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Valuing Companies – 7 Pointers From 30 Years’ Experience in the UK

Nick Hulme (Managing Director, Manchester UK) summarises his recent article, ‘7 Pointers from 30 Years’ Experience in the UK’, in this short blog.

1 - It’s Not Just About the Numbers!
Although the normal formula for valuing a company involves multiplying ‘earnings’ by a chosen ‘multiple’, a company is only worth what a buyer is prepared to pay for it.


The numbers are important, of course, but there may be more to the opportunity than the numbers show. Advisers need to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ and focus on those factors that will drive the highest value with the right buyer, not just on the numbers.


They should constantly focus their conversations and analyses on the opportunity, despite the maze of numbers that fly around.

2 – ‘Multiples’ are a Minefield
Desktop research, comparisons to quoted P/E ratios and the considered views of trusted advisers can create a myriad of distortions as to what might be the correct multiple for a company.


It’s easy to see how factors such as growth, a great management team, high margins and, nowadays, tech-enablement will not only deliver the best multiples but add to that the impact of both competitive tension and structure. Any first-time seller could quickly have their heading spinning.


Benchmark International’s Valuation Matrix is a great tool for showing clients a range of valuation scenarios based on different multiples and views of earnings. This is used to educate clients from the start, and to hand-hold them to making the right decisions when the time comes. It is normally updated throughout the process.

3 – There’s More to Earnings than Reported Profits
Getting a real understanding of underlying earnings will be far more important to any buyer than what’s recorded in the company’s annual accounts.


The term we use in the UK for a fair assessment of sustainable adjusted earnings is ‘Maintainable Earnings’. This will often take account of the adjustment of shareholder salaries to market rates and the elimination of true one-off costs.


Care needs to be taken when adding back depreciation. If there is a significant cash cost to a business of replacing its assets annually, a buyer will factor this cost into its assessment of maintainable earnings if adding-back depreciation.


The terms ‘Adjusted EBITDA’ (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and ‘Historical EBITDA’ are often used interchangeably with Maintainable Earnings. I much prefer the latter as it’s a better reflection of the numbers and the story behind them, and is not laden with reference to the past.  


4 – You Can’t Add the Value of Company Assets to the Valuation
If assets are truly ‘surplus’ to the company’s operations then perhaps they can be added to the valuation, but if they are fundamental to the company’s ability to generate its earnings, adding them to the valuation would be double counting. As would be attaching a value to ‘goodwill’. Buyers tend not to be too fond of this!


The most common ‘surplus asset’ we deal with in the UK is what we refer to as ‘free cash’, the opposite of which is debt. It’s much easier for clients to understand why ‘free cash’ can be added to the valuation than it is for them to understand why ‘debt’ needs to be deducted. There are a couple of easy ways to explain to clients in the article itself.

5 – Complex Deal Structures Can Cloud Valuations
A buyer can make what looks to be a great offer but understanding how the deal is structured - when and how the money is paid – makes all the difference.


The most common types of ‘structure’ in the UK are vendor loan (or defcon, where some of the consideration is paid over time), earn-out (where future payments are made depending on performance) and retained shareholdings (where the seller might keep a stake in the company or in its new owner).


‘Structure’ is generally used to bridge the gap between seller and buyer views of valuation and a buyer’s ability to fund a deal. It’s rare to see offers for companies that don’t include at least some element of structure, so issues such as buyer credit status, interest and security are key.

6 - Beware Valuations Based on Net Asset Value (NAV)
On rare occasions, particularly with companies where expensive assets are fundamental to their operations, the value of the company’s ‘net assets’ in the accounts is higher than a fair valuation derived using the normal formula. This can create an illusion of higher valuation for some clients, especially when some experts produce articles listing three, four or more ways of valuing a company.


This does not mean sellers can find the valuation basis that gives the highest valuation and expect to be able to market their company on that basis. Whatever the size of a company’s overall net assets value, its market value will almost always be more closely linked to earnings and cash flow than the size of its balance sheet. That’s not to say we don’t do deals based on net asset valuations plus ‘something for goodwill’, but they are rare.

7 – Clients Often Know Enough Already
Sellers will normally know enough about their own company to make an informed assessment of how their company might be valued in their market, so advisers should hone-in on these instincts.

Any questions, please read the full article here.

 

Author
Nick Hulme
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 161 359 4400
E: Hulme@benchmarkintl.com

 

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Asset Sale Transaction Versus Share Sale Transaction

More often than not, the topic "asset vs share sale" has been discussed and debated at length. Although there are some aspects to consider, that could be beneficial to both parties and solely for the benefit of the other. Below are a few aspects to consider when deciding on a share/asset sale:

Sale of shares transaction:

In layman's terms, a buyer would be acquiring the incorporated business. This would include the assets and liabilities, goodwill, and inherent aspects of the business that would not have been capitalised.

The valuing of any business can prove to be a particularly complicated exercise. There are various aspects to consider as well as some key financial indicators. There may be sound reasons as to why specific objectives were not met in the past, but it is important that the buyer is aware of these permutations and understands the reasoning behind it. Likewise, a buyer would also be able to see opportunity/value in certain revenue streams, whereby the seller has been unable to secure orders in the past due to a variety of reasons. In a South African environment, Black Economic Empowerment status, vendor registration with key customers, integrated systems and technology, etc. are all aspects considered as intangibles and have been proven very difficult to value.  These are often subject to interpretation and most of the time the buyer would find reasons to reduce the company's value, purely because of personal interpretations and assumptions made.

In many cases, all shareholders are not always amenable to selling their share portion, as they might have alternative motives or plans for the business. To reach a successful outcome, it is important that all key stakeholders reach a consensus from the onset of the overall strategy and growth plan that they would like to achieve. The Articles of Association and/or the Shareholder Agreement may restrict shareholders from selling their shares.

