombs were adorned with the most magnificent patterns; portable arts were now present and the construction of churches home to mosaics.

Religious writings and immortalizing the Word of God in books also started the artistic process of printing and book-making.

Art in the Renaissance

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The 15th century was the golden age for Italian art in Florence and it started a whole new trade to the recognition of the economic and monetary value of the works of art. Wealthy and powerful families began spending and commissioning artists to create sculptures and paintings to ‘beautify’ the Republic.

Art in the Modern Age

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The birth of impressionism transformed the art scene into something contemporary – and for the traditional artists, unrecognizable. It was the rise of experimentation and extreme individuality which eventually triggered new art movements, styles and schools.

The boom in the art scene also contributed to the rise in enthusiasts who are willing to spend over billions just to own a masterpiece. In fact, investing in art as a tangible asset has become one of the ways to diversify one’s portfolio.


REPOST: Fine Art Can Be A Fine Investment

The investment world offers a wide range of assets in which investors can potentially grow their money. But beyond the stock and bond markets, their are other alternative assets that may provide higher returns over the long term. And they include fine art. Read the following article on Investopedia for more information:

The painting you bought to match your sofa may increase in worth, or it may be as salable as your kid’s pasta-filled craft project.

As with any investment, you need to do your research and go beyond your comfort zone. The art market is fickle, and there are no guarantees of profitability, but with a little legwork and forethought you can fill your home with images that may prove worthy investments down the line. Consider these tips for choosing fine art and identifying the Michelangelo from the macaroni.

Original Ideas: Paintings and Giclées
You walk into a gallery and fall in love with a $5,000 painting, but you just can’t justify the price tag. The gallery owner shows you a selection of the same artist’s work for a humble $500, explaining that the pieces are giclées. A giclée is a machine-made print, a reproduction printed on fine paper or canvas with color and clarity that can rival the original. But it’s still a copy.

The rarity of a work of art is what gives it value, so an original will always be worth more than a reproduction. While a giclée may come labeled with superlatives like “museum quality” or “archival”, and the seller may hawk a certificate of authenticity, it will never be as valuable as an original. Some artists and appraisers even view giclées as a gimmick for novice artists and neophyte collectors.

Still, there’s no denying that a giclée puts fine art within reach for many art enthusiasts, and while a certificate doesn’t lend much value to the reproduction, a fresh signature and especially a remarque (an original drawing made by the artist in the margin of the giclée) could bump up future value.

You may hear stories of giclées being proudly exhibited at such noble institutions as the BritishMuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the pieces held in these collections are limited edition Iris prints of digital images or digital manipulations – such as “Nest and Trees” by Kiki Smith at the Met. They are not reproductions of original paintings. Museums do, however, sell giclée versions of masterpieces to generate income. These giclées, though pleasing to your eye and soul, won’t pull in any future income for you.

Doing the Loupe de Loupe: Prints and Posters
Maxfield Parrish and Courier & Ives brought art into the homes of America at the turn of the century with their mass-produced prints. These images are the predecessors of the posters sold in malls and museum shops today. Posters, like giclées, give you access to a masterpiece, but a poster is not the same as a fine art print, which can be in the form of a hand-pulled silkscreen, lithograph or block print.

You can often distinguish an artist print from a poster with the naked eye, though in some cases you may need a loupe or magnifying glass. The process of offset printing leaves a tiny dot matrix on the paper – think of a comic book or a Roy Lichtenstein painting with its exaggerated dots of color.

Several factors determine the value of an artist’s print: the size of the edition, that is, the number of prints the artist makes of one work; the significance of the work; the condition of the print; and whether it is signed and numbered by the artist. In the market for prints, it is rarity that bestows value. A low run of limited edition prints is more valuable than a mass-produced image. Even an earlier pull of a print – say No.10 of 100 (rather than No 80 of 100) – can mean better value.

Continue reading HERE.

Sleeper hits: Low-budget films that broke box office records

What really defines a good movie? Is it the complexity of the plot? Is it the amount of technical effort put into each frame? While everyone has different answers to these questions, many can agree that great filmmaking does not only require a generous amount of financial capital. While having enough funding is important, many have proven that small-budget films can also win the crowd and bring home massive ticket sales. Let’s take a look at some of the best low-budget films that broke the budget norm and won back an enormous return on investment (ROI):

Paranormal Activity (Budget: $15K Box Office: $193M)

This low-budget suspense thriller directed by Oren Peli was actually shot at his own house for just seven filming days, working under a $15K fund.
The creators of Paranormal Activity won the box office without spending a single penny on advertisements and promotions. Instead, the disturbing handheld camera horror movie gathered a following via word of mouth.
The success of the first movie fueled the production of four more sequels, taking home a combined gross income of $805 million as of 2014.

The Blair Witch Project (Budget: $60K Box Office: $248M)

Another spooky handheld camera film captured the attention of scary movie fans and curious viewers around the world. With a $60K budget (reports estimate less), it became a worldwide blockbuster hit and was able to pull in $248M.
The film seemed very realistic and it was able to convince many viewers that the footage was actually real until creators and actors revealed themselves to the public after its huge success.

Friday the 13th (Budget: $500k Box Office: $59M)

The reputation of this movie has gained it an international following and its fandom endures even after years since it was first released in the 80s. However, not everyone knows that the production cost of Friday the 13th was only $500k.
The story revolves around a group of camp counselors who attempted to open an old summer camp that was once the site of drowning accident. The horror started when an unknown attacker began stalking and murdering them one by one.

REPOST: What Are Alternative Investments And What Can They Offer?

