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Is The End Near?

For the last several years, the saying has been “There’s never been a better time to sell.” Multiples have been high. Buyers have been plentiful. Debt has been cheap.  Optimism has run strong. The truth is, it is undeniably still a great time to sell; it’s never been better.  But …

It takes time to sell and for the first time since emerging from the Great Recession, certainty about whether or not the later part of the new year will be a good time to sell- the best ever – is down. Anyone who says they can predict these markets is a fool.  But the probability of a turn is certainly high and increasing as we begin this year.

The good news is that the signs indicate not an immediate downturn but rather one that can still be beaten to the finish line. Selling a business should take six months to a year. Thus anyone moving out now on a process should be able to take advantage of these good times – if they get started fast and, more than ever, move diligently and place a higher emphasis on certainty of close when selecting their winning bidder.

The change in the tea leaves really began in November and accelerated throughout December. Some of the key indicators include:

  • In a December Duke University poll, almost half of responding U.S. CFO’s stated that they believed a recession was likely to occur in 2019. Even more compelling, more than 80% of those CFO’s felt recession would strike by the end of 2020.[1]Right or wrong; the respondents to this poll are the key influencers of the amount of M&A activity generated by strategic buyers – and those most responsible for bad deals. If the economy does sour, or they simply believeit is going to sour, they will not be sticking their necks out for adventuresome acquisitions at record multiples.
  1. The public markets provide several signs.  The first is the relative comparison of the large caps, to the midcaps, and then to the small caps. The M&A market for privately-held companies can essentially be seen as a microcap extension of the public markets. While we all know the public markets did not do well last year, what most have not commented upon is that in the last four months of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal, (2) large caps were down 5.5%, midcaps were down 8.6% and small caps are down 16.4% going into the last trading week of the year.We’ve not yet seen the extension of this extrapolated line into the private markets but one must wonder how long the trickle-down effect will take.  Smaller companies tend to do well at the beginning of an upturn and larger cap companies do better at the end.
  • Debt is becoming a more attractive alternative for investors. This will be problematic to the sellers of businesses for various reasons. Most obviously, M&A buyers are large consumers of debt. They use it to buy companies. If they must pay more for their debt, they have less money left in their accounts to offer sellers. Less obviously but probably more significantly, the historically abysmal returns debt has offered for much of the last decade have led many typical debt investors, including insurance companies and pension funds, to provide equity to private equity funds. Flush with this extra cash, PE funds have been on a buying spree which is commonly stated to be the driving force behind today’s frothy valuations. As those investors shift back to the more normalized bond markets, private equity will have less energy and vigor for aggressive bidding.
  • The financial press seems to be of the mind that the artificial boost to strategic buyers provided by the recent tax cuts has run its course. Is this a fair assessment or simply “Trump-bashing”? We have no idea but we all know that in the markets, sentiment is often more important than reality. Perhaps the fact that 2018 saw increasingly attractive results for sellers was a result of those tax cuts carrying the bull market on around for one last lap. Again, we are not talking certainties here, just indications and probabilities.
  • The strong dollar has dampened the ability of foreign buyers to compete in the US markets.With yet another class of buyers lowering their activity levels, it may not be long before the laws of supply and demand kick in and the equilibrium point on the old supply and demand curves shifts down and to the left.
  • China has largely gone home. As 2018 proceeded, the Chinese government tightened its grip on the export of capital. In the last half of 2018, the US government began to make Chinese investors feel unwelcome as well. Numerous high-profile deals were killed in a very visible fashion as a result of regulatory interference on both sides of the Pacific. These included, most notably, the purchase of Recurrent Energy Developments operations by Shenzhen Energy in August and then Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm.  According to CNN Money, Chinese investment in the US fell by 92% between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2017 – 92% - and has been declining steadily since the second half of 2016.[1]Add to this the late 2018 US-China financial cold war and China’s slowly increasing realization that it has been splurging on debt that is now coming due and proving hard to pay down, and the spigot is now approaching the closed position.
  • Forecasted growth of companies in the US public markets has taken a definite downturn. The S&P 500 saw collective growth of 7.3% in sales and 8.2% in profit year-over-year in the third quarter. The Wall Street Journal has been consistently predicting over the last three months that those same figures in a year will have fallen to 5.4% and 4.1% respectively.[1]While the private markets are not the public markets, both are selling that intangible asset known as future cash flows and if buyers feel the big companies can’t continue to deliver outsized returns, they are likely to share at least some of that sentiment when it comes to the private markets.
  • Divided government might bring an end to the pro-business approach demonstrated over the last two years. The people that matter state that decreased regulation, lower taxes, and a more tolerant enforcement environment have benefited their businesses and increased the prices they are willing to pay for companies. But a period of more compromise is now inevitable and the uncertainty of the 2020 elections will likely only grow and bring with it a sense of increased risk that will affect valuations.
  • All good things must come to an end. We have enjoyed a ten-year bull market in M&A, both private and public.  That qualifies as “long in the tooth” to be as polite as possible.  It seems that 4% GDP growth is not sustainable. Unemployment can’t go any lower. Further tax decreases seem unlikely. The federal deficit and debt are growing. Interest rates are not likely to drop. Confidence and sentiment could not be higher than they were three months ago and are in fact a bit lower now than they were then.