Third party approval of the transaction is sometimes required, and this can often prove problematic and delay or even completely nullify the deal. An example would be a Landlord that often proves difficult when it comes to transferring the lease to a new owner. Their lawyers may require the buyer to come up with large deposits, provide personal guarantees, agree to a higher rental or require the new tenant to extend the lease term. This could prove detrimental to the transaction and there is a fine line to balancing the objectives of the respective parties.

From a seller's point of view:

  • The sale: A share sale would be regarded as the simplest way in disposing of a business. Subject to any arrangement/warranty commitment agreed between the buyer and seller during an agreed period, the seller would be relieved from his/her obligation.
  • Time: The seller may want to expedite the sale, however a purchaser will take his time when deciding on an acquisition. They would want to examine as much information as possible, extending the length of time to complete the transaction. Sale of share transactions typically takes longer to complete than the sale of asset transactions.

Furthermore, the buyer's legal team and advisors will insist on various protections for their client and would want the seller to provide warranties, guarantees and indemnities to limit any risk on behalf of the purchaser. The negotiating of these terms can also contribute to further delays in the successful completion of the transaction.

  • Personal sureties: Over the years, the seller may have offered personal sureties to various parties.

When selling a business, these parties will generally not want to release or waive any sureties that are in place or transfer them to the new owner. These loans/liabilities will generally have to be cleared by the seller if he wants to be relieved of his/her responsibilities under the personal surety

If the seller fails to remove himself as a surety, he/she will put themselves in an onerous position and is exposed to risk in the sense that he/she has no control of the business, once sold.

  • Professional fees: Share sales are more expensive when it comes to professional fees as there is usually more work involved, during the due diligence phase and the legal process.

From a buyer's point of view:

  • Tax advantages: Should there be an accumulated loss existing in the company, those losses can usually be carried forward to be written off against future tax liabilities.
  • Risk: Buying shares is a lot riskier for the buyer as they would be taking on all the business liabilities, and the true nature/cost of some of the liabilities may not be fully apparent until a year or two down the line. There could also be liabilities that the buyer had not discovered during the due diligence process.
  • Transfer: Generally, customers and suppliers' relationships would transfer over seamlessly. The business continues operating without any major interruptions and by acquiring the shares, the buyers become owners of the assets (tangible & intangible) and associated liabilities.

Asset sale transaction:

As mentioned earlier, the buyer would prefer an asset sale as opposed to a share sale. This is purely because the buyer would have identified the key assets to produce future income, not take ownership of any associated liabilities, and would limit their exposure to unidentified liabilities held against the company.

A buyer would be able to write off wear and tear allowances against the assets purchased, thereby creating a favorable tax structure for the acquirer.

In terms of an asset valuation, this can also prove to be very complicated as there are a couple of methods of determining asset value, with the following methodologies applied:

  • Value in use
  • 2nd hand value
  • Book value
  • Replacement value
  • Expected useful life (Overall state of assets)

A buyer would normally dictate the method to be used, however there must be a consensus between the seller and the buyer when determining a value.

A buyer would typically drive an asset value down as far as possible, but would need to substantiate this together with independent valuations, market trends and foreseeable production. Similarly, the seller would like to ensure his value is protected and supported by trade history and sound future projections.

Intangible assets such as patents, trademarks and customers lists are always difficult to value. However, when they are backed with a legal document that helps create barriers to entry or where a  service level agreements have customers tied in with long-term contracts, this assists the buyer in determining value and alleviates the seller from encouraging the buyer.

From a seller's point of view:

  • Better negotiating power: As buyers prefer to buy assets, the seller can often negotiate to get a higher net benefit for himself under an asset sale than a share sale. The seller is taking on the responsibility (and cost) of clearing the liabilities and would therefore require a higher reward.
  • Quicker sale: As there is less due diligence required for the buyer to perform in an asset sale, the transaction can often be completed more quickly.
  • Retained assets: The seller can choose which of his assets will be sold and which will be retained.
  • Taxation: Sellers will be exposed to CGT as well as withholding tax.

From a buyer's point of view:

  • The due diligence process is less cumbersome and far easier; Assets still need to be thoroughly assessed and the true value of the assets needs to be determined. However, less emphasis needs to be placed on creditors, as these assets will be unencumbered, once sold.
  • Tax advantages: The buyer will in many cases be able to attribute the purchase price as the base cost of the new asset, and accordingly be able to claim wear and tear allowances against a greater amount.

When the buyer purchases assets from the seller's company, they may agree on a value for the entire set of assets, however the assets could later be revalued, once recorded in the books of the acquirer.

  • Loss of customers: It is important to effectively communicate to all customers the change of control and ensure there is minimal disruption to any client relationships.
  • Suppliers: The same applies to suppliers, and the sale needs to be effectively communicated with each supplier to ensure that critical relationships are not hindered.
  • Assets transferred: Where there are numerous individual assets - there are different routes to securing the title and can prove to be a time-consuming exercise. For example, the transfer of a licence works differently than the transfer of a lease, which works differently than the transfer of patents.

For a variety of legal, accounting and tax reasons, some deals make more sense as share deals while others make more sense as asset deals. Often, the buyer will prefer an asset sale while the seller will prefer a share sale. The decision on which route to go will be imperative and forms as the crux of the matter for every negotiation required to conclude a transaction successfully.

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Transaction Between Apex Training & Development Limited and Interact Training Group Limited

Benchmark International is delighted to announce the transaction between training and development provider, Apex and Rockpool Investments-backed Interact Training Group.

Established in 1993, Apex is a multi-award-winning training technology business, providing learning solutions that specialise in service, sales, account management, negotiation, management, coaching, and leadership. The business has offices in Falkirk, Plymouth, London and Dubai.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Interact Training Group is a family owned business that was founded in 1994 to help organisations identify performance improvements and create interventions to drive those improvements. Rockpool invested in Interact Training Group through a management buy-in in March 2018 and has looked to drive both organic and acquisitive growth for the business.

The acquisition will allow Interact Training Group to continue its plans to build a UK-based technology training group.

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Benchmark International Has Successfully Facilitated the Transaction Between Becker Communications, Inc. DBA BCI Integrated Solutions and Midwest Alarm Company, Inc.

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the transaction between Becker Communications, Inc. DBA BCI Integrated Solutions and Midwest Alarm Company, Inc.

BCI Integrated Solutions is a Florida-based company celebrating 20 years in service. They offer integrated solutions in security, audiovisual, fire & life safety, data & network cabling, and healthcare communications. The company mainly services markets in the following sectors: corporate, education, entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, sports venues, and housing.

Grant Becker, President of BCI Integrated Solutions commented, “Benchmark International’s team was great to work with. From on-boarding through close, there was always someone to talk with that was extremely knowledgeable and had my best interest in mind. I would highly recommend Benchmark International for anyone selling their business.”

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

Midwest Alarm Company, Inc. is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they are experts in life safety integration solutions. The company works primarily with contractors, building owners, property managers, and facilities directors to design and implement reliable life safety solutions. They are the largest notifier distributor in North America and have seven locations location the Midwest.

Regarding the transaction, Transaction Director Leo VanderSchuur at Benchmark International commented, “We are glad to have helped BCI secure a buyer and deal that achieved their objectives. It was a pleasure supporting their team throughout the transaction. We wish both businesses ongoing success and continued profitable growth.”

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2020 Outlook For The Global Agriculture Sector

Geopolitical Factors

Mergers and acquisitions activity in the agriculture sector was bustling with billion-dollar deals in the years of 2017 and 2018. An M&A slowdown occurred in 2019 and spilled into 2020, largely due to uncertainty caused by global politics.

The trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, has lowered confidence and caused global repercussions. This dispute is slowly moving in a more positive direction, as the two nations reached a “phase one” deal in January of this year. Under this deal, China pledged to boost U.S. imports of agricultural products and manufactured goods by $200 billion over the next two years, and the U.S. agreed to cut in half some of the tariffs it had imposed on China. A "phase two" deal has been mentioned but timing and expectations remain unclear. Industry experts do anticipate large U.S. farms to experience 9.3 percent growth and income over 2019. 

Brexit is another factor that is impacting the agriculture sector under implications of a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared a goal to finalize a deal by the end of 2020. E.U. negotiators suggest that it is not enough time to secure the kind of complete deal needed.

Ag-Tech Opportunities

Even with the uncertainties that remain in 2020, there are significant opportunities for disruption and transformation within the agriculture sector. These opportunities are being driven by a shift towards a more high-tech industry that is expected to bolster agricultural capital investment.

  • Farmers are increasingly using apps to regularly monitor crops.
  • More localized weather data is helping farmers to better prepare for planting and harvesting times.
  • Social media is allowing farmers to better communicate directly with their customers, as studies show that 40 percent of all farmers are on Facebook.
  • A special material called graphene is being used to gather data regarding field and soil conditions to help plants survive better.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Automated agricultural equipment is also playing a major role in the global market amid a shortage of young, new farmers. New agricultural robots are being developed across all aspects of agriculture, such as imaging, navigation, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Drones are being used for deliveries, spraying, and crop and livestock imaging. Robotic harvesting equipment is being implemented for labor-intensive harvesting tasks. Large farms are collaborating with the companies developing these technologies to lower costs and maintain a competitive advantage. And as global demand for agricultural products grows (projected at 15 percent over the next decade), robotic automation is a key facilitator in meeting the demand. The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are all adopting various agricultural robots, giving North America the highest share of the robotic farming market.

Hemp Farming

More farmers are now growing and selling forms of hemp and hemp-derived CBD as part of their overall crop. Last year, hemp businesses that had vertically integrated their supply chains performed better than those that had not vertically integrated. In 2020, it is expected that small farmers, processors and entrepreneurs will exit the industry or seek out opportunities for consolidation and integration.

Growing Conditions

2019 saw adverse growing and harvesting conditions that resulted in a smaller supply of crops such as grains and oilseeds. There is hope that these conditions will improve in 2020.

In the U.S. alone:

  • Crop yields are expected to grow.
  • The majority of the 20 million acres that were unplanted last year will likely be planted this year, primarily corn and soybeans.
  • The USDA puts the 2020 soybean crop at 84 million acres, making it the fourth-largest soybean crop on record.
  • The production of red meat and poultry is projected to rise by more than two percent.
  • Milk production will reach a record-high 222 billion pounds and pricing is expected to continue to improve.
  • Overall livestock, poultry, and dairy exports are forecasted to reach $31.9 billion, $500 million higher than previously projected.

As long as the weather cooperates and growing conditions face fewer extremes, the world should also see similar improvements in agricultural output.

Ready to Make a Move?

We look forward to hearing from you and discussing how our M&A advisors can expertly help you grow your business, maximize its sale value, or craft your exit strategy.

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Transaction Between Pebble IT Limited and Optimity Limited

Benchmark International is delighted to announce the sale of managed IT services provider, Pebble IT, to internet service provider, Optimity.

Pebble IT offers a vast array of flexible IT services to clients deriving from a range of sectors, such as branding and design, market research, recruitment and architecture. The company has grown revenues 94% over the last five years and has key partners including Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Sophos.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Optimity Limited is a leading London-based connectivity, IT, and managed services provider. Backed by FPE Capital, a growth focused private equity investor in UK mid-market companies, Optimity has transformed London’s high-speed connectivity market by providing a unique alternative to fibre connectivity and has since extended its product set into a full IT service for smart campus and workplace environments.

The acquisition will help Optimity to accelerate strong organic growth in managed services and in the provision of smart, secure and intelligent IT solutions for campus and workplace environments, and will strengthen the services Optimity provides to existing customers.

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One Certainty about this Virus – Your Taxes Will Go Up

There remain innumerable uncertainties about the spreading pandemic. However, one thing became clear over the last five days – governments are opening their coffers to stem the economic dislocations caused by the many forms of “social distancing.” With air travel curtailed, stores closing, and events cancelled, central banks and executive branches are swinging into action by lowering interest rates, creating tax moratoriums, and spending whatever it takes. When we come out on the other side of this, whether that be in several weeks or months, government coffers will be empty and longer-term healing governments will feel obliged to fund and that will continue to stress public budgets.

The only answer to that stress will be higher taxes. Fortunately, unlike the measures we are seeing now, tax increases will require legislative action and legislatures don’t move all that fast. As a result, there will be a window when business is back to normal and taxes will remain at their current historically low levels around the globe. Will this be for weeks? Months? Certainly less than a year.

So for business owners looking to sell, there may very well be a slight window of opportunity. If things deteriorate further in the near term, buyers will begin shutting down their processes and will be sitting on idle cash when we emerge. They may well be nicely poised to run through a record number of deals between the medical recovery and the tax hikes.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

There are pieces of the company sale process that are best handled with some air travel and face-to-face meetings, but the initial stages are not those. If you were already thinking about starting the process before this all began, you may want to consider starting now and being ready for this window of opportunity. It often takes a year to sell a business, and the first three to six months of that process can easily be performed remotely.

In fact, at Benchmark International, we’ve been handling the “deal preparation” phase of or engaged remotely for years. Between online data rooms, email, video conferencing, and other collaborative tools including Benchmark International’s newly-launched SISU deal suite software, we have been and remain ready to take our sell-side clients from engagement to signing letters of intent without any need for clients, buyers, or our employees to meet face-to-face.

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Transaction Between Aventura Magazine and Palm Beach Media Group

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the transaction between Aventura Magazine, asset of Stern Bloom Media, Inc. (“Stern Bloom”) and Palm Beach Media Group (“Palm Beach Media”).

Stern Bloom is an integrated print publishing company in Hallandale Beach, Florida. Its flagship lifestyle magazine, Aventura has established itself within South Florida as the source for entertaining editorial, exciting layouts, and high visibility for advertisers.

The Palm Beach Media Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hour Media. Hour Media Group headquartered in Troy, Michigan, is recognized as an influential publisher of city, regional, and custom publications. The marquee titles include: Hour Detroit, Minnesota Monthly, and Sacramento Magazine. The company has offices in Michigan, California, Florida, and Alabama. This acquisition fits well with Hour Media’s strategic growth plan.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

David Bloom, Partner of Stern Bloom Media, stated, “We feel that Palm Beach Media Group is the perfect organization to honor our brand and elevate our legacy far into the future.” He also commented, “Choosing to partner with Benchmark International was a great decision.”

“Aventura magazine is a 20-year success story,” said John Balardo, President of Palm Beach Media Group and its parent, Hour Media. “This acquisition represents an ideal opportunity to extend our current roster of lifestyle, design, and custom publications into the greater Miami market.”

Regarding the deal, Transaction Director Leo VanderSchuur at Benchmark International commented, “It was a pleasure to represent Stern Bloom Media in this strategic transaction. On behalf of Benchmark International, we wish both parties continued success.”

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How Long Should The Seller Stay On After The Sale

When an individual buys a business, it may be assumed that the buyer will be taking over the leadership of that company. In these cases, we most often see the seller stay on for no more than six months, and also in a part-time capacity. In the less common situation, in which the individual buyer is not coming in to run the business, we see sellers staying on for two to three years.

These time periods can involve full-time or part-time commitments. Also, they are typically graduated with the timing commitment. Most often, shifting from employment to consulting after a third or half of the total time commitment, whether that be six months or three years.

The seller should have created some expectations for the buyer at some point in the process, typically as early as when the seller provides the initial teaser to the buyer.  However, we often see our clients change their views on this matter as their going-to-market process unfolds, and we see their views shift based on the comfort level they see with a potential buyer. Therefore, any written guidance should be confirmed in discussions before preparing an offer.

The more cooperation you are expecting to receive for the seller, the more capital you should be prepared to commit in exchange for that support.  Sellers will not agree to provide employment or consulting services post-closing without compensation. In reality, for the buyer, this salary or consulting fee is actually just another deal cost. The necessary amount of money can be set aside from your pool of funds, set aside from transaction costs, or viewed as an additional portion of your purchase price (though it may not be best to characterize it as such to them since sellers may not see it that way). Remember that everyone values their time and wants to be compensated for it.

Some key factors to think about when coming up with your request/plans in this regard include:

  • What key relationships will need to be turned over from the seller to you?
  • How involved is the seller in the day-to-day operations, based on what you've seen working up to the offer, versus what you've been told?
  • What experience do you have with running a business?
  • How much experience do you have with this industry?
  • How much assistance will the second tier of management be in those early days after the closing?
  • What kind of relationships have you been able to build with the management team leading up to the offer?(Often, the answer is: none.)
  • Is the business at a crucial junction in its growth, recovery, business cycle, or financial year?
  • When the seller is not available, who will you turn to for assistance, and how will you solve the really difficult issues that may arise?

It never hurts to have this discussion with the seller prior to preparing an offer. It is a point that the seller will have a keen interest in, and coming to the correct result will be a key factor in the success of your new business.

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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COVID-19 Update

A MESSAGE FROM OUR CHAIRMAN

As COVID-19 continues to impact the globe, we want to ensure that our clients are fully informed on how Benchmark International is positioned and prepared to make sure that we continue to service our clients during this challenging period.

Benchmark International have been closely monitoring COVID-19 since the beginning of the year and have been complying with local government-mandated screening and prevention procedures in the countries in which we operate. We understand that this is a challenging time, both with regards to COVID-19 and the current market volatility.

All of our offices remain operational with no interruption to the service agreements with our clients. Our business continuity plan and heavy investment in technology ensure that we can offer our sell-side clients and potential acquirers uninterrupted access to our Team Members, video conferencing, and digital platforms.

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Entrepreneurs’ Relief – What’s the Big Deal?

As a business owner looking to sell the worst has been confirmed by Rishi Sunak in his Budget – or has it?

Before the Budget, it was rumoured that Entrepreneurs’ Relief was going to be abolished completely, yet instead it has been reduced from £10m to £1m.

 

Do you have an exit or growth strategy in place?

 

Previously, Entrepreneurs’ Relief reduced the rate of capital gains tax (CGT) from 20% to 10% on the first £10m of gains from disposals of qualifying business assets, with that being reduced to £1m in the Budget. Following this, the higher rate is 20%, which is still a lot less than personal tax. It’s also a lot less than if a seller sold the assets of a business, as they could pay 19% corporation tax, followed by up to 38.1% dividend tax.

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7 Quick Tips About Growing Your Business

1. Build the Right Team
Creating growth for your company is achieved by having certain goals, and meeting those goals starts with having the right team in place to get it done. Seek out self-starters and highly motivated people who are not afraid to pitch unique ideas or put in extra effort to make things happen. Positive attitudes are important—and contagious. When both your leadership and your staff share your goals and passion for the business, it increases your chances for growth.

2. Be Agile
You want your company to be able to adapt and change course quickly based on changes to the market. If you can extend your business model to meet current trends, you will find more opportunities for growth. The more flexible your business is, the faster you can test different approaches and ideas. Plus, you will be able to move on more quickly if something is not working.

3. Know the Data
The idea of analyzing data may sound boring, but data is knowledge and knowledge is power. Use a customer management system. Take a close look at both existing and potential customers to understand their behavior. How long does it take to convert customers? What causes them to leave? What do they love about you? What is getting their attention? What is your competition doing? The premise is quite simple: when you know what is working, you can do more of it. And you can stop wasting time and resources on what isn’t working.

4. Keep It Simple
It is proven that complexity hinders growth and performance in a business. Stay focused on what you do best and keep those processes streamlined for efficiency. If you are trying to do to many things, it makes it hard to be really good at any one thing. Coming up with ideas outside your area of expertise just to make a few extra bucks is more likely to cost you in the long run.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 


5. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Marketing
You may have the most incredible product or service, but it doesn’t matter how great it is if people do not know about it. There are many great ideas out there that fail because of a lack of proper marketing support. And some ideas are mediocre but succeed thanks to effective marketing. Many make the mistake of viewing marketing as a nonessential expense. It is worth it to enlist the help of professionals, even if only on a small scale.

6. Continue to Improve
In an ever-changing world, you have to keep up with innovation to remain relevant. Challenge yourself and your team to constantly find ways to get better at every aspect of your business. Think about how you can improve customer relationships. Consider updating technologies to be more efficient. Look at processes to see how they can be done better. It doesn’t matter what it is…if you can do it better, then do it.

7. Form a Strategic Partnership
The right strategic partnership or merger can be a major game changer for the growth of your business because it can help you reach more customers quickly. It can also help to balance weaknesses and strengths. You should look for companies that are similar to your own, but can provide you with beneficial aspects that you may be lacking. Consulting an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisory firm can help you find the right businesses for you to consider.

Let’s Talk
At Benchmark International, our experienced team of analysts is ready to help you with effective strategies to grow your business or sell it for the highest value. Even if you’re not sure about selling at this time, starting the conversation can be beneficial to you in the long run.

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Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail – A Brexit Planning Guide for Businesses

Following the UK officially leaving the EU on the 31st January, the UK is in a transition period until the end of 2020, where the government will aim to secure a trade deal before the deadline. During this period, essentially nothing will change, but it provides business owners with much-needed time to prepare their businesses for Brexit. The below discusses areas that will be affected by Brexit, and what business owners can do to prepare.

 

Trade

It’s unclear at the moment to what extent rules will change for importing and exporting in the EU, as this is one of the key negotiation points between the UK and EU during the transition period. Regardless of what is decided, rules for importing and exporting to the EU will change after the transition period. Therefore, you will need to make sure that you have all the licences, permits and approvals required, understand the implications of changes at UK borders, and check how much you will need to pay in VAT and rates. It’s important to make sure you review these for the purposes of your own business, but generally to prepare for changes you should:

 

Make Sure you have a UK EORI Number

This is a 12-digit number that you will need to move goods in or out of the UK. You might also need an EU EORI number if you are responsible for landing the goods in the EU country of destination and making the customs declaration.

 

Feel like it's time to slow down?

 

Consider Adjusting your Contract Terms

Post-Brexit, trade could incur additional costs. You might decide to absorb these costs, or you might decide to change customer contracts – if this is the case, make sure you communicate this to your customers before any changes.

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Benchmark International Has Successfully Facilitated the Transaction of Professional Development Psycle (PTY) LTD T/A Dale Carnegie Training

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the transaction of Professional Development Psycle (PTY) LTD t/a Dale Carnegie Training.

Dale Carnegie & Associates is a global training organisation established in the USA in 1912 by the company’s namesake Mr. Dale Carnegie; a prolific author and public speaker, widely considered to be the greatest pioneer of the self-development field. The company now operates as a franchise in over 76 countries around the world.

Our client, Professional Development Psycle (PTY) LTD & Professional Development Psycle KZN (PTY) LTD t/a Dale Carnegie Training are a Southern African franchisee, offering Dale Carnegie certified training to a blue-chip client base. At its core, the company gives individuals the critical skills needed to live, lead, sell and present successfully. In so doing, these individuals take command of their personal and work lives and are more intentional in how they influence relationships, becoming more effective at home and work.

The buyer is a private equity company with a strong focus on transformation through social up lifting, including education and training. Dale Carnegie’s effective training methodology underpins the dynamic South African training team which will continue to form part of the company’s ongoing success. 

Is transformation important to your business?

The CEO of Dale Carnegie Training Gauteng & Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mr. Neville De Lucia said, “With zero experience in buying or selling businesses, it was nice to know that there was someone in my corner that could give me guidance. Being in the soft skills business, I tend to emphasise the personal side of the relationship. This is great if it serves you, but not so good if the hard data is what needs to be emphasised. Benchmark guided us on how to leverage the softer issues and coached us on the harder, more data driven decisions that needed to be made. This was overall a win-win engagement. The transition process is more meaningful between us as incumbents and the new owners as a result of how the negotiations had taken place between the parties involved.” 

Benchmark International Transaction Director, Johann Haasbroek commented, “The deal concluded represents a great result for our client. Not only have we secured a private equity buyer that has a vested interest and passion for people training and transformation space ,but at the same time provided the client with an exit strategy that enables them to take up a new international opportunity within the same franchise group of companies.” 

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Why You Should Consider Buying A Business After Retirement

I had the opportunity to meet Linda and Frank this week at a networking event. What I heard from Linda was a reoccurring theme, “Frank has been driving me crazy since he retired in October. He needs to find a job.”

As M&A professionals, we often see people who retire from a career and decide that they can only play so much golf and need something to occupy their time. Buying an existing business is often a good solution because you can control the size of the company and have a flexible schedule to still enjoy traveling, golfing, and fishing.

Many businesses start from a passion that allows the owner to monetize one of their loves. For example, a restaurant is often founded by a person that’s passionate about cooking. Given the age of retirees, it’s often hard to start a business from scratch due to the limitation of our great resource, time. However, being able to purchase an existing business will provide the retiree with a continuous income and often allows the retiree to recoup their investment somewhat quicker than a startup.

Often, people fall into their career and then babies come so people stay in a stable career that provides for their family and family’s future. Once couples are empty nesters and have saved a nest egg for retirement, they can leave their stable career and chase their passion. We see retirees purchasing companies that they have an interest in learning but never had the opportunity to explore or know-how to get started. When an established business is purchased, the seller is available to be retained for a training period or as a consultant to help the purchaser learn the ins and outs of the business, beyond the due diligence period.

We often hear ‘use it or lose it.’ Many people are concerned that if they do not use their brain during retirement that they will become less sharp then they were during their prime career days. Retirees are seeking to buy businesses to keep various skills sharp. Whether that’s business, interpersonal, or specialized skills, owning a business will allow you to continue to challenge your mind.

A business is also an investment that can provide a good return depending on your goals. Many people prefer to bet on themselves instead of the stock market. Purchasing a business during retirement might cause a retiree to receive a return on their investment and cash flow for day-to-day needs.

Owning a business in retirement often helps with legacy planning. Many times, the business is a family business and there is a plan to pass the ownership on to the next generation. If this is one of your goals, purchasing a business in retirement might be a great option.

 

Author
Kendall Stafford
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 512 347 2000
E: Stafford@BenchmarkIntl.com

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The Anatomy Of A Letter Of Intent

In the exciting and jargon filled word of mergers and acquisitions, you may often find reference being made to a letter of intent. But what exactly is a letter of intent (LOI)? Given the importance of an LOI it is crucial to answering this question, as well as other common questions we come across when dealing with LOIs.

What is an LOI?
The best way to describe an LOI is to think of it as a roadmap to a transaction. An LOI typically outlines the terms and conditions of an offer from a buyer to a seller. Expressed otherwise, an LOI is a written expression of a buyer’s intention to purchase the business of a seller and together with its terms to the seller indicates the buyer’s intention for the transaction.

What is the difference between a binding and non-binding LOI?
Unlike most contracts, the terms of an LOI are typically non-binding unless the parties agree that the whole or certain parts of an LOI are binding.

It is therefore important for sellers to remember that the terms contained in the LOI may not always be the terms that the buyer and the seller settle on (assuming, of course, the parties agree that the terms are not wholly or partially binding).

What are the common terms of an LOI?
While each LOI will be different, certain recurring themes appear. The most common ones are:

1. The parties
Although this seems obvious, it is critical that the correct parties are cited. Large corporations tend to have various subsidiaries and affiliated companies, and it is important for both parties to understand who exactly they are dealing with.

2. Structure of the transaction
This part of an LOI will describe how the transaction will be concluded. Is the transaction a purchase of the shares, a sale of assets, or a combination of both? Depending on the jurisdiction in which the transaction takes place, the structure will have to be carefully considered to ensure that parties are aware of how exactly ownership will change.

3. Consideration
The consideration is the payment that the seller will receive from the buyer. There are various ways in which to structure consideration. For example, the buyer can agree to pay a portion upfront with the remaining portion being paid subject to certain conditions being met once ownership changes.

4. Purchase price adjustments
Purchase price adjustments are used to adjust the purchase price for movements in working capital accounts (such as accounts receivable, inventory, and accounts payable) between the execution of the LOI and the transaction being finalised.

5. Conditions to closing
This part of the LOI will include the expectations and obligations of the buyer and seller, which are specific to them. For example, a buyer may need to get approval from regulatory bodies prior to concluding a transaction.

6. Confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses
Following the signature of an LOI, a buyer will typically receive sensitive information from a seller regarding its business. In addition, a seller may receive sensitive information from a buyer. It is crucial to agree on what information may be disclosed, to whom the information may be disclosed (such as accountants and legal counsels) and for what period the information needs to remain confidential.

7. Exclusivity
LOI’s typically include an exclusivity provision in terms of which the buyer asks the seller not to negotiate with other prospects for a pre-determined time period. As a seller, it is within your best interests to ensure that the exclusivity period is as short as necessary and that the terms are well defined.

What are the benefits of an LOI?
A properly drafted LOI will address key terms, remove ambiguity and thereby benefit both the buyer and the seller as it often reduces the amount of time and costs spent on revisiting negotiating.

Many business owners will only sell a business once in their lifetime. When dealing with such a monumental event, a little more preparation today is certainly worth added value tomorrow. Advice from seasoned professionals can provide you with savings in costs and time in helping you sell your business. At Benchmark International, we are proud to provide world-class mergers and acquisitions services.


Author

John Lousber
Transaction Associate
Benchmark International

T: +27 (0) 21 300 2055
E: loubser@benchmarkintl.com

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Transaction between Dempsey, Dilling & Associates and Thomas & Hutton

Benchmark International successfully facilitated the transaction between Dempsey, Dilling, & Associates to Thomas & Hutton. 

Thomas & Hutton (T&H), a Southeast-based, privately-held, professional consulting and engineering firm, is pleased to announce the addition of Smyrna, Tennessee-based Dempsey, Dilling & Associates (DDA) to the team. With offices in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, T&H’s addition of DDA will increase its presence throughout middle Tennessee. The combination was effective February 1 and DDA will operate under the Thomas & Hutton brand. Smyrna and Nashville office locations will combine in representing the T&H Nashville region, and will be well positioned to provide more municipal services in Tennessee.

On growing the Nashville region, Regional Director Travis Todd says, “Our team in Nashville has been steadily growing since our opening three years ago. We’ve been fortunate to work on quality projects with top tier clients all over Middle Tennessee. The addition of DDA only serves to make us even stronger in the region with additional resources and expertise to continue serving our clients well.”

Jerome Dempsey, PE, serving in his new role as a T&H Principal with a primary focus on client service in Tennessee, states, “It was evident from the beginning of our discussions that T&H embraced the same philosophy as DDA in providing quality based professional services to clients, while also focusing on the community and personal growth of its employees. Our combined expertise will provide a broader range of professional services to our clients, while maintaining the personal client relationships. We are thrilled to be part of Thomas & Hutton and can’t wait to see what the future holds for our new combined team.”

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

During its 74-year history, Thomas & Hutton has provided water and wastewater services across the southeast. The addition of DDA’s expertise provides the growing company additional skilled workforce and strengthens the services offered by T&H’s Water & Wastewater department, especially in the surface water treatment arena.

Formed in 2004, DDA provides consulting engineering services for municipalities and utility districts throughout Tennessee. These services cover the full spectrum of needs for municipalities, including water, wastewater, stormwater drainage, roadway, recreational facilities, municipal buildings, bridge replacements, GIS/GPS mapping, and environmental related projects.

Brad Dilling, PE, serving as a T&H Principal and Project Manager/Group Leader says, “We are extremely excited about the synergy between our companies, our people, and our cultures. The Nashville area is rapidly growing, and we see this partnership opportunity as one that will help meet and exceed our clients’ needs throughout Middle Tennessee.”

Thomas & Hutton operates in nine regions across four states. An established and well-respected leader in providing professional consulting and comprehensive engineering and related services, Thomas & Hutton looks forward to continuing its legacy of providing engineering and design solutions to a diverse group of public and private clients.

With the addition of the DDA team, Thomas & Hutton CEO Samuel McCachern states, “On behalf of T&H, we are excited about our growing team. Jerome and Brad have a successful practice built on long-term relationships. Together, our combined relationships and expertise will add value and benefit to our clients as we continue to expand service capabilities in markets throughout the southeastern United States.

Tyrus O’Neill, Managing Partner at Benchmark International added, “Everyone here at Benchmark International was very excited to see this deal close. Thomas & Hutton is a great reputable firm which aligns well with Dempsey, Dilling & Associates. Jerome and Brad will be in good hands moving forward, and we wish the best for all parties involved in the deal.”

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Transaction Between Industrial Applications to Rogers & Morgan

Benchmark International successfully facilitated the transaction between Industrial Applications to Rogers & Morgan in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Industrial Applications (“IA”), is a Knoxville-based sole proprietorship with a rich history dating back to 1938 when it was first established by G.W. Sutton, a retired engineer. The current form of IA is a specialized steam distributor focusing on equipment distribution, systems integration, ground support and engineering conservation control. IA offers a wide variety of products including steam traps, pumps, control valves, process valves, meters, coils, skid mounted process systems, as well as consulting and troubleshooting for independent contracts and services.

Benchmark International worked alongside Bob and Joy Sutton, the third-generation owners of IA, to plan and execute a successful acquisition process. The buyer, Rogers & Morgan, was identified as a prominent organization and a strong candidate for a synergistic acquisition.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

Rogers & Morgan is a manufacturers representative firm specializing in engineered equipment for air. The company has a proud tradition of servicing the greater Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky area since 1956. Rogers & Morgan focuses on best-in-class customer service and solving low-pressure air problems with quality products by applying expertise and experience in the field.   

Bob Sutton, owner of IA stated about the transaction, “I would like to send a special thank you to the deal team at Benchmark International. I was skeptical when starting the process but they really found me a unicorn of a buyer that is a perfect fit for my company. We’re excited to start the next chapter and look forward to working with Rogers & Morgan.”

Tyrus O’Neill, Managing Partner at Benchmark International added, “Bob and Joy were wonderful clients and the team couldn’t be happier to see this deal close. The buyer aligns well with the organization and their values. We are happy to see this result for Bob and Joy but will miss having them as clients.”

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How to get the Most out of your M&A Adviser

You’re selling your business and thinking about hiring an M&A adviser, but you’re unsure of the best way to get the most out of them, and what exactly they can do for you.

The below discusses how to get the most out of your M&A adviser, ensuring the most successful exit strategy for you.

 

Do you have an exit or growth strategy in place?

 

Communicate your goals.

Sellers each have their own goals of what they want to get out of their exit strategy, whether that be achieving maximum value, ensuring staff remain, or ensuring they remain with the company post-sale. Make sure that these are communicated with your M&A adviser to get the most out of them, as they can tailor the process to your needs.

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Acquisition of Local Bulk Haulage (PTY) LTD by Leopard Line Haul (PTY) LTD Trading as Elite Line Haul

Benchmark International is pleased to have successfully facilitated the acquisition of Local Bulk Haulage (PTY) Ltd by Leopard Line Haul (PTY) Ltd trading as Elite Line Haul.

Founded in 1995 by Peter Scholtz and Len Pretorius, Local Bulk Haulage (PTY) Ltd is a logistics company delivering specialised primary chemicals and liquid bulk commodities from the point of supply to the end-user effectively and efficiently. LBH has grown into a significant asset over the years servicing an enviable customer based comprised of blue-chip chemical and commodity entities.

Elite Line Haul, a subsidiary of Elite Truck Hire, is an innovative logistics company servicing clients across South Africa. As an established Level 2 B-B BEE Contributor, Elite Line Haul specialises in both short-term and long-term local distribution and line haul contracts. Over the years the company has developed a strong presence in the transport industry, operating from its headquarters in Elandsfontein, and ancillary branches in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Is transformation important to your business?

The transaction was strategic in nature and represents Elite’s diversification into liquid bulk haulage. As a consequence of the transaction, Elite Line Haul will now boast the largest fleet of Volvo trucks and trailers in South Africa.  

Commenting on this, Andre Bresler of Benchmark International South Africa said: “On behalf of everyone at Benchmark International, we would like to wish both parties every success for the future.”

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Force Majeure is Coming and if You’re Selling Your Business That is Bad

Force ma·jeure /ˌfôrs mäˈZHər/ (1) "superior force", (2) unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

Airlines are suspending flights and changing rules for refunding tickets. Cruise ships companies are in tailspins. Cargo ports are operating with reduced staff and reduced hours. Entire cities are being quarantined. The Coronavirus may or may not become a major global health issue. But the probability that the disease will have an impact on global business is far higher, if not approaching a certainty. This is safe to say not because there is a high probability that the virus will impact your company’s travel or suppliers or daily operations but rather because of the dreaded force majeure provision lurking in so many of your company’s contracts. These clauses are known as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to large-scale black-swan type macroeconomic downturns as parties typically rush to invoke them well in advance of any actual calamity striking. One of the unfortunate lessons from 9-11 was that lawyers are not shy about advising their clients to invoke the clause to escape performance obligations on unfavorable contracts. Of course, any contract that is unfavorable to them (whoever “them” is) is probably favorable to your business.

As a reminder, here is an example of a simple force majeure clause:

For this Agreement, an “Event of Force Majeure” means any circumstance not within the reasonable control of the Party affected, but only if and to the extent that (i) such circumstance, despite the exercise of reasonable diligence and the observance of Good Industry Practice, cannot be, or be caused to be, prevented, avoided or removed by such Party, and (ii) such circumstance materially and adversely affects the ability of the Party to perform its obligations under this Agreement, and such Party has taken all reasonable precautions, due care, and reasonable alternative measures to avoid the effect of such event on the Party’s ability to perform its obligations under this Agreement and to mitigate the consequences thereof.

The definitions commonly provide examples of the types of circumstances that qualify earthquakes, war, acts of God, change in laws, civil disorder, and even labor strikes. One aspect of the clause that allows it to be used well in advance of any actual natural event such as the arrival of an epidemic is that the definition commonly includes political acts as well as natural acts. As a result, the declaration of an area as one warranting extreme caution might qualify a government order to reduce the number of flights to an area or the number of visas it grants to people going or coming from an affected area (or quarantining travelers) might qualify.

Furthermore, it seems everyone has a global supply chain. So, any of these events happening “over there” might seem remote from your business. However, for anyone with a contract that wants to avoid the Butterfly Effect can be a siren song.

* * *

At this point, you are probably asking, “But surely people don’t write this term into their contract in a way that allows them to be abused, right?” Well, this clause is kind of an atom bomb. As one does when dealing with atom bombs, contracts are designed to prevent their use and mitigate their effects. The overarching check on the amazing power of the force majeure provision is that it only relieves the party’s performance while the circumstances remain in effect. It’s temporary. Parties won’t abuse it because it just gives them a short-term benefit and then they have to face the music.

So, in the ordinary course of your business, you have to deal with the fact that force majeure clauses may face lean times even when your local environment is perfectly normal. Parts may not be provided on time. Your call center might go dark. Your IT support may not be available. And anyone of your suppliers or customers may have the same problem. As an example, a company that collects fees for collecting, cleaning, and reissuing linens to other local businesses and uses an in-house local manufacturing facility in area with no odd circumstances occurring. Let’s say Miami at present (if there is such a company) may suddenly be hit with the clause because they service cruise ships and hotels or because their raw materials come from Egypt or parts of their detergent is manufactured in Germany from elements mined in the Philippines.

Businesses can survive a three-month or six-month calamity such as this in the ordinary course of their lifespan, so people don’t usually think twice about the wording of a force majeure clause. But your business is going up for sale. And when you go up for sale, everyone looks at your last 12 months' financial performance. The ­last thing you want is a hole that has to be explained. Even if your broker can come up with addbacks to create pro forma financials to show what “would have” happened absent the event of force majeure and how rosy that alternative reality would have been, it is better to not have to do this. More importantly, it points out weaknesses in your business. Buyer favorites include you are beholden to a single source of supply, you have too much customer concentration, your business lacks redundancies, your perfect line of decades of growth and healthy margins now appears more vulnerable than it did before. Whether they believe it or not buyers latch on to these things to justify their valuations and their lenders latch on to them to constrain the debt available to get the deal done (and thus impact purchase price).

We still find buyers asking to see clients’ financials from 2007-2010. Looking back more than five years is (or should I say “was”) unprecedented in M&A, much less looking back over a decade. But it is common at this point and we see little signs that that is ending. But that was the last force majeure type event most of our clients suffered and buyers want to see how the businesses weathered it…And they aren’t asking in hopes of finding some reason to raise the value of their offers.

All the better to have the next event of force majeure occur after your sale rather than before.

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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