Diversification is one of the most crucial elements in investing. Building a portfolio that includes alternative investments, such as art, may be risky but it can also be very profitable in the long term. To know more, read this article on MSN:

Many alternative investments carry high minimum investments and are rather complex if you don’t understand them well. | © (Jamie Grill/Getty Images)


If you’ve got any sort of portfolio, you know what stocks and bonds are.

Those two asset classes dominate the typical retail investor’s portfolio, but alternative investments – non-traditional investments that tend not to be correlated to the performance of stocks and bonds – aren’t given much of a thought.

Perhaps they should be.

Here’s a look at the alternative investments landscape, what it offers, and some specific types of investments that, if nothing else, are certainly more interesting than Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) stock and municipal bonds.

Hedge funds. Hedge funds are the most encompassing type of alternative investments. Investors pool their funds together and a manager deploys their capital in an effort to achieve “alpha,” or a return that beats a certain benchmark.

When you bring up alternative investments, the first thing many financial professionals think of is hedge funds, which themselves often invest in other non-correlated, non-traditional assets.

Still, hedge funds have a few defining characteristics of their own.

“Most alternatives tend to be illiquid, so if you’re looking for liquidity they’re not the right tool for you,” says George Sullivan, global head of alternative investment solutions for State Street. “Hedge funds have liquidity dates that are monthly, as opposed to mutual funds which would be daily.”

Many also require extremely high minimum investments, making them impossible for the average investor to afford. In fact, you’ve got to be an accredited investor, which means you have to meet stringent requirements like making $200,000 for two straight years (and believing you’ll do so again this year) or having a net worth of $1 million – excluding your primary residence.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting alternative investments – some of which hedge funds themselves will invest in – that are actually accessible to the average investor.

Music royalties. is an auction website that connects buyers and sellers in (mostly) the music royalties industry. Artists looking to raise some quick cash can take to the website to sell their future royalties. Specifics vary from auction to auction, but investors can then get paid every time a certain song or portfolio of songs is played on the radio, streamed, or heard on TV.

Recent performance rights to “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth sold for $102,000 on Royalty Exchange. The song’s trailing 12 months earnings were $11,372. That’s on the expensive end for Royalty Exchange, whose last 30 auctions went for a median price of $29,750.

So what makes music royalties an interesting alternative investment opportunity?

“Royalties actually offer a good degree of yield,” says Antony Bruno, director of communications at Royalty Exchange. “If you buy at the right price you can get yields far greater than what you can get from bonds or savings accounts or other types of investments.”

Bruno also credits the consistency (quarterly payments), stability (older assets reach a “plateau level” of earnings you can generally rely on), and royalties’ divergence from broader market returns as reasons to invest.

“Stock market crashes? That doesn’t affect anything – you still get paid your royalties. There’s really no connection between the two. Having an uncorrelated asset that’s both consistent, stable, and has a high yield – you put all that together and you’ve got a pretty powerful opportunity,” Bruno says.

Cryptocurrencies. Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, odds are you’ve heard of bitcoin. While bitcoin is certainly the most popular cryptocurrency, it’s far from the only one.

The recent raging bull market in this asset class has brought it to the front pages of many financial publications, and for good reason: aside from its potential as a seamless payment method, it also holds promise in fields like law and health care, where the blockchain can be used to permanently log contracts and medical records.

“Alternative assets by definition have less liquidity than traditional assets, but they also offer massive upsides if you can sacrifice short-term flexibility,” says Zach Hamilton, managing partner of General Crypto, a long-only hedge fund that only invests in cryptographically secured assets. “Cryptocurrencies are extremely liquid, negating most of this downside.”

Hamilton adds, “Several studies have been done, including our own internal analysis that show cryptocurrencies are uncorrelated with the general market, including commodities like oil and gold.”

Real estate. While real estate can certainly correlate with the broader economy, it’s still been a remarkable investment opportunity over the long-term. For many Americans, real estate ends up being the largest single investment they ever make when they buy their primary residence.

Of course, there are ways to invest in real estate aside from literally buying houses. One of the more popular and accessible ways to do this is through real estate investment trusts.

“I like REITs because they give us an opportunity to invest in real estate without having the hassles of being a landlord or financing a project,” says Tom Vilord, president and CEO of Wall Street Value, an investor education company, and WSV Capital, a hedge fund.

Like stocks, REITs are publicly traded, and due to their tax structure, they’re legally required to pay 90 percent of their earnings back to their investors, which means they’re known for their extremely high yields.

Exact yields vary, but REITs often fall between 5 and 10 percent, and sometimes yield even more. Another great thing about REITs is you can get granular when it comes to the type of properties you’re investing in. Options include single-family homes, commercial real estate, health care facilities and other opportunities.

Other options, and a word of caution. There are still more interesting and potentially lucrative alternative investments that share some typical (and attractive) characteristics like not being correlated with the stock market and an ability to give portfolios a measure of diversity.

Peer-to-peer loans, private equity, art, luxury cars and other collectibles are additional options for investors looking to mix things up a little bit.

However, to insinuate that alternatives are all upside and no downside is, of course, misleading and untrue.

“They tend to be private in their structure as opposed to public, they’re generally illiquid and aren’t as regulated as more traditional investments,” Sullivan says.

Before turning to alternative investments, for instance, you should likely make sure you have a nice traditional portfolio of stocks and bonds (or funds that hold them) first. This is a very broad asset class that’s far more opaque than the stock market; stocks are still clear winners when it comes to average historical returns.

Aside from their traditional illiquidity, many alternative investments carry high minimum investments and are rather complex instruments that could leave you holding the bag if you don’t understand them well. There are plenty of exciting and unique ones to be sure – but then again excitement can’t buy you a retirement home in the Bahamas.

Be wise, and consult a financial advisor before taking a serious plunge.