May 7, 2024 - Business

Vibe at Milken: Shiny happy people set for more wealth

Illustration of a happy name tag

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

I spent yesterday among the masters of the universe at the annual Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, and walked away with one overriding thought: Most everyone was quite satisfied with the current state of affairs.

The big picture: Yes, there were mentions of Israel/Gaza, Ukraine/Russia, climate change, national debt, and the growing toxicity of domestic politics. But most of it was said to me as a perfunctory aside — almost as if it was done more for the sake of being polite than of being real.

  • Or sometimes even as opportunistic. Such as bankers talking about how dealflow is getting pulled forward because the M&A market may grind to a halt ahead of the presidential election and any potential chaos that follows.

State of play: These are the people who have internalized the economic data that the Biden administration keeps trying to highlight, without being stung much by inflation.

  • Plus constant mentions of AI as the next great profit multiplier.

Zoom in: There was virtually no consternation over the lack of rate cuts so far in 2024.

  • Not even from private equity bigs, who had been so excited about them going into the year.
  • Now, they seem content with how high rates create buying opportunities, despite high equity prices, and what they mean for affiliated private credit businesses.

Behind the scenes: Sure, some of this was people talking their book to a reporter.

  • For example, several buyout pros acknowledged fundraising challenges, as limited partners have grown tired of low distributions (in addition to other challenges, like foreign exchange rates).
  • But those mentions were almost always as everyone else's problem, because their DPI was deep in the black.
  • There weren't even any outside protests, which conference organizers seem to have expected given introduction of metal detectors and other new security measures.

The bottom line: Positivity was palpable. Not just because most everyone there is fabulously wealthy, but because they sincerely expect to get even richer in the year ahead.

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