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In Case You Missed It, Catch Dustin Graham’s Fireside Chat At The Recent SA Innovation Summit.

Dustin Graham, Managing Partner at Benchmark International, Cape Town, virtually chatted to innovators and business owners about the critically necessary planning for their exit and their worth at the recent SA Innovation Summit.

The SA Innovation Summit is the largest startup event in Africa, and brings together top entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, and thought leaders to inspire sustained economic growth across Africa. The Summit provides various platforms for developing and showcasing African innovation, as well as facilitating thought-leadership.

The interaction between Dustin and Jonathan Smit, founder of PayFast, is well worth a listen.

Listen Now on Vimeo: Planning Your Exit

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Why You Shouldn’t Wait For 2021 To Engage With An M&A Advisor

2020 has certainly served up its share of uncertainties and economic concerns thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. There seems to be a popular attitude that once 2021 arrives, everything will simply return to normal. If you are considering selling your company, you may not want to wait until next year. Here’s why.

Some Things Haven’t Changed

Regardless of the pandemic and economic concerns, certain factors remain constant. Investors sitting on plenty of capital are always seeking opportunities, no matter what is happening in the economy.

First, it is important to note that there was a record-setting amount of capital raised in 2019.

  • Across 1,064 private equity, venture capital, infrastructure, and real estate funds, an astounding $888 billion was raised.
  • Globally, PE firms raised more money than any previous year, closing on almost half a trillion dollars
  • More than $300 billion was raised in U.S. private equity alone.
  • More than $100 billion in capital is still unspent in funds that are six years or older. 
  • In the U.S., venture capital funds saw a huge year for investment realizations, and exit value more than doubled year-over-year. This cash will eventually be distributed to limited partners and investors are likely to reinvest it in new funds.

It could easily be a seller’s market in your sector. Plenty of businesses have seen valuations rise because their services are in higher demand in the current environment. If your business is fortunate enough to fall into this category, selling now can be critical to getting maximum value.

Additionally, tens of thousands of Baby Boomers are still reaching retirement age and many of them are also business owners. Those who own companies that have suffered due to the pandemic may be more likely to consider retirement and an exit strategy because they don’t want to put in the time, effort and money to rebuild their business at their age. They could flood the market at any time, meaning you will be facing increased competition, giving buyers the upper hand. This scenario can also result in a lower valuation for your business. It is another solid reason you should consider starting the M&A process sooner rather than later.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

We Know the NOW

Nobody can say for sure what the future holds for the economy, but we do know what the state of it is today. When we know and understand what is certain right now, we can make educated decisions based on current circumstances. These circumstances include political factors, trends within your sector, what your competition is doing, buyer demand, as well as current market values, tax rates, and interest rates.

  • Right now, the U.S. is seeing the lowest interest rates in its economic history. On September 16th, the Federal Reserve left the target range for its federal funds rate unchanged at 0-0.25%, and signaled that it would keep them at that level through at least 2023.
  • At this time we also know the current tax environment. We can only expect that taxes will increase in the long term in order to overcome the growing debt burden that has been created in 2020 because of economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While you might feel that waiting until 2021 will allow you to sell your company for more money, that is not necessarily the case. There is no proven data to support that theory, and you could actually end up selling your company for a lower valuation because you chose to wait. Also, the right timing depends heavily on the activity in your sector. What type of business you own can constitute the best time to sell, even during a pandemic. It could actually be the perfect time.

You Can’t Prepare Too Soon

Timing is everything when it comes to selling a business. And sure, 2020 seems to have turned everything upside down, but we also cannot predict what 2021 holds. Optimism for the future is somewhat human nature during a long-term crisis, but questions surround the timing and availability of a vaccine for the virus, and how quickly the economy will fully recover.

It is important to note that plenty of businesses are still being bought and sold in 2020. If you put off a sale too long, you could run the risk of missing out on a great opportunity to get the most value for your company. But at the very least, you should not put off the preparation for a sale. It can take several months to years to complete a merger or acquisition. Even if you are unable to sell this year, starting the preparation process now can position you for a seamless transaction down the road. You should engage now to ensure that your company can be put on the market at the beginning of 2021. When the process is done correctly it can take 30-60 days just to get a business on the market, and a total of 6-12 months to close a deal. Waiting until January to act could put you at a major disadvantage with buyers on market at the beginning of the year.

Preparing now will also position you as a more patient seller, versus one that is panicking to unload your business without a solid exit plan. Buyers will see you as desperate, leading them to offer you less money. If you demonstrate that you have been carefully preparing for a sale and have done your due diligence, you are likely to garner a higher sale price.

Another advantage of preparing for a sale is that it can put you in the position to test the market. Maybe you are not sure if you should sell. So, why not put your business out there and see what kind of offers come back? You might be surprised at what emerges. If you still don’t want to sell, you can simply take your business off the market and wait for a better time. However, if you choose to do that, you do run the risk of appearing that you are not a serious seller in the future. Working with a reputable M&A firm can help steer you through the process and protect you from making common seller mistakes. They will also help you control the narrative, so that your business remains positioned in a positive light no matter what decisions you ultimately make.  

Let’s Start the Conversation

Our M&A experts at Benchmark International know how hard you have worked to build your business. Even if you are not sure if you are ready to sell, reach out to us and we’ll help you figure out what is best for you, your company, your family, and your financial future.

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2020 Financial Services Sector Update

As the world still faces the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the financial services sectors are preparing themselves for life after coronavirus. This includes the management of credit risk for borrowers, and turning to digital strategies to drive revenue growth.

Insurance and Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the entire insurance sector to implement and leverage digital platforms that enhance customer experiences as a key part of their business strategies in a transformed world in which people are working remotely and driving their vehicles less often. The pandemic has led insurance companies to implement premium relief efforts, offer payment deferral plans, and expand coverage, but these companies are also turning to more digital strategies, emphasizing online customer experiences at a time when more and more transactions occur online versus in person. Consumers are demanding new products such as cyber insurance, more modern life insurance options, and usage-based car insurance. Middle-market insurance companies have always been a bit technologically behind the big players, but they now must adopt new innovations in order to merely keep up with convenience, simplicity, mobility, and modern interfaces that customers have come to expect.

Banking and Lending

Financial institutions are in a position where they need to understand borrowers’ needs and current financial states more than ever. They must also find new ways to measure performance through the rest of 2020. They have already provided assistance to many small and mid-size businesses during the crisis, some of which will be forgiven. Loan modifications have been provided to help businesses survive, and there is likely to be some loan losses. As the economy begins to recover, banks will be able to get a better understanding of borrowers’ financial states, knowing that it will take some time for businesses to bounce back. Deciding whether to lend more credit will be a difficult decision for financial institutions, especially for harder hit sectors such as hospitality and retail. Understanding the recovery of these industries as a whole will be critical through the use of data and payment activity monitoring.

Family Offices

Family offices are private wealth management firms that serve high-net-worth individuals and their families by offering a total outsourced solution to managing finances and investments. There are nearly 2000 of these types of firms around the world, with more than half in the U.S.

These firms have typically relied on physical offices to conduct business. Now in the wake of COVID-19, a shift to virtual family offices has become a necessity during a time where remote work has become commonplace. This has been a challenge for many family offices because most simply do not have the appropriate technology and infrastructure to result in a seamless transition to a virtual office. These businesses will be forced to evolve technologically into the rest of 2020 and beyond. As outdated technology is replaced with better performing innovations, family offices will become more mobile and agile, as well as better equipped with more adequate cybersecurity. Connectivity is also a timely issue, as Millennials will be inheriting family wealth in the future and they demand immediate access to data without disruption and with more transparency. This digital transformation to virtual family offices will also allow for a leaner staff that can deploy resources more quickly.

Capital Markets

The events of 2020 have led capital markets to affect businesses in different ways. Underwriting slowed for high-yield borrowers. Mergers were put on hold. Stock markets have been up and down, and a record number of securities and their values have been exchanged. As financial conditions improve, confidence combined with cheap credit will have companies seeking liquidity to get through the rest of the crisis. Corporations have been tapping into the public debt markets at high rates. While this generated profits at the start of the recession, bonds are less likely to be issued as businesses restore their reserves and establish liquidity that will be needed into the future.

For the rest of 2020 and into 2021, investment banking associated with M&A activity will continue to be tied to the economic recovery amid a softer deal pipeline. When the economy finally bounces back, there will be opportunity for a backlog of deals, boosting advisory revenues.

Data and Private Equity

In the time of COVID-19, certain private equity trends have emerged and are expected to be here to stay. People are still paramount, but how they work has changed. Data continues to be more important to deal making to determine the areas for greatest earnings impact. Datasets will track strategic movements and metrics within companies to gauge their performance. Remote workforces will allow competitive PE firms to source key financial talent from entirely new geographic regions. Firms are also expected to outsource more of their back-office work functions and instead focus on front-office responsibilities.  

Ready to Sell?

If you are a business owner who is considering making a move, our M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to discuss how we can help with the sale, exit or growth of your company.  

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2020 Retail Sector Update

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting government responses have had a significant impact on consumer spending, with retailers closed for months and shoppers staying home starting in the early part of 2020, with the timing of closures varying by country. Many consumers continue to stay home, even as most businesses have reopened. Online shopping has surged due to the pandemic. In the U.S. and Canada, e-commerce orders are up 146%.

Household consumption increased over the summer and is forecast to continue. Certain consumer behaviors that were newly formed during the earlier stages of the pandemic are expected to permanently influence spending habits. Retailers will need to clearly understand these behavioral shifts as they navigate the immediate future, and into the long term if they plan to succeed amid the new normal.

Digital as Key Driver

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Key Steps For Expanding Your Business Into New Markets

As globalization becomes more common in our world, many businesses are choosing to take advantage of the growth opportunities that lie in expanding into new markets. But expansion can be a significant undertaking for small and middle-market businesses, with many moving parts. As a business owner, you need to fully assess and understand the risks and rewards that expansion can present for your company. The following steps outline areas on which you should focus, and which elements of your business you should have ready in order for an effective expansion into new markets.

Impact Assessment

Before expanding your company into new markets, you must have a comprehensive understanding of what the overall impact on your business will be. Conduct market segmentation and product gap analyses to assess whether your product or service will sell in the target market and do a SWOT analysis to see how it stacks up against local competitors. You need to know if there is a need for your company and if anyone will buy what you are selling. You will also need to consider how large the market is and how long it may take to reach your target sales numbers.

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Life Sciences And Biotech M&A During Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent demand for testing, treatments and a vaccine from life sciences and biotech companies. It has also changed the deal-making landscape in this sector. Advances in genetic sequencing have led to the development of new immunotherapies and approaches to medicine that has lowered risk and boosted M&A value and volume.

Over the past five years, biotechnology M&A activity has generated hundreds of completed deals and hundreds of billions of dollars in aggregate value. Leveraged buyouts accounted for one fifth of all acquisitions completed in three of the past four years. The compound annual growth rate of the biotech market is 7.4 percent, on pace to reach $727.1 billion by 2025. There are currently upward of 100 experimental COVID-19 treatments and vaccines in development, including 11 being studied in clinical trials.

The life sciences sector is the key to a solution for COVID-19, from testing improvements to vaccine candidates. In April, Moderna Therapeutics was given $500 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to accelerate development of its mRNA vaccine. Over the past ten years, public and private sector researchers across biotech have collaborated to greatly reduce the lag time between genetic sequencing of a virus and running human trials. With academia partnering with governments to speed up development, it is expected to be positive for the long-term strength of the sector.

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Guide To A Healthy & Wealthy Retirement

You have worked so hard to build your business and when retirement is finally on the horizon, it is a very exciting time. But it can also come with many questions. These tips will help you navigate the ins and outs of retirement so that you can live your best life.

Keep Making Plans

Just because you are approaching retirement, it doesn’t mean you are retiring from life. Keep planning for your future. Consider five-year plans and goals. Think about taking college classes or acquiring new skills you have always dreamed about. Getting another degree, learning something like playing an instrument, or learning a new language can be great ways to keep your juices flowing and open up new opportunities in life.

Explore the Best Places to Retire

The world is brimming with amazing places to consider for your retirement years. Maybe you are perfectly content staying where you are. But have you even thought about the possibilities? Check out our article about some of the greatest places to retire…and be inspired.  

Have a Solid Financial Plan

This includes investment options, taxes, and more. There are many ways to invest, such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds, real estate, dividends, CDs, annuities, and exchange-traded funds. Additionally, having an exit plan can ensure that your future is protected. Prior to exiting your company, mergers and acquisitions strategies can help you grow your business and maximize its value for a sale, laying the groundwork for worry-free retirement wealth. Experienced M&A advisors can help you make the most of this. You will also need to consider how much you will need to pay in taxes after you retire. This is something you will definitely want to get right. Some estimates suggest that for each 1% error in effective tax rate, you face an 8% error in your final savings balance.

Stay Structured

Maintaining a routine can be a major game changer for keeping your sanity in retirement. You no longer need to go to the office. So what do you do? It is easy to find yourself meandering and not knowing what to do with yourself. That’s why it’s important that you stay busy and have some sort of structure to your everyday life now that you are no longer on the clock. Engaging in activities such as volunteering, gardening, and exercising can keep you healthy, happy and regimented.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Maintain a Youthful Perspective

They say age is just a number. And there are actually studies that support how mental attitude can improve overall health and even reverse the effects of aging. Thinking young can actually help keep you feeling and functioning as young. It helps to stay inquisitive, continue to develop and improve yourself and expand your horizons. Falling into a rut after retiring can be detrimental to your state of mind and your physical health. It can also be very helpful to maintain social relationship with younger people to keep up with changing perspectives, get inspired, and hear about more than gripes regarding the aches, pains, and medications associated with aging.

Map Out Your Legacy

In addition to the impact you will be leaving on the world through your professional endeavors, you will want to make plans for your estate to determine what you wish to leave for your heirs. This is when a financial planner can be of great help. You will need to think about estate taxes, appropriate inheritances, and the roles of your family if they will be taking over your business.  

Consider Catch-Up Contributions

You already know that there is a limit to how much you can save in your IRAs or 401(k)s. But did you know that once you reach the age of 50 in the U.S., the IRS allows you to make additional catch up contributions that are beyond annual contribution limits? It’s a way to make it easier for savers over the age of 50 to boost their retirement savings.

Understand How to Protect Yourself from Fraud

Fraudsters are known to target people over the age of 60, especially in today’s digital society. Stay educated on what scammers are up to and know how to discern between what may be real and what may be fake regarding emails, texts, phone calls, and the physical mail. A good rule of thumb is to remember that if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. Also, unsolicited offers can be common traps. Other things you can do include not answering robocalls, not clicking on pop-up ads or email attachments, being skeptical of free offers, and not paying up front for promises.     

Think Long Term

Today’s life expectancy rates are much higher than they used to be just decades ago. You should plan your retirement with a long future ahead. This is not only good for your mental wellbeing, but also important for your financial future. Consider that your savings will need to last longer. Your healthcare costs may be higher. Search for retirement calculators online to help you get a better picture of what your needs will be. 

Get a Dog

The many benefits of having a dog to health and wellness are well documented. Dog owners have been proven to enjoy lower blood pressure and stress factors, and need fewer doctor visits than those without pets. Having a dog can also help to keep you active and engaged with other people. Plus, all that unconditional love releases beneficial hormonal chemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin that are proven to fight depression and make you feel good. 

Ready to Retire?

Contact our M&A experts at Benchmark International to start the conversation about selling your company, planning your exit strategy, and getting on the road to a prosperous retirement.

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Middle Market M&A Valuation Gaps And Expectations

Many factors can impact middle-market M&A deal making, but one of the most significant issues that can affect closing is a valuation gap between the seller and buyer. This tends to be more common during a seller’s market because business owners with successful companies are inclined to wait for the best offer, versus a buyer’s market that occurs when there are fewer buyers, which motivates sellers to jump at an offer. Unrealistic expectations about valuation multiples often stem from the comparison of a mega deal to a middle market deal—a situation under which the same multiples are typically not going to apply.

There is also often a disparity between what a seller needs to maintain their retirement lifestyle and what value can be extracted at the time of the sale. There may be differences between a buyer’s offer, what they pay, and what the seller ultimately receives, as taxes are always a factor in a transaction. Additionally, the timing of the deal and the perception of risk regarding future growth and earnings flow for the business can play a major role in the size of the valuation gap. Selling a business is a highly complex process and it comes with great emotional implications for a seller. Emotional ties coupled with overt optimism can easily cloud one’s vision when it comes to the actual value. As a business owner, you put in a great deal of work starting your company and building it into what it is today. In contrast, selling that business is completely unchartered territory for most owners. When you are looking to sell, you need to be realistic regarding the company’s current value and its growth rate, and what the buyer will be getting out of their investment. Buyers are not going to recognize the hard work you put into starting the business in the same light that you do. All that work you did in the beginning is not on their radar—they are going to be focused on their returns.    

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Valuation gaps also result when private equity firms and strategic buyers compete for quality investments and relatively inexpensive financing is available. This can be both good and bad for middle-market business owners. Significant buyer interest creates considerable competition for quality deals, which is great. But at the same time, if the market is hot and demand is high, unrealistic valuation expectations and skewed perspectives can result in a valuation gap.

This is why a thorough evaluation of a business is so crucial to the M&A process. A good M&A advisor will take meticulous steps to best determine an accurate current business enterprise value, while also managing the seller’s expectations of a valuation range before going to market. So, if you are a business owner, and you plan to approach buyers without professional M&A representation, you need to understand company valuation gaps, your intrinsic risks as a seller, and how to bridge these gaps. This can require a great deal of education on your part and can be very time consuming. Or you can simply enlist professional M&A advisory expertise and have the peace of mind that the fate or your business is in the best possible hands. The best advisors will work diligently on your behalf to help you attain your goals for your business and your financial future. It requires a team with proven experience, resources, and best practices to successfully navigate the many legal, accounting, due diligence, and marketing considerations involved in arriving at an accurate and realistic company valuation and getting a quality deal done.

Engage Our Expertise

Our top-notch M&A analysts at Benchmark International can help you with your company, from creating growth strategies to selling it for maximum value. Set up a time to talk with us and we can determine what solutions are best for you and your business.

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2020 Apparel, Beauty & Home Furnishings Sector Update

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about disruptions for businesses operating in the fashion, beauty and home furnishing sectors. This is because of complicated global supply chains and reliance on discretionary spending by consumers amid record unemployment levels. Keeping these types of businesses adaptive is crucial to their recovery and long-term success.

Supply Chain Disruption

“Nearshoring” is a term that describes the relocation of the production of goods so that they are moved geographically closer to consumer-dense regions such as the U.S. and Europe. This has been an attractive option for fashion and home furnishings companies, yet the cost of displacing established supply chains and vendor relationships have prevented them from making the move. But the landscape could be changing due to COVID-19, geopolitical turmoil, and antiquated supply chain practices.

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2020 Business And Professional Services Sector Update

Business and professional services (BPS) firms are facing increased uncertainty amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. This climate is resulting in less investment and more reliance on revolving credit to maintain access to cash for operating expenses, and keeping priorities on payroll and workforce decisions. Companies with strong liquidity will shift to growth strategies and digital transformation. Also, with a greater need for mobility in a more remote-working world, there is a greater emphasis on cybersecurity, especially for government contractors and law firms.

Government Contracting: A Hot Market for Acquisitions

Government contracting is a significant moneymaker, especially in the United States. These firms rely on the needs of the government and the availability of financial resources for public investments. Government spending is often used to stimulate the economy during a slump. Through the first two quarters of 2020, government spending held steady, with health spending peaking along with the COVID-19 response, with billions going to national interest agencies and programs related to the pandemic.

The middle market in government contracting is comprised of several small, technically specialized service providers that offer high growth opportunities for larger companies that are seeking more capabilities and specific contract access. The pandemic slowed deal flow in the first half of 2020, but deals still happened with transactions expected to continue in the second half of the year. Private equity firms are seeking stable streams of cash flow and government contractors are relatively insulated from recession, making them a solid target for strategic investment and bolt-on acquisitions. M&A activity in the government contracting space is forecast to continue into 2021 as the sector (with the exception of aerospace) has been less impacted by the coronavirus and there is a need for more consolidation in the market.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Cybersecurity is paramount for government contractors for obvious national security reasons. In July of 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense issued the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) to build upon cybersecurity best practices from established industry standards with the goal of reducing cyber-risk among its contractors. Other departments of the government will likely do the same, prompting contractors to prepare for it in advance.

The big commercial tech companies typically draw the top tech and cybersecurity talent, making it challenging for government and its contractors to attract talent and offer competitive salaries. During times of increased unemployment due to a pandemic, many skilled workers are seeking out less risky positions. Government contractors should jump on this opportunity to attract young, tech savvy talent.

Law Firms: Challenges and Opportunities

Due to the pandemic, law firms have had to deal with furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts and reducing expenses while finding new ways to boost revenues while working remotely. Liquidity equals agility in uncertain times, so firms should seek to expand their credit lines while making the most of government assistance options.

Human capital remains the single biggest asset for law firms. Working remotely has brought about new challenges for attorneys and staff as they juggle the demands of working, parenting and caregiving. Investing in programs, technology, and other ways to support staff is more important than ever. Amid cutbacks and a lack of contact with colleagues, talent needs to know they are still valued and connected to the firm’s success. Firms also need to take this time to assess what lessons have been learned from remote working regarding obstacles, delays and infrastructure needs and how they can address needs, especially in regard to digital support.

Security and privacy are major issues for law firms operating remotely as they need their files and records to be accessible from outside the office. A digital security strategy is key even once the pandemic has passed, as no one knows for sure what the new normal will look like. Once security is implemented and established, focus can shift to maintaining client relationships and creating revenue growth into the future. Investment in mentoring programs and empowerment of staff can help grow the business and identify new opportunities to support the firm once the pandemic is over and the economy is ready to bounce back.

Contact Us

If you are thinking about a merger or acquisition for your business, please reach out to our M&A dream team at Benchmark International to discuss how we can help you accomplish great things.

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The Impact Of 5G On M&A

Next-generation 5G networks are widely viewed as one of the most impactful and anticipated technological developments in current times. With super-high speeds of 100 times faster than that of 4G networks, 5G is expected to bring broadband connectivity to 10 times the wireless devices and usher society into a digital industrial revolution that will open up new possibilities, innovative applications, reduced energy consumption, and economic growth.

The Impact of the 5G Value Chain on the Global Economy for 2020-2035

  • Up to $13.2 trillion of goods and services through 2035
  • $2.1 trillion in GDP growth
  • 22.3 million new jobs
    *According to a study commissioned by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

When Will 5G Finally Be Available?

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Should You Consider Cross-border M&A?

The world economy’s appetite for cross-border mergers and acquisitions continues to grow in popularity amid globalization and the emergence of new technologies. These types of global deals offer their fair share of risks and rewards. So how do you know if it’s the right strategy for your company? While there is no magical equation to answer that question, you can take the time to understand what you will be faced with in a cross-border transaction, how it may make sense for your particular business within your sector, and what precautions you will need to take.

Motivations for Cross-Border M&A

There are several different reasons that business leaders turn to cross-border deals to address their needs and benefit their companies. These objectives include:

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2020 Industrials Sector Update

The industrials sector has had to adapt to significant disruption due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges associated with it. While 2020 started on a very positive note with rapid growth for the global manufacturing sector, manufacturing output plummeted throughout the beginning of the year and into May due to shutdowns around the world. Output, new orders, exports, and purchases all fell to levels not seen since the 2008 recession. Many large manufacturing countries were under lockdowns into April, but restrictions were eased in May, which helped deter the overall rate of decline. In the wake of the crisis, many companies have found ways to evolve and use digital solutions to transform their business models, discovering changes that will continue to be beneficial in a post-COVID world. This adaptability is crucial to the survival and future relevance of these businesses.

Industry Highlights

  • Automation and connective worker technologies have become even more important to boosting productivity.
  • Migration to the cloud allows companies to be more flexible in dealing with disruptions.
  • The auto manufacturing industry is growing more resilient due to greater supply chain visibility.
  • For oil and gas companies, advanced digital technologies are a vital investment.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Industrial companies that made prior investments in digital technologies and IT infrastructure were able to operate efficiently during the earliest phases of the pandemic. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, has enabled manufacturers to evolve their traditional supply chains and processes into highly interconnected systems. Leading organizations have been investing heavily in developed digital platforms specific to the industrials sector, pivoting business models towards being more software-centric. Additionally, smart manufacturing technologies are now transforming traditional manufacturing processes and paving the way into the future. More and more companies will be exploring digital technologies to enhance their flexibility and operate more innovatively. Robotics and 3D printing are among the most popular operational solutions that are expected to see continued heavy investment.

While remote work has become a relatively easy and normal option for many employees across different sectors, the industrial manufacturing sector is not one of them simply for logistics reasons. For example, machines need operators to keep them running. However, it has been demonstrated that technology can help limit the number of people needed to maintain operations. 

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Connected worker technologies are helping to streamline and hasten solutions. Typically, machine repairs require operators to contact service technicians, sometimes located in different facilities or at the original equipment manufacturer. Also, training new or existing workers has typically been face to face. Augmented reality is helping to eliminate in-person interaction for the purposed of repair, service and training and empowering workers to be more independent through digital on-demand access to manuals, instructions, and other resources.

While manufacturing companies tend to be more hesitant about migrating operations to the cloud, these organizations are realizing that cloud technologies enables them to move inventory, work smarter, customize products, and shift resources in much more flexible manner. The cloud is also an effective asset-performance tool that gives supervisors a remote window into facilities, production lines, and individuals.

Robotics and automation have significantly increased productivity for manufacturing processes. By replacing manual processes with automated alternatives, it helps to mitigate workforce availability challenges and reduces the impact of low-cost labor decisions.

Additive manufacturing and 3D printing continues to evolve and has shifted from the production of prototype applications to finished products. These manufacturing technologies are gaining more traction and offer efficient value chain solutions that enable on-demand production, less working capital, reduced supply chain complexity, fewer tools or parts needed, and less frequent human intervention.

The Auto Industry

Technology and connectivity is now the third most cited investment priority for the

automotive manufacturing industry. The future lies in edge computing, monitoring software, and the Industrial Internet of Things. Companies are able to collect and analyze data on site and in real time, connect applications to essential equipment, and conduct advanced monitoring and remote controls.

Another result of the pandemic for the auto industry is a need for more transparency in global supply chains. Thanks to AI, there is a shift from existing models in equipping automakers so that suppliers can use analytics to respond to changes in real time. For middle-market companies that have been known to underinvest in tech, this shift is especially important. Investment in IT infrastructure will help establish a more nimble and scalable environment, and will create more valuable data. The sequentially distributed databases of Blockchain technology are also changing supply chain management and adoption is expected to increase greatly into the future.

The Oil and Gas Sector

Digital technologies are also being adopted by oil and gas companies in order to bolster cost and operational efficiencies, improve safety, and reduce environmental impacts.

Robotics, AI, cloud solutions and Blockchain are all being used more and more to advance the industry. According to Bloomberg, oil companies are expected to spend $1.3 billion on advanced analytics alone in 2021. The big oil and field services companies with more experience aggressively adopting innovation and that are in favorable cash positions are more likely to continue investing in new tech. Human intervention is being scaled back. Maintenance procedures are being automated. Drones are being used to monitor real-time conditions and detect leaks. AI sensors are monitoring conditions such as temperature and vibration. At the same time, small and mid-size companies that were less mature coming into the pandemic are likely to focus spending on technology that helps them keep their businesses running.

Contact Us

No matter what sector your business operates within, Benchmark International is here to help. Contact us to discuss how we can help you grow or sell your business for maximum value.

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2020 Real Estate Sector Update

The real estate industry, both commercial and residential, is undergoing transformation due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are working from home, traveling less, and some are migrating to smaller cities. Digitalization is becoming more prevalent, as owners, developers and managers of properties are seeking out virtual and touchless solutions to ensure safety and boost efficiency in a competitive market. Middle-market companies that keep up with the demand for innovation are poised to thrive under these new-normal conditions. 

Real Estate Trends Expected to Continue

  • Office spaces are being reconfigured to offer more space for each worker.
  • Remote work is facilitating home purchases farther away from large cities that are home to corporate headquarters.
  • Virtual touring experiences are becoming standard for home sales.
  • Hotels are adapting to new measures to ensure guest safety.
  • Retail properties are being used for other commercial uses.
  • Leasing arrangements are becoming more creative to improve liquidity and cash flow.
  • The inability to have in-person property experiences are hampering due diligence efforts.
  • The construction sector will continue to employ virtual tools such as 3-D modeling and site management platforms.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Remote Working and the New Office

As millions of office workers have been working remotely to help avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus, employers were somewhat surprised to see that workers were more productive while working from home. Analyses show that average workdays increased in hours and big tech companies announced that remote working would continue into the long-term future. A result of this is that companies are:

  • Looking to reduce the cost of office space.
  • Providing more space per worker for any necessary in-person collaboration.
  • Using video conferencing setups in small team rooms to bridge home and office work.
  • Implementing thermal scanners, improved ventilation, UV light for cleaning and other safety measures.

Property owners and managers of office spaces have been able to continue to collect rent payments during the pandemic. However, as unemployment rises and the economy remains uncertain, it could impact the financial markets, making property and mortgage payments more difficult. Additionally, pension fund managers for large unions often invest in office markets due to their stable rents and cash flows, but if tenants cannot pay rent, pension payments may be cut.

Residential Real Estate

Residential home buying is also changing due to the coronavirus. Prior to the pandemic, Millennials were already willing to sacrifice job opportunities to buy homes in secondary cities in search of affordable housing. A study by Redfin showed that more than 50 percent of workers in major tech hub cities would move elsewhere if their company offered a remote work option, with the desire to live someplace less expensive. New tech advancements in a more remote-work-driven world are enabling these workers to pursue both dreams. Major tech companies are recognizing the cost burden that comes with maintaining sweeping campuses in major metro areas and are leading the way in the trend to shift to remote working as more professional services companies follow suit.

How homes are being purchased is also changing. Online home shopping by Millennials was already on the rise before the pandemic, causing realtors to adapt their selling processes. Virtual reality tours and 3D floor plans are becoming standard practice. Appraisers are using drones for exterior photography. Paperwork is reduced and replaced by electronic filing and signing.

Retail Real Estate

Retail property owners have many tenants that have been forced to close due to COVID-19 restrictions and many of these tenants are refusing or unable to pay rent while closed, forcing landlords to devise workarounds and, in turn, struggle to pay their own bills. Retailers were already struggling pre-pandemic due to increasing e-commerce popularity. Now landlords are providing rent abatement periods, rent waivers, flexible payments, and interest-free repayment in order to aid in their tenants' survival.

Hospitality Real Estate

The pandemic has limited non-essential travel, as business travelers are working from home and many leisure travelers are choosing to stay home for safety reasons. The hospitality sector has taken a massive hit under these circumstances amid changing restrictions and stay-at-home orders. As economic loss negatively impacts the hospitality industry, operational priorities are shifting from personal guest experiences to the safety of guests. Economy lodging is being less affected than larger, upscale hotels because essential construction workers are still traveling to job sites in smaller markets while large conferences are cancelled and professional group business travel is being limited. Investments in new technologies by hotel operators are also crucial to the hospitality real estate industry as extensive safety measures are needed. Typical in-person processes are being replaced by digital options. Common areas are being reassessed to offer social distancing. New cleaning and ventilation measures are being implemented. These changes are expected to aid in the economic recovery in this sector.

Construction

A new era of technology is playing a major role in the construction industry. Enhanced safety protocols are being implemented in existing commercial buildings. Construction companies are embracing new technologies in the development and management of new projects. Prefabrication and modular buildings, as well as virtual construction methods, are seeing accelerated growth amid the new circumstances due to the pandemic. A recent survey showed that construction executives foresee double-digit

increases in single-trade and multi-trade prefabrication assemblies, as well as permanent modular construction, over the next few years. These construction techniques offer better project schedule performance, lower construction costs, and improved construction quality.

Considering M&A?

No matter what sector your business operates within, our M&A experts at Benchmark International are eager to discuss your future with you, whether it’s selling your business, growing your company, or devising your exit or succession plan.

 

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2020 Technology, Media And Telecom Sector Update

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact everyday life, the technology, media and telecom sectors are playing critical roles in keeping people connected, working, and entertained. As more people work remotely and home school, the services provided by tech and telecom companies remain in peak demand by families and businesses.

  • Acquisitions are driving growth in the tech sector, and there is more investment in innovation and R&D.
  • Collaborative tech is expected to see sustained growth.
  • As tech companies embrace working-from-home, talent is being spread out more geographically.
  • Telecommunications companies are being relied upon for connectivity more than ever during the pandemic, and the focus on 5G-network implementation is a major priority.
  • Broadcast TV faces challenges amid declines in advertising and fewer live sports, but ad revenue is expected to increase as many major sports are returning to play. Digital streaming and retransmission fees could also offer new opportunities.
  • As video gaming and e-sports have undergone dramatic growth spurts during the pandemic, acquisition activity is expected to increase.
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10 Things To Do During This Slowdown If You Plan To Sell In The Next Three Years

The explosion of the tech bubble, popping of the telecom bubble, 9/11, the financial crisis, now this. One of the benefits of working on mergers and acquisitions through unfortunate times is that you gain a good perspective on what lies ahead after the crisis passes. More specifically, you learn how acquirers will react and this in turn teaches you how to minimize the damage during the crisis. Every crisis is different but with four or five now under the belts of our senior staff, Benchmark International has been able to identify the acquirer behaviors almost certain to appear after this – and the next, and every other – dip in the inevitable rise of the middle markets.

To be clear, the dip here is not one of buyer interest or even multiples being offered to this point. As we near the fourth quarter, we continue to close deals, sign letters of intent, and bring clients to market. Please see our earlier post What is Covid-19 Doing To The M&A Markets Now?which continues to accurately describe the conditions we are seeing. What we mean by “dip” is the likely drop in your company’s revenue and all the other financial metrics that influences - and to some degree controls.

It is no secret that acquirers’ primary tool for determining their interest in, and their valuation of, a business is its financial performance. Businesses with growing revenue, healthy margins, and consistent performance sell for the highest multiples.

The situation we now face likely threatens all three of these characteristics and if your business has otherwise had a stellar historical performance concerning these three metrics, you may be extremely concerned that its performance during this period of the global slowing will forever mark its luster and lower its sale price.

While it is true that recapturing lost growth (i.e., growth that is not occurring at the moment) is hard to do, this is distinct from the real issues here – preserving the high multiple your business deserves. Fortunately, our experience indicates that your deserved multiple is salvageable – if you know how to do it. Yes, getting those record-high multiples for businesses at the end of the company sale process will be more complicated for the next few years, just as it was in 2009- 2012, but with the right preparation now and process later, you should have no reason to believe your multiple will be subpar in the future just because of the current financial setbacks.

Here are some key things to do and remember:

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2020 Healthcare Sector Update

As we reach the middle of Q3, a look back at the past several months in the healthcare sector indicates certain key trends for the industry and how it is expected to undergo transformation into the future.

Continued Innovation

Even during a pandemic, innovation and development continues. Pharmaceutical, biotech, healthcare IT and medical device companies are persevering with new and highly advanced mechanisms that will impact outcomes and patient experiences. From specialty drugs to artificial intelligence applications and from 3D printing to virtual reality, the healthcare and life sciences sector is expected to remain an attractive investment area into the future.

Under the demand for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and the race to find a vaccine, governments are shifting more of their budgets to healthcare services. Also, in vitro diagnostics testing (IVD) will continue to increase as major players such as CVS and Walgreens build it into their location infrastructures.

Healthcare IT companies have lofty aspirations for enterprise-grade artificial intelligence platforms that can predict pandemics, forecast patient volumes, authenticate reimbursement, and enhance drug management and self-care. Big data in healthcare also continues to draw interest and grow at a high CAGR.

Elective Procedures

Social distancing and COVID-19 has resulted in the deferral of elective and non-urgent medical procedures. According to a study by JP Morgan:

  • 13% of respondents will be postponing elective procedures until there is a vaccine available.
  • 15% will be waiting until a treatment is developed.
  • 40% said they plan to wait until within a few months of the crisis subsiding.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Telehealth

The use of telehealth services continues to grow in popularity as patients prefer to avoid in-person visits due to pandemic concerns. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth saw slow growth due to a lack of state and federal reimbursement, physicians’ resistance to adopting the new technology, and patient unfamiliarity with virtual visits. COVID-19 and changes to reimbursement have resulted in a massive uptick in telehealth visits over the past several months, growing at a rate of 7.9 percent. Telehealth is also being used more frequently for virtual urgent care and ER visits, as well as for mental health.

Healthcare Jobs

The healthcare labor market has been impacted by the current recession and other factors. 1.4 million healthcare jobs were lost as of April but 380,000 jobs were added back in May. Hospitals lost an additional 26,000 jobs. Many clinicians not treating COVID-19 as well as administrative staff are working remotely for the first time in an industry that has typically resisted virtual work. A certain level of virtual work is expected to remain in place into the future.

M&A Deals

Because of the global pandemic, many private equity firmshave a heightened focus on their own portfolio businesses. However, the majority are still open to looking at quality opportunities; in addition, strategic buyers such as health systems and hospitals are considering M&A plans in the medium term. Overall, deal volumes are expected to increase between now and H1 of 2021.

Ready to Make a Move?

The M&A experts at Benchmark International are eager to start the conversation about your future, whether it is growing your company, selling your company, maximizing its value, or planning your exit strategy. We are committed to getting you results that fulfill your ambitions and exceed your expectations.

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Overview Of Steps In The M&A Process

The processes behind mergers and acquisitions can be quite complicated. Each deal is unique and has its own level of intricacies. However, all M&A transactions tend to follow a basic framework of steps. Most M&A advisory firms follow this basic framework, but bring their own methodologies to the table. This outline will give you a rudimentary view of the process.  

What Are The Steps In The M&A Process?

1. Target List Creation

In order to engage in the selling or buying of a business, you must have potential buyers or sellers. Suitable M&A targets can include competitors, vendors, or customers. This is also a good time to consider how much geographical factors should be taken into account.

2. Contact Initiated

Once the target list is established, contact is made and discussions begin to gauge the interest level of the buyer or seller.

3. Sending of a Teaser

A teaser is a document that sellers send to buyers. It supplies just enough information to entice the buyer into wanting to know more. It showcases topline info such as the company’s product or services, its unique selling points, industry overview, ownership structure, potential areas of growth, and high-level financials.

4. Confidentiality Agreement Signing

This ensures that all sides in the deal agree to keep all discussions and materials confidential.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

5. Sending of the Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM)

The CIM serves is drafted by the sell-side of a transaction and serves as a type of handbook. It provides all the information a buyer needs to ascertain whether they want to make an offer, such as company management, operations details, financial data, future projections, customer diversification, market opportunities, competition, and other relevant specifics.

6. Submissions of Indication of Interest (IOI)

Upon their review of the CIM, the buyer then expresses interest in moving forward by submitting a non-binding written offer. An IOI typically provides a valuation range for the sale price, transaction structure, timeframe, and other important details. It limits the buyer’s time and financial resources devoted to the deal if the proposal falls short of expectations and other bids. For the seller, an IOI helps them to measure the market appetite for the company, compare different buyers’ views on value, and perform preliminary due diligence on the buyer’s ability to complete the transaction.

7. Management Meetings

After the initial communications that establish interest on both sides, it is time for the buyer and seller to meet and take the conversation further. Both sides take this time to learn more about each other to get a better idea of compatibility and whether it is a good fit.

8. The Letter of Intent (LOI)

The buyer submits a detailed document with a price and deal structure that details items such as closing dates and conditions, an exclusivity period, any break-up fees, management compensation, escrow, and so on. These are usually non-binding, but they can be denoted as binding.

9. Formal Due Diligence Process

This important phase is when all documentation and records are compiled by the seller and provided to the buyer. The findings help the buyer assess their risk and improve the decision-making process. Due diligence examines an extensive level of information on the company, including all financials, intellectual property, customer base, management, talent, synergy, outstanding litigation, technology, infrastructure, stockholder issues, production, inventory, supply chains, real estate, marketing plans, and anything else that is relevant to the business.

10. The Purchase Agreement

A Purchase Agreement supersedes any previous IOI and LOI. This binding document lays out the final terms of the deal including the purchase price, a detailed list of definitions used in the agreement, timeframes for the delivery of final statements, executive provisions, representations, warranties, schedules, indemnifications, closing conditions, and break-up fees.

11. Pre-Closing Period

Sometimes there is a pre-closing period during which the seller and buyer prepare all deliverables and fulfill closing conditions such as government approvals and third-party consents. The duration of this period can vary depending on the closing conditions.

12. Closing

Once all of the closing conditions are met, the transaction is ready to close. Funds are exchanged and the buyer assumes possession of the business.

13. Post-Closing Period

After the deal closes, there are usually post-closing financial adjustments and integration topics to be addressed between the seller and buyer.

Ready to Make a Deal?

Our M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to hear from you regarding your company and its potential. Our world-renowned team offers the unparalleled transaction experience, remarkable resources, and global connections that you need in your corner to in order to get the most value possible out of your M&A deal. Learn more about our unique Benchmark Fingerprint Process here.

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What’s Unique About Selling a Government Contracting Business

Every business is unique and grammar experts will tell you that you cannot place a modifier before the word “unique”. That said, selling government contracting business is a very unique art. Here are some insights from Benchmark International’s extensive experience with these engagements. 

What makes selling a government contracting business unique?

Most importantly, there are far fewer financial buyers (e.g., private equity funds, family offices). This means the potential buyer population is both smaller and skewed toward strategic buyers, such as competitors, suppliers, and businesses in adjacent sectors. Therefore, the buyer outreach effort must be more robust, the marketing strategy, as with all writing, must focus on the proper intended audience, and each potential buyer that reaches out must be treated with extra care.

What keeps other buyers away from government contracting businesses?

The main issue is customer concentration. Many companies rely on one specific government or one specific agency for the vast majority of their revenue, for example, the Department of Defense or their state’s Department of Transportation. Knowing how to address this issue is not only key to attracting buyers on the edge of the process but also to stoking interest in all potential buyers in the process. “Customer concentration” is routinely cited in buyer surveys as the number one concern in the early stages of target selection. Thus, failing to address this issue head-on and intelligently can greatly reduce the buyer pool.

Do these businesses trade at a lower multiple than others?

No, there is no “government contractor discount.” These entities are viewed as “counter-cyclical” so when the economy is falling or expected to fall, they can demand a premium over their counterparts that only work with private sector clients. 

The business itself may have characteristics – such as customer concentration – that can impact value, but the same is true of any business with any client base. And, to the contrary, the payment history of governments is far better than that of private sector companies and the reliability of these collections gives government contractors a boost on their multiples. This reliability premium moves inversely with the number of bankruptcy filings nationwide.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

What type of government contractors get the highest multiples?

To a degree, the same factors that affect any business matter here – defendable intellectual property, long-term customer relationships, moats around the business, the strength of the management team that will stay on after the deal, the stickiness of the product or service offered, reputation, etc.

Additionally, the actual customer contracts draw an excessive amount of attention in these deals. 

The longer the contract is the better. For service businesses, a dollar of revenue from a maintenance contract tends to yield more dollars in the sale than does an implementation or repair contract. 

Some buyers place a higher value on fixed cost contracts, others on cost-plus or time and materials. Primes tend to get higher multiples than subs but not always, depending on the sub’s specialty. For smaller businesses that will likely have fewer open contracts, the length of time remaining on each contract and its rebid/extension terms are often points of high interest.

Lastly, whether or not the person who has relations with the government office is staying on or not is a big deal. If you are leaving and you have those relations, the sale process must be structured around this fact. This means customization of the type of buyers that are targeted and the story that is initially told to the market. Some buyers won’t mind so they would need to be the primary targets and those that will mind needing to be told at the right time and in the right manner.

What about preserving the set-aside nature of the business?

This is a question that all clients ask but few buyers care about it. We find that most clients don’t use their set aside status to win the majority of their work. More importantly, though, most government contracts do not require the prime to update the government in the event of a loss of status by one of their subs or even by the prime itself. The contracts tend to be “shoot and forget” in this regard. While it can affect some extensions or renewals, we often see that not being the case.

And buyers just don’t care. Today’s multiples are too high for buyers to win company sale processes just because they are looking for a set-aside business. If they aren’t paying for the brainpower, the relationships, the cash flow, or any other standard deriver of value, they aren’t making offers our clients will accept.

Is selling a government contracting business harder than selling a similar business serving the private sector? 

Yes, for all the reasons above it’s a bit smaller of a needle to thread. But with the right process, a good deal team, patience, and a motivated attitude on the part of the owner, the process is entirely doable, and these businesses sell every day of the year.

What’s the market like at this minute? 

As of the end of July 2020, the market has never been better. We are seeing multiples for all business types staying up at their pre-COVID record levels across the board. Also, we are seeing buyers that previously passed on government contractors reaching out specifically to see what government contracting companies are currently available.

 

To see a selection of our completed government contracting deals, please click here

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

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

 

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2020 Mid-Year U.S. Economic Outlook

The COVID-19 global pandemic is having a significant impact on economies across the world and business owners are understandably concerned. In these times of uncertainty, many are asking what can be expected in both the short and long term for the United States economy.

Looking Back at Q1 and Q2

After several years of economic expansion, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 5% in the first quarter of 2020, and plummeted 52.8% in the second quarter. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) declared that the U.S. economy officially entered recession in February. 

  • Consumer spending was down 13.6% in April, slightly rebounding in May, up 8.2%.
  • In May, U.S. employers added 2.5 million workers back to payrolls and housing rebounded moderately.
  • The Federal Reserve cut interest rates and rolled out a $2.3 trillion effort to help local governments and small- to mid-sized businesses, and the U.S. government approved nearly $3 trillion in aid.
  • 8 million jobs were added in June, while more than 19 million Americans were still receiving unemployment insurance benefits.
  • June retail sales jumped 7.5%.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Forecasting Q3 and Q4

Goldman Sachs forecasts U.S. GDP growth of 25% in the third quarter, down from a previous forecast of 33%. The NBER Conference Board expects a 20% rebound in quarter three, with growth slowing to 1% in quarter four.

The manufacturing and construction sectors continue to recover, with predictions of 8% growth in the fourth quarter. Additionally, existing home sales have rebounded at a record pace.

Consumer confidence is going to depend on how rapidly the virus is brought under control. In July, coronavirus cases spiked in many areas of the country, causing some state and local governments to step back on reopening plans. The recent resurgence in cases has slowed expected consumer spending, as many Americans are unable to visit certain places due to state restrictions. Markets will likely remain erratic until there are solid indicators for increased confidence. The economy will recover, it is just a matter of when, keeping in mind that recoveries tend to be longer and stronger than downturns, and returns are usually highest after the market bottoms out. As of late July, September is a hopeful target for a bounce-back in spending.

Even once restrictions are lifted and businesses are able to operate as normal, the recovery will hinge on how willing Americans may be to participate. Consumer demand is expected to remain sluggish through the latter half of the year, but there are positive long-term investment opportunities that arise out of such an environment, especially for companies that have shown that they can adapt under dire circumstances.

New developments in COVID-19 clinical trials indicate that a vaccine could be available by 2021. A vaccine or treatment will be critical to boosting consumer confidence and economic growth.

Finding Opportunities Within a Crisis

While the virus has had devastating impacts across several sectors—especially travel and hospitality—it has also created opportunities for certain industries. Types of businesses that have seen strong growth during the pandemic include telemedicine, online retail, food and grocery delivery services, home improvement, educational services, gaming, cleaning products, RVs, and even puzzle makers.

With people working and schooling from home, people’s lives are now more digital than ever. Demand for cloud-based services has skyrocketed. Streaming services and mobile payment services are increasingly popular, and reliable broadband is a must-have. During mandatory lockdowns, consumers became more likely to try things for the first time, such as grocery or alcohol delivery, and may opt to continue to use them following the COVID-19 pandemic. These types of outcomes could translate into even healthier e-commerce growth potential in the future, not just in the U.S, but also globally.

There will also be possibilities for partnerships through mergers and acquisitions. Prior to the crisis, private equity was sitting on an estimated upwards of $1 trillion in dry powder and will likely play a key part in the revival of the economy. M&A opportunities are expected to be in the most resilient sectors post-pandemic, and bidders are predicted to become aggressive in seeking out company valuation bargains in the hardest hit industries such as the transportation, hospitality, and energy sectors. Additionally, in the more stable sectors, deals could be driven by the need to vertically integrate and address supply chain issues to get back on track. There is also the possibility for stock deals to become more appealing as equity prices fall.  

Schedule a Virtual Valuation

Contact the M&A advisors at Benchmark International to discuss the possibilities for the future of your business. We are here for you, even throughout the pandemic, getting deals done and making great things happen in the most trying of times. You can even schedule a Virtual Valuation in order to practice social distancing while gaining an understanding of the current value of your company.

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What is COVID-19 Doing to the M&A Markets Now?

What’s the latest effect (as of late-July) COVID is having on lower middle-market M&A in the US? 

Some deals have fallen out resulting in some new buyer requests emerging. As with stock in the publicly traded markets, we are seeing what you might call a “sector-rotation.” Any time you have a change in the macro-environment, whether favorable or unfavorable to the economy overall, you see buyer preferences shift.

Is activity shrinking?

Demand has moved and it takes time for supply to catch up. Also, it takes upwards of three months to close an M&A deal, even in the smoothest of times. So, replacing those deals that fell out that were in the middle or even their end phases will require some time. But the buyers still keep calling. We aren’t seeing a deeper trend, which would be concerning, about money being pulled out of private equity. So, the ship has taken a roll but there is no sign it's taking on any water.

Why haven’t buyers dried up?

Institutions and wealthy individuals invest in private equity and turn into the lower middle-markets because they need a place to set their money to work for them. 

Globally, governments have slashed interest rates in response to the pandemic. That made every other class of investment less attractive. Coming into 2020, we were concerned that rising interest rates would make those other asset classes more attractive, and we would see the historic record inflows to private equity dry up. But that has now been deferred for another year or so. Once governments recognize the need to pay off these massive bills they’ve just created, probably at the end of the next budget and tax cycle, we will see interest rates rise, perhaps even faster than we had expected as governments raise taxes and attempt to inflate away their debt.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

That’s fine for financial buyers but what about strategic buyers? 

Yes, some have headed for the sidelines for the time being. But operating companies, as always, need to grow their revenue and the healthiest businesses will continue to look for growth opportunities. In the present scenario, we also have companies that weren’t as healthy or as growth-oriented that now need to replace some revenues and that need to, in a way, reinvent themselves or find alternate routes to market. We also are seeing trade buyers entering the market because they have lost key suppliers or are worried about losing key suppliers, and they are looking to integrate upstream. Fortunately, larger companies went into this situation with overall corporate debt at record lows. That means there are companies out there that have the room to borrow even if their operations are not going gangbusters at the moment.

But are banks lending? 

Debt is tightening at the moment. Lenders don’t like uncertainty. This is part of the reason that deals that were negotiated pre-COVID are falling out. Buyers use as much debt as possible and if interest rates go up (which they did for M&A debt even though no-risk and low-risk interest rates were brought down), then the math of the deal gets reshuffled and someone backs out. But banks adapt and as the risk-free rate hovers near zero, they find ways to get comfortable with handing out M&A debt. Seeing senior debt on deals now brings them around 6% and mezzanine debt 12-14%, is helping them adapt faster at the moment. We are seeing deals carry a little less debt over the last few months, but bankable deals are still getting debt. Unfortunately, though, lenders are a little more investigative and slower than normal, so we are seeing this add perhaps a month to many deals.

What effect does this have on the price? 

So far buyers are being creative, and those that are not are losing their deals. The good buyers are coming back and tinkering with the deal structure to keep the overall multiple up rather than lose the deal. We are seeing them ask for more seller debt and more rollover. Deals that used to have a 20% rollover component now might have 30 or 40%, leaving the sellers a bigger second bite at the apple while still satisfying their need or desire for a transaction. 

So, is it still a good time to enter the market? 

The best time to enter the market if you are selling ice is the summertime. But the amount of time it takes to get a company to market is longer than the range of our visibility at present into where the market will be when the company is truly at the step of “entering the market”. So that question carries a bit of a false pretext. The real question is: “Is it time to start the process?” 

The answer to that question is: “It’s always time to be ready to sell.” And because of today’s added volatility, to the extent, an owner is trying to time a window they are going to have a better shot at it if they get started, get their marketing materials made, learn the process, and stand ready to enter.

Is it really all about market timing? 

No. You can sell ice in the winter, and you can sell it for the same price as in the summer if you know what you’re doing. You just have to work harder and maybe be a bit more patient, creative, or flexible. You need a solid process, broad market outreach, and a good M&A team around you. I’ve known too many owners that waited for the right wave and by the time they realized it had come, it was past. At least those that were sitting on their board out in the surf could try to chase that wave or ride the back of it, as opposed to those waiting on the beach. You can certainly sit out a solid tough spell but getting the right deal is not about hitting the market at just the right time. Buyers come and buyers go. There is always a quality buyer out there that needs the business and will pay top dollar if handled properly.

Final thoughts on the current situation?

Selling a business is too important of a decision to let any single factor decide for you. The business is usually the owner’s life’s work and therefore the considerations are infinite. Never will all of them fall into a perfect line. In other words, there are always reasons to not sell. Fortunately, starting the process and deciding to sell is not the same thing. Starting the process simply requires the reasons to sell being slightly greater than the reasons not to sell. Then, six months or a year later when the contract is on the table and the pen is in your hand, the relative importance of the pros and cons shifts. Our clients pass up offers all the time. Just because they pass on an offer does not mean that they should not have started or entered the market when they did. As long as they retain absolute discretion to sell or not to sell throughout the process, being worried about where the market is or where it might be going should not be a major concern.

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Why You Should Consider Expanding Into New Markets

If your business is successful in your geographical region, it could be time to look at moving into new markets. Expanding your company into new markets can be a powerful solution for creating growth for several reasons. If your business is based in the United States, just stop and consider the fact that 96 percent of the world’s consumers reside outside of America’s borders. Globalization is becoming more and more common for brands, and it is here to stay.

Gain New Customers and Boost Revenue

When a business is performing well, it is not uncommon for its growth opportunities to become exhausted within its home market. By turning to expansion strategies, new markets open up significant potential to reach a broader customer base, in turn increasing sales and revenue. In fact, reports show that 45 percent of middle market companies make more than half of their revenue overseas.

Diversify

By taking your company into new markets, you have the opportunity to diversify, making revenue more stable. Say your domestic market is slowing. By being in a more global market, you gain the advantage of having it as a protective measure during slower economic times at home.

Enhance Your Reputation

When you provide your product or service to customers in new markets, it bolsters your reputation both abroad and at home. A favorable reputation inherently attracts new customers. Expansion also builds name brand recognition and gives your business more credibility on a larger scale.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Get a Competitive Edge

This one is simple. Get into new markets before your competitors do. This is especially important if you are operating in a saturated market. If you get there first, you get the customers first and can take measures to retain them. This is much easier than being the second or third in the new market and trying to lure customers to switch to your business for similar products or services. This is why it’s no surprise that nearly 60 percent of middle market companies include international expansion into their growth strategies.

Access More Talent

More geographical reach means a bigger talent pool. It also means adding valuable advantages such as language skills and varied educational backgrounds. It also allows you to employ local talent that has the expertise to effortlessly serve and communicate with your customers in the same time zone. This can be a key strategy if your company is older and has decades of experience operating in your home market.

Save Money

Believe it or not, expanding can actually lower your company’s operational costs and save you money, especially if your business involves manufacturing. In other markets, you may find lower costs of labor and more affordable talent. Also, advancements in e-commerce and logistics have lowered the cost of doing business overseas. And lets not forget about taxes. Several countries around the world offer tax incentives to companies looking to expand internationally because it brings new business opportunities to their homeland.

Contact Us

If you are a business owner looking for ways to grow your company, talk to our M&A experts at Benchmark International. We have extensive experience, a massive network of global connections, and plenty of great ideas. You can take comfort in knowing that everything we do is predicated upon doing the right thing for you and your business.

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10 Important Post-merger Integration Tips

Having a solid integration plan in place for your company merger is critical to the future success of your business. These tips can help prepare you for the process.  

  1. Begin planning from the earliest possible point in time. Outline all of your goals and objectives, employ best practices, and identify any gaps in your plan. Make sure all the key parties involved in the merger are in agreement on the integration plan. You should start implementing the integration process before announcing the deal. This enables you to begin integration immediately versus rushing to make important decisions at the last minute.
  2. Create an integration team and clearly communicate the strategy for moving ahead with all necessary parties involved. Assess your key areas of value and designate the teams or persons responsible for these areas, making sure they understand the exit criteria they will need to meet.
  3. Make sure leadership roles are clearly defined during and after the merger. You may even want to consider bringing in leadership from outside both companies to benefit from a neutral perspective. Insist that leadership is committed to both the big picture for the company and the details of getting integration done right.
  4. Synergy is important in all aspects of the business, but especially in its culture. Commit to one culture and take measures to ensure that it will be preserved.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

  1. You are going to want your staff to be positive and excited about the merger, rather than nervous and/or cynical. This means you are going to have to sell the deal to them, ensuring they understand why the move will be good for them. Craft an internal communication plan that makes sure that no one is left in the dark at any point along the way. You will want to make sure you keep the overall messaging consistent to manage expectations properly.
  2. Have a solid plan for all things IT. This is a critical component of any business. How the technology will be integrated must be completely planned out to avoid any communication breakdowns or loss of important data. Implement a structure to track progress and identify potential risks so that they can be addressed in a timely manner.
  3. Understand what type of deal you are making and how it will dictate the days ahead. For example, a scale deal is an expansion in the same or overlapping business. A scope deal is an expansion into a new market, product or channel. All of your integration decisions will be based on this.
  4. All sorts of things can crop up and slow down or sidetrack an M&A transaction. Do your best to stick to the timetable you outlined while ensuring that you make smart decisions rather than just following the process for the process’s sake.
  5. Just like easing the minds of your employees, you will need to do the same for your customers. Make every effort to ensure minimal disruption for all of your customers and clearly communicate your plans with them to address any concerns.
  6. Remember you are still running a business. Avoid becoming so distracted by the transaction that you neglect business priorities such as your customers’ needs. You must keep the company on track and running smoothly if you expect the deal to be a success.

Finally, be sure to celebrate your successes. After an arduous process, employees should feel that their work is appreciated and everyone should share in keeping the momentum going moving forward.

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At Benchmark International, our highly esteemed M&A experts are eager to roll up our sleeves and get you a stellar deal for your company. Reach out to us at your convenience.

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How Biden's Proposed Tax Plan Could Impact Your Company's Exit Strategy

Tax implications could be drastically different 18-24 months from now and M&A markets are preparing to react to increased liquidity events in 2021 and beyond. The implementation of the proposed Biden Plan would have negative tax consequences which would cause a significant impact on net proceeds from any potential M&A transaction. Taxes on capital gains could rise to 40 percent for proceeds of a business sale over $1M. Individuals can expect a reversal of at least half of Trump’s signature tax cuts to pay for the plan.

For business owners generating over $1M in the sale of the business, expect to have earnings (“capital gains”) taxed as ordinary income under the Biden plan. Today, capital gains are taxed as income. A capital gain is a profit from the sale of a capital asset, such as a stock or home, from the time that asset is acquired until the time it is sold. Taxpayers pay the difference on the purchase price of the asset (“basis”) less the sales price.

Three Major Components Of The Plan

The plan has three major components: raising the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent, revoking the TCJA’s income tax cuts for taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000, and imposing a “donut hole” payroll tax on earnings in excess of $400,000.

The Biden Plan has considerable impact to business owners; careful consideration to the timing of an exit and liquidity strategy needs to be at the mind’s forefront as the 2020 election quickly approaches. If endorsed, the plan impacts owners directly through the implementation of new tax obligations or the elimination of tax benefits. This includes a 19.6 percent increase on the tax rate of material long-term capital gains for those with adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $1M, and a 7 percent increase in the overall corporate income tax rate as noted in the table below.

Example: Assume a $2.0M EBITDA business receives a valuation multiple of 10x for a total transaction value (taxable gain) of $20.0M. Under the Biden Plan, the seller would lose $3.92M in the sale. To receive the same net proceeds, a multiple of 13.2x would need to be secured.

Independent of the 2020 election, taxes are being reevaluated at the state level. This includes increased tax burden on transaction proceeds. The adoption of the proposed graduated income tax rates proposed in states such as Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan would result in a higher state tax burden for high earners. California has already adopted this measure and has a 13.3 percent top marginal tax rate for individuals with income above $1.0M.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

What If I Want To Transfer My Wealth?

The step-up in basis for inherited capital assets may cease under the plan. This elimination translates to more taxes on wealth passed to heirs and ending favorable tax rates on capital gains for anyone making over $1M.

How Are My Stocks Affected?

The 2017 tax reform law dropped the corporate income rate to current 21 percent level. The proposed plan increases the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent.

For people that earn $300,000 a year, you more than likely own shares in publicly traded companies. Under the plan publicly traded companies will be paying higher taxes which means less cash available for dividends to stockholders. Biden is suggesting a 15 percent minimum tax on large corporations. Goldman Sachs has projected that Biden’s tax plan would lead it to reduce its 2021 earnings estimate by 12 percent.

The tax rate on Global Intangible Low Tax Income (GILTI) earned by foreign subsidiaries of US firms will double from 10.5 percent to 21 percent.

How Is The Overall Economy Affected?

Experts suggest this plan would shrink the size of the economy by 1.51 percent due to higher marginal tax rates on capital and labor. A decrease of 3.23 percent in capital stock and reduction of 0.98 percent to the overall wage rate would lead to 585,000 fewer full-time equivalent jobs according to the Tax Foundation’s General Equilibrium Model.

Over the course of the next 12 to 24 months sellers and buyers alike will be keeping a pulse on the results of the 2020 presidential election and the possibility of a significant tax overhaul. It is important to note the reality of the Biden Plan coming to fruition can be driven by not just a Biden election; other drivers can include Democrat control over the U.S. House of Representatives or a change in control in the U.S. Senate from Republican to Democrat.

With the 2020 election on the horizon, it is crucial that business owners contemplate the potential tax consequences and consider crafting an exit strategy now to be ahead of the tax changes.

The recipient should consult their own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on, for tax, legal, or accounting advice.

Sources: Tax Foundation, Kipingler, Houlihan Lokey and Yahoo Finance

 

Author
Emily Cogley
Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Cogley@BenchmarkIntl.com

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The 2020 U.S. Election And M&A

Past presidential elections in the United States have coincided with macroeconomic circumstances that affect markets. For example, in 2000, the dot-com bubble burst. In 2008, America was in the midst of the Great Recession. And now in 2020, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, coupled with sweeping protests regarding racial injustice and the repercussions that forced closures have on businesses. In the wake of all of this, four months remain until the November election. Unfortunately, we cannot predict the future, but we can take a look at how the M&A market has been impacted in the past.

M&A activity is cyclical in nature, subject to underlying circumstances that include changing technology, electoral politics, and regulatory changes. As the current M&A cycle winds down, it is worth noting that the dealmaking wave that ceased during the financial crisis actually got started during a slowdown in 2003. Leading up to the 2008 election, M&A activity in the U.S. was strong and it did not bottom out until later when the worst of the recession had passed. Two major relief packages, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 enacted by the outgoing administration, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, enacted during the first year of the new administration, boosted recovery in capital markets and helped companies adapt to adverse macro conditions in the near term, and eventually paved the way for a new M&A cycle because the cost of capital was reduced to historic lows, injecting liquidity into equity and bond markets.

The level of dealmaking activity in the multiquarter period leading up to the 2012 election compares favorably to the financial crisis period that coincided with the 2008 election at $802.6 billion in 6,087 deals, topping activity for the same period the year before. In the first three quarters of 2012, M&A activity saw a combined $837.5 billion in 6,864 completed deals. The JOBS Act was enacted in 2012, designed to encourage small businesses to become public companies. As a result, the SEC made the filing process easier to manage.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

M&A activity peaked in Q4 ahead of a decline in 2013 Q2 that bottomed out at $241.3 billion in 2,049 transactions. In mid-2013, M&A activity accelerated and the cycle expanded, partially stimulated by strategic buyers contending with financial sponsors armed with record levels of dry powder. Private equity has kept that cycle going from 2013 to 2019. Volume met or exceeded 900 completed transactions and at least $70 billion in value over the same timespan.

Certain conditions that were a result of the financial crisis spurred expansion of the M&A cycle and have proven favorable for private equity and venture capital dealmaking, such as enterprise restructuring around developing regions, expansion of business portfolios, and optimization for tax benefits and accessing cash outside the U.S.  

During 2014, completed transactions grew 26% year-over-year, while deal value increased by an additional $500 billion. This cycle of completed transactions peaked in 2015 at 12,523 deals of $1.9 trillion in value. Annual volume remained above 11,000 transactions with deal value at around $2 trillion for each of the past five years.

Leading up to the 2016 election, M&A activity was pushed to its highest levels per quarter in a decade. In the first three quarters of 2016, 8,825 transactions worth a combined $1.6 trillion closed. Activity dropped in Q4, but rebounded in 2017. Since 2018 began, M&A has steadily declined and Q4 2019 posted the lowest total since Q2 2013. 2019 saw levels return to those last seen in 2013. On June 8, 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the U.S. entered into a recession in February of 2020.

While the global pandemic has undoubtedly been costly and detrimental to many businesses, it has also opened up opportunities for growth for some companies as consumer behaviors adapt to a changed world. Global supply chains were massively disrupted, hampering global trade, all of which has a negative impact on dealmaking. How it will play out in the later half of 2020 and into 2021 will depend partly on if there is a second wave of the virus and the availability of a vaccine. Technology remains a continuously evolving area of opportunity and the pandemic has changed the ways that we work and collaborate. Environment, social and corporate governance practices will continue to designate the convergence of technology and regulation. How the election will impact M&A markets remains unknown, but history has shown that emerging out of a recession tends to spawn accelerated M&A activity well into the future. Every M&A cycle develops in response to different conditions, yet all have emerged during periods of economic recovery combined with improvements in capital markets after consecutive quarters of underperformance.

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Now Is The Time

If you are thinking of selling in the near future, now is the time to get to market. We are in an unprecedented time making it challenging to run a business but also to sell a business. 

The M&A market is changing daily and many factors are affecting deals in 2020. We do not have a crystal ball however there are a few trends that if you are considering selling your company in 2020, then now is the time.

  • This year is a presidential election year. As we begin the second half of the year, we begin to think about Q3 and Q4 2020. Buyers are actively seeking acquisitions and deals are still being completed. However, the closer we get to November, buyers will begin to focus more on the election and want to revisit their acquisition plans after the election is over. As we go into the end of the year, planning for 2021 will begin. One would anticipate that the end of the year will be quiet for the M&A market as companies, financial buyers, and others will want to see what lies ahead in 2021.

  • PPP forgiveness will take place soon. Once the loans are forgiven, if the businesses have not improved their performance, we would anticipate that layoffs will continue and potentially at a higher rate than what we are currently seeing at this time. If this happens, it will continue to harm the economy as additional businesses will also fail.

  • The credit market is changing daily. We are seeing lenders backing away from term sheets based on their bank’s industry exposure, small discrepancies that emerge during due diligence, and more conservative underwriting. There is talk within the market that lenders may continue to tighten their lending standards making it harder to obtain credit for acquisition. This may have a direct effect on multiples.

  • While we know that the tax environment is today, we can only anticipate that long term, taxes will increase. With the various US federal initiatives related to COVID-19 and the economic decline, we suspect that the US will have to raise taxes to overcome the growing debt burden that has been created in 2020.

All these factors contribute to the M&A market, valuations, and deal structures. The best time to sell is now.

Author
Kendall Stafford
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

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


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5 Tips For Preparing Your Company For Sale

When the time comes to sell your company, you obviously want to get the most value and the highest possible price. There are several steps you can take before going to market to increase the likelihood of you cashing out for more in a merger or acquisition.

  1. Focus on Profits and Growth

You will want to increase your net revenues and profits, keeping in mind that buyers will focus on EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for valuation. This is the number you want to boost because the higher your EBITDA, the higher your sale price will be. Your company’s growth potential will also be important to acquirers so you should put extra effort into growing your sales, even if it means hiring more sales talent (as long as it justifies the costs—adding salaries and benefits need to be worth the results).

  1. Get Your House in Order.

The M&A process will certainly include a comprehensive audit of your financial records and any other business concerns. It is key to get all of your documentation in order before embarking on a sale. The more complete and orderly your record keeping is, the more confidence it will instill in potential buyers. This also means you should address any unsavory topics, conflicts or legal issues. Getting any discrepancies resolved will prepare you to honestly answer difficult questions and demonstrate your commitment to getting a transaction done. Buyers do not want to be faced with surprises during the due diligence process.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

  1. Do a SWOT Analysis. 

Take the time to assess your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You need to understand where your company stands in the current market, how it stacks up to competition, and how to maximize its strengths. If you have a complete understanding of your SWOT profile, you can take the necessary measures to position your company to buyers in the best light possible by uncovering growth opportunities and being proactive against any impending risks.

  1. Trim the Fat. 

Think about any areas of your business operations that could be tidied up, such as redundancies or costs that do not add any value to the company. Can you justify everyone that is on your payroll? Would outsourcing be more cost effective? Can you spend smarter when it comes to equipment? Are you carrying outdated inventory? Is there property that you are paying taxes on that you really do not need? What can you do to avoid adding new expenses? This doesn’t mean you should cheap out on anything that affects your core competencies. But sometimes simply reallocating resources can help you optimize the financial health of your company.

  1. Get an M&A Advisor. 

M&A advisors handle a significant amount of the complicated work that goes into the lengthy deal process. Their exclusive connections will get you access to quality potential buyers. They will help you prepare and market your business effectively, finding ways to make it more enticing to buyers. Another benefit of an M&A partner: not only will buyers know that you are serious about selling, but you will also know that they are serious about buying. They will also help you organize your due diligence documentation and present your financials, coordinate meetings, help with exit or succession planning, and ensure that you have peace of mind through such a momentous time in your life.

If you are ready to sell your company, please contact our M&A advisory experts at Benchmark International to get you on the path to a deal that meets all of your aspirations.

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Sellers Vs. Buyers Disparate Interests in the Transaction Process

Buyers and Sellers approach a given transaction from different perspectives. The seller wants to receive as much as possible, as quickly as possible, with little or no potential liability to the buyer or parties associated with the seller’s pre-sale operation of the business. The buyer wants to pay as little as possible, defer payment as long as possible, contractually obligate the seller to indemnify the buyer against actual or potential known or unknown liabilities and ensure that the seller can make good on those obligations by escrowing sales proceeds or deferring payment. The give and take, or push and shove, over these issues takes place during the entire transaction process but predominantly during the negotiation and drafting first of the Letter of Intent and later the Purchase and Sale Agreement. 

Relative bargaining power, from whatever source, often determines which side controls these issues. The other major determinant is the level of experience and degree of sophistication of the parties’ M&A advisors and legal counsel. It is essential, but not sufficient, that a transaction party’s representatives understand what is in that party’s best interest. They must also understand what motivates the other side and how their representatives are likely to try to realize those goals. If both the seller and the buyer stand fast concerning their positions, no transaction will occur. This is where experienced M&A advisors are critical. Helping the parties understand which positions are crucial to their goals and which can be negotiated away is a key function of the professional advisor.

Below are several negotiating points common to many middle-market transactions, and the normal positions of the seller and the buyer with regards to those issues.

Material Terms in the LOI

Sellers are often best served by requesting as many material deal terms in the Letter of Intent as possible. This is because the maximum point of the seller’s leverage is just, before the execution of a Letter of Intent. At this stage, the buyer has expressed interest in the transaction and is unaware of issues that may surface in due diligence. The seller has not yet agreed to exclusivity, and the seller’s M&A advisors have created a competitive environment or at least the illusion of one. 

The buyer is best served by negotiating an exclusivity agreement and skipping the LOI altogether. That means, proceeding directly to the negotiation of a definitive purchase agreement. The buyer’s fallback position should be negotiating an LOI with as few binding terms as possible, except for exclusivity. Either approach gives the buyer strong negotiating leverage and the time to complete due diligence before negotiating material terms. These tactics also minimize the risk that the LOI will be considered a binding agreement giving rise to damages in the event the deal is not consummated. 

Stock vs. Assets

Nearly every corporate seller should sell stock rather than assets if the buyer will agree. However, nearly every buyer will refuse. The benefits to the seller from a stock sale include 1) potential tax savings if the target is a “C” corporation, 2) passing disclosed and undisclosed liabilities on to the buyer, and 3) a generally less complicated and less time consuming, thereby a less expensive transaction. On the flip side, an asset purchase generally provides buyers with a tax-advantageous step up in the basis for the assets and avoids liabilities other than those expressly assumed. Except for “successor liabilities” imposed by public policy such as environmental, product liability, employee benefits, and labor-related issues and liability under “bulk sales” laws. Experienced buy-side advisors will also be aware of potential “fraudulent conveyance” concerns by ensuring that adequate arrangements are made to pay the seller’s creditors and/or restricting distribution of proceeds to the seller’s equity holders until creditors are paid. Although this aspect of transaction structure is generally presented as a “fait accompli,” the seller, the buyer, and their respective advisors should be aware of the issues and how they bear upon the cost, timing, and structure of the deal. 

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Caps and Baskets

The buyer will insist upon the seller’s representations, warranties, and indemnifications going to issues that materially affect the buyer’s benefit of its bargain. The seller wants to avoid being “nickel and dimed” for minor issues and serving as the buyer’s insurer against the normal risk of doing business.

The seller will negotiate a cap on liability and attempt to avoid carve-outs from the cap for specific issues. The cap is often a percentage of sale proceeds, and from the seller’s perspective should be negotiated in the LOI. The cap or, lack thereof, can materially affect the value of the transaction and the seller is not well-served by giving up exclusivity until it has been negotiated.

The basket is, in effect, a deductible that must be satisfied before indemnification obligations begin. Accordingly, the buyer can only recover for the aggregate amount of damages over the basket (and below the cap). Variations on this theme include mini baskets related to specific issues and whether or not indemnification begins at the first dollar or is limited to amounts over the basket.

Non-Reliance

An important risk allocation to be negotiated is a non-reliance provision contained in the acquisition agreement. The seller wants this provision to force the buyer to acknowledge that it is relying solely on its due diligence, and the seller’s representations and warranties contained in the acquisition agreement. The buyer is precluded from asserting liability against the seller based upon statements, projections, and oral representations made outside the four corners of the document. The buyer will resist this provision.

Termination Fee (Reverse Breakup Fee)

A tactic not often addressed in middle-market transactions, but a valuable one is the termination fee. The seller requires the buyer to pay a fee, equal at least to the number of the seller’s expenses and perhaps as high as ten percent of the purchase price if the transaction is terminated at no fault of the seller (for example, if the buyer cannot finance the transaction). This type of liquidated damage provision may reimburse the seller for its out-of-pocket expenses, but it will not compensate for lost opportunity costs for failing to pursue alternative transactions because of exclusivity. Again, the reason the buyer will reject or seek to severely restrict such a provision is obvious.

Termination fees are sometimes referred to as reverse breakup fees because they turn a breakup fee on its head. Breakup fees are paid by the seller to the buyer if the seller won’t or can’t consummate the transaction at no fault of the buyer. The seller changes its mind, finds a better deal, or has insurmountable issues discovered during due diligence that adversely affect its value. In the middle-market, these provisions are generally intended to compensate the buyer for its out-of-pocket costs, rather than opportunity costs.

MAC Clauses

A MAC (Material Adverse Change) clause is one of the more contentiously negotiated provisions in the acquisition agreement. In a MAC, the seller warrants that as of a date certain (usually the closing date) there has been no material adverse change in the seller’s business. The M&A counsel has a field day negotiating the specific language. What is the applicable period? Are business “prospects” included? Should the target and its subsidiaries be taken as a whole or viewed independently for purposes of determining materiality? What should be excluded from the operation of the MAC provision? Simplistically speaking, if the seller’s business performance has declined during the relevant period or is an indemonstrable risk of decline (prospects), then the buyer can rely upon the MAC provision to terminate the deal and recover expenses.

In the middle-market, MAC clauses can be a significant cause of transaction failure. To boost enterprise value, the sellers often rely upon very recent favorable EBITDA numbers. If that performance cannot be sustained during the course of the transaction, for whatever reason, the buyer may rely upon the MAC clause to terminate or renegotiate the deal.

Escrows

A favorite buyer tactic is to attempt to escrow a portion of the purchase price to ensure that funds are available to compensate the buyer for breach of warranties by the seller. Sellers resist escrows and attempt to limit their impact. For example, the sellers should ensure that any escrow is held by an independent third party so that the buyer can’t just unilaterally offset. The seller should negotiate limitations as to the length of time the escrow is held and seek to restrict to the extent to which the escrow can be applied. If the seller cannot avoid an escrow, it should seek to limit the buyer’s recourse to only the escrow proceeds and preclude additional recovery.

Conclusion

The foregoing is just a few of the issues that may arise between the seller and the buyer is a strategic transaction. Every transaction is different; the relative positions taken by the respective parties will vary based upon their circumstances at the time. Experienced, knowledgeable M&A advisors, on both sides of the deal, are critical to the success of every transaction.

 

Author
Don Rooney
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

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

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3 Ways To Grow Your Company

  1. Through a Merger

A merger unites two independent, similarly sized companies as one new entity, typically with a new name. This strategy adds value to both companies by growing into new market segments, gaining market share, or expanding geographic reach. A merger enables the new venture to benefit from the best that each company brings to the table as far as expertise, talent, technology, products, services, assets, and market penetration. In total, it offers a powerful competitive edge. A merger can also be less time consuming than other strategies, such as relying on organic growth.

  1. Through an Acquisition

In an acquisition, a company purchases a 51 to 100 percent stake in another company, taking control of it and all of its assets. Acquiring a business means acquiring its already established customer base, talent, geographic diversification, portfolio of services, and other immediate growth opportunities that would take years to create under organic growth.

Both mergers and acquisitions offