The point of this example is not to pick on Avis. It's to point out that the financial infrastructure that enabled the selling of Avis 17 times seems to have produced the sort of activity that would not have occurred otherwise. Avis was bought and sold for the individual benefit of the people buying and selling it and not for the benefit of the company as a business.
Since 1946, Avis has been sold or reorganized 17 or 18 times, depending on how you count. Each time Avis changed hands or structure, there have been fees for bankers and fees for lawyers, bonuses for the top executives and theories about why this was exactly what the company needed. …
Modern capitalism has two parts: there’s business, and there’s finance. Business is renting you a car at the airport. Finance is something else. More and more of the news labeled “business” these days is actually about finance, and much of it is mystifying. Even if you can understand — just barely — how it works, you still wonder what the point is and why people who do it need to get paid so much. And you strongly suspect that the swirl of financial activity around Avis for the past six decades has had little or nothing to do with the business of renting cars.
Last September, a week after the Avis Budget Group began trading on the New York Stock Exchange, The Wall Street Journal reported that the new company was “ripe for the picking.” Carl Icahn, another wily financier from the 1980s, had acquired a $100 million stake in the company and would not comment about his intentions.
The Journal warned, “If a buyout or acquisition deal doesn’t materialize for Avis, stock and bond investors will have to focus on the fundamentals of its car-rental business.” Goodness! Anything but that!
The adaptation is that a category of financial manipulators has evolved and thrived in an environment that allows this sort of financial manipulation.