The good news is that we’ve seen absolutely no indication that the market for private companies has yet been affected by these indications. Furthermore, changes in valuation, whether favorable or unfavorable, have not historically occurred rapidly. If there is to be a drop in multiples, it will be perhaps not gradual but at least measured. That said, the probability we now face is that we are more likely than before to look back from a spot twelve months in the future and say “I remember when it, was the best time to sell.”

Author:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: 1-813-898-2363
E: Johnston@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Understanding EBITDA

In arriving at a valuation for their business, many managers come across the term EBITDA.  For some this term is Greek and for others it’s a term they vaguely remember being mentioned during their days in business school. For many business owners it’s a completely new term, with no context, and why it is important is a complete mystery to them.  But to buyers, EBITDA seems to be an incredibly important term.  So what is EBITDA?

To begin let’s spell out the acronym.  EBITDA stands for “Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization,” that is, a company’s earnings before items which can be disassociated from the day to day operations of the business.  EBITDA is therefore a measure of the financial strength of the business, and presents a proxy for the total cash flow which a potential buyer could expect to garner from the purchase of your business.

Let’s break down each part of the acronym, beginning with Earnings. In the case of your business, Earnings is represented by the bottom line income, what is labeled “Ordinary Business Income,” on your tax returns.  This is the number arrived at by subtracting all expenses from Revenues and adding or subtracting any additional cost or income.  Distributions and dividends are items which occur after “Earnings” is calculated and are therefore not included in this equation.

Interest payments are associated with debt that the company currently holds.  Those interest payments whether they are on a Line of Credit to the local bank or for outstanding debt the company has taken on to purchase machinery or warehouse space, will likely be in some way included into the sales price of your business.  Meaning, that when a new owner takes over operations, or comes on board to help grow your business, the business will be starting fresh.  From the time of the sale going forward the new owners can expect all of the money previously paid to the bank, to flow through to bottom line earnings instead.  For this reason, in valuing your company it is important to add back interest payments to your bottom line earnings.

Next, we arrive at taxes. Each and every business pays taxes, but the amount is variable by state and subject to current legislation.  For that reason, we add back some, but not all taxes to your bottom line profits.  In most cases the only tax added back will be your Franchise Taxes. Franchise Taxes are those taxes charged by a state to a company, as the cost of a business in that state.  The tax varies based on the size of the business and the state in which the business is incorporated.  Because a company may be incorporated in a different state, or the size of the business may drastically change after an acquisition, these taxes are therefore variable and not a reflection on the business’ earnings.

Depreciation is a fancy accounting term for something we all know.  The amount of value your car loses the moment you drive it off the lot, is the most common form of depreciation we deal with during our lives.  Say you purchased new machinery ten years ago, and it is still running and in good condition, humming along each day spitting out all the widgets you can sell.  But your accountant may send you tax returns each year saying your machine is worth less and less.  This amount that gets deducted by your accountant isn’t an actual amount of cash leaving your business, but it decreases your bottom line earnings.  For this reason, we add depreciation back, to put back into your bottom line, an amount which was taken out on paper, but not out of your company’s checking account.  An additional note, as we are dealing with your company’s Profit and Loss statement, we ignore the total amount of accumulated depreciation which is shown on your Balance Sheet, in order to capture the expense associated only with one accounting period.

Amortization is Depreciations baby brother. If you purchased a business ten years ago, you may have paid more for that company than what it was worth at that very moment based on the amount of assets and business you were garnering by purchasing that company and its clients.  Let’s say that the business you bought was worth one million dollars, but you figured that the business’ client list and trademark was worth an additional half million dollars to you over the long run, and so you paid one point five million dollars for the business.  This additional half million dollars is sometimes referred to as “good will”. It’s a value which can be reflected on paper and then turned into cash over a period of time.  Just like your new car though, each year your accountant is going to take some part of this half million dollars and subtract it from your profits before he or she arrives at your bottom line net income.  Since this number is an adjustment made on paper, just like depreciation, adding it back gives a better picture of the amount of cash flowing through your business.

In sum, each of these components of EBITDA combine to create a clearer picture of your company’s true value to potential buyers, and is therefore something buyers are particularly interested in.  In order to understand Adjustments to EBITDA please see my coworker Austin Pakola’s piece on adjustments to EBIDA.

Author:
Patrick Seaworth
Analyst
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (512) 861 3314 
E: Seaworth@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Five Ways to Increase the Value of Your Business

You have a business with a strong bottom line and you are considering selling to realise its value. As a general rule of thumb, you used a five times multiple of earnings to work out a valuation for your company and are happy with the price you could command for your business. You put the company on the market but the prices offered are nowhere near what you expected – so what went wrong?

Companies that find themselves in this position are likely to be lacking in transferable business value. Transferable business value is a company with internal characteristics that will continue once the owner departs. Without this, no matter how strong the bottom line is, acquirers are likely to be unwilling to invest, or drive down the price paid for the company.

So, does your company have transferable business value? The below details five features that acquirers look for in a business which could increase its value.

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If Business Valuation Was A Science…

Determining the value of your business is not as simple as looking at the numbers, applying tried and tested formulas, and concluding. Were it that straightforward all business valuations would be virtually identical. The fact that they are not is sure proof that valuation is not a science, it can only be an art.

If Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) was as straightforward as calculating the theoretical value of a business, based on historical performance and using that to determine market value I would need something more constructive to do with my time.

Valuation is not as primitive as we have been led to believe. Whilst transaction values are commonly represented as a multiple of earnings this is merely the accepted vernacular used to report on a concluded transaction and almost never the methodology used to arrive at the value being reported.

The worth of a business is often determined by the category of buyer engaged. Financial buyers can add significant value to a business in the right stage of its life cycle but may not assume complete ownership, thereby delivering value for the seller simultaneously with their own. The right strategic acquirer for any business would be one that can unlock a better future for the business, and is willing to recognize, and compensate, a seller for the true value the entity represents to them.

Comparing the experience of so many clients, over so many years, and avidly following the outcomes of all the transactions published in South Africa there is little dispute that businesses are an asset class, like any other, and that the best value of all asset classes are only ever realized through competitive processes irrespective of whether the acquirer has financial or strategic motives.  

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

1.  The itch of business valuation

Simplistically, for the right acquirer - one seeking an outcome that extends past a short-term return on their initial investment - valuation is more a function of the buyer's next best alternative, than it is a businesses’ historic performance.

It would be naïve to think that the myriad of accepted valuation methodologies have no place in the process but identifying, engaging and recognising the benefits of the acquisition for a variety of strategically motivated buyers is essential in determining value in this context.

Considering a variety of appropriate valuation metrics, the parameters applied and then being able to balance these against the alternative investment required to achieve a similar outcome is where the key determinant of value lies. This is a complex process that unlocks the correct value for buyer and seller alike and it is a result that is rarely achieved without engaging with a wide variety of different acquirers and being prepared to "kiss a few frogs"

The most valuable assets on the planet are only ever sold through competitive processes where buyers have the benefit of understanding and determining value in the context of their own motives, having considered their available alternatives. It is for this reason that when marketing a business, it should never be done with a price attached. 

2.  An aggressive multiple

Whilst conventional wisdom is firm on industry average multiples, case studies abound, and the business community is regularly astounded by stated multiples achieved when companies change hands.

Beneath the glamour, the reality is that multiples are rarely used as a determinant of value, but almost without exclusion applied to understand it. Multiples represent little more than a simplistic metric that reflects an understanding of how many years a business would need to reliably deliver historic earnings in order for the acquirer to recoup their investment.

In the same way as a net asset value (NAV) valuation would unfairly discriminate against service businesses, multiples discriminate against asset rich companies. For strategic acquirers, with motives beyond an internal rate of return - measured against historic earnings - valuation is sophisticated.  It relies on an assessment of whether the business represents the correct vehicle to achieve the strategic objectives, modelling the future returns and assessing risk. Valuation in these circumstances will naturally consider it, but places little reliance on the past performance of a business constrained by capital or the conservatism of a private owner to formulate the future value of such investment. 

Whilst there are Instances where the product of such an exercise matches commonly accepted multiples, there are equally as many valuations that, on the face of it, represent unfathomable results. 

3.  A better tomorrow for the buyer

It would be irresponsible to advocate that that return on investment is not a consideration when determining value - corporate companies and private equity firms typically all have investment committees, boards and shareholders that assess the financial impact of any transaction. It is rare that such decisions are ever vested with a single individual, or that the valuation is derived from their personal desire to own a company or brand.

The art of valuation requires a reliable determination of the synergies between buyer and seller and an accurate assessment of the risks and benefits of the investment. Risk and reward are inherently related and skilled negotiation is required to find solutions that mitigate, or de-risk a transaction for buyer and seller alike, in order to underpin the value
of a transaction.

Financial buyers can be very good acquirers, especially in circumstances where they are co-investing alongside existing owners, staff or management to provide growth funding. When seeking a strategic partner for a business the acquirer should always be unable to unlock value beyond the equivalent of a few years of historical earnings. It is for this reason that the disparity between valuations by trade and financial buyers exists, and why determining the appropriate form of acquirer for any business is a function of the objectives of the seller.

4.  Passing-on the baton, or living the legacy

The motives for a sale can be varied and extend from retirement to funding and growth, from ill-health to a desire to focus on the technical (as opposed to management and administration) aspects, of the business.

Value for buyers and sellers comes in many different forms. For sellers it is their ultimate objective that determines whether they have achieved value in a transaction. For sellers it may be as simple as the price achieved or it could extend to value beyond the balance sheet as diverse as leveraging the acquirer’s BEE credentials, unconstrained access to growth capital or even to secure a future for loyal staff.

For both local and international buyers alike, the intangibles may be as straightforward as speed to market in a new geography who would otherwise not readily secure vendor numbers with the existing customers of the target business. An acquisition may be motivated by access to complimentary technology, skills or distribution agencies to diversify their own offering. Whatever the motives, an assessment of the future of the staff will always be an important aspect to both parties.

There are few, if any businesses, that are anything without the loyal, skilled and hardworking people that deliver for the clients of a business. The quality of resources, succession and staff retention are all factors that weigh on a decision to transact. Navigating the impact of a transaction on staff is a factor that cannot be ignored and the timing of such announcements can be meaningful.

Author:
Andre Bresler
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 1865 410 050
E: Bresler@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Register for our webinar: Multiples. Multiples of What? Fixing the Other Half of the Equation to Maximize Your Valuation

Date:
Thursday, October 11th at 10:00am EST

Register for Webinar 

Details:
It seems that almost every business owner understands how the concept of a business valuation based on “multiples” works. But it also seems that they focused on the multiples side of the equation to the detriment of the other side. 

EBITDA x a multiple = Enterprise Value 

With just a bit more attention on that EBITDA piece of the equation, values can sky rocket. With a better understanding of that side of the equation, surprises can be avoided. And with some preparation, business owners can capture the value their multiple deserves. 

Please join the conversation between our Managing Director Clinton Johnston and our Senior Associate Fernanda Ospina as they discuss both the big picture and a handful of details that are essential to understanding the first, and too often overlooked, part of this equation. Fernanda joins our frequent host to bring her insights into the financial nuances of the dozens of transactions for which she has provided her accounting and financial expertise in recent years. Some of the points they will cover include: 

  • What games do buyers play with defining EBITDA? 
  • What period of EBITDA matters the most? 
  • How do we present the financial history of the company in the best possible light? 
  • What are considered legitimate “add backs” to EBITDA? 
  • How do you defend add-backs? 
  • What do I need to do to prepare for the buyer’s “quality of earnings” analysis?
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Webinar Video: Now that the Valuation is Set, Here’s Where You will Win or Lose the Deal Part II

 

 

If you joined us for part one of this webinar last month, you already understand why coming up with the valuation is only one of many key deal points you will need to secure in order make your exit a success. In part two we examined another six key issues, this time focusing in on those that come even later in the process; after deal fatigue has set in and you feel like you can’t possibly have anything left to fight about or give away. 

1. Winning the net working capital fight 
2. Your indemnification of the acquirer 
3. How the disclosure schedules protect you 
4. Can reps and warranties insurance assist you? 
5. The inevitable non-competes 
6. Meet the Grim Reaper of your sale process - Delays 

If you missed part I, it can be found here (http://bit.ly/2nTsPk7) and we encourage you to take an hour to get caught up to ensure you get the most out of part II. 

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Upcoming Webinar: Now that the Valuation is Set, Here’s Where You will Win or Lose the Deal - PART II

If you joined us for part one of this webinar last month, you already understand why coming up with the valuation is only one of many key deal points you will need to secure in order make your exit a success. In part two we will examine another six key issues, this time focusing in on those that come even later in the process; after deal fatigue has set in and you feel like you can’t possibly have anything left to fight about or give away.

  1. Winning the net working capital fight
  2. Your indemnification of the acquirer
  3. How the disclosure schedules protect you
  4. Can reps and warranties insurance assist you?
  5. The inevitable non-competes
  6. Meet the Grim Reaper of your sale process - Delays

Register and save your seat! 

If you missed part I, the video can be found here and I encourage you to take an hour to get caught up to ensure you get the most out of part II this month.

Date & Time: 
August 30th, 2018
10:00 am EST

Host:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

 

WE ARE READY WHEN YOU ARE. 

Call Benchmark International today if you are interested in an exit or growth strategy or if you are interested in acquiring.

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

Americas: Sam Smoot at +1 (813) 898 2350 / Smoot@BenchmarkCorporate.com

Europe: Carl Settle at +44 (0)161 359 4400 / Settle@BenchmarkCorporate.com

Africa: Anthony McCardle at +2721 300 2055 / McCardle@BenchmarkCorporate.com

 

ABOUT BENCHMARK INTERNATIONAL

Benchmark International’s global offices provide business owners in the middle market and lower middle market with creative, value-maximizing solutions for growing and exiting their businesses. To date, Benchmark International has handled engagements in excess of $5B across 30 industries worldwide. With decades of global M&A experience, Benchmark International’s deal teams, working from 13 offices across the world, have assisted hundreds of owners with achieving their personal objectives and ensuring the continued growth of their businesses.

Website: http://www.benchmarkcorporate.com
Blog: http://blog.benchmarkcorporate.com/ 

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Webinar Video: Now That the Valuation is Set, Here's Where You Will Win or Lose the Deal

 

 

M&A Webinar: Now that the Valuation is Set, Here’s Where You will Win or Lose the Deal

Many sellers think they have reached the finish line once the buyer has been selected or perhaps when the letter of intent is executed. Even those who know they haven’t reached that line often believe all key elements of the transaction have been ironed out and all that remains is the “technical” part. To better understand many of the material issues that remain open after the letter of intent is executed, this webinar will walk participants through a wide array of those open issues. 

  1. Stock versus asset deals, which is really better?
  2. Tax elections = dirty words
  3. Monetizing the real estate portion
  4. Protecting yourself with employment and consulting agreements
  5. Seller notes and earn outs – never say never
  6. Escrows, who needs them?
  7. Winning the net working capital fight
  8. Your indemnification of the acquirer
  9. How the disclosure schedules protect you
  10. Can reps and warranties insurance assist you?
  11. The inevitable non-competes
  12. Meet the Grim Reaper of your sale process- Delays

You can also watch it here on Vimeo:
https://vimeo.com/282908864

Hosted By:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

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Upcoming M&A Webinar: Now that the Valuation is Set, Here’s Where You will Win or Lose the Deal

July 26th @ 10am EST

Register Now >> http://bit.ly/2Nvampu 

Many sellers think they have reached the finish line once the buyer has been selected or perhaps when the letter of intent is executed. Even those who know they haven’t reached that line often believe all key elements of the transaction have been ironed out and all that remains is the “technical” part. To better understand many of the material issues that remain open after the letter of intent is executed, this webinar will walk participants through a wide array of those
open issues. 

READ MORE >>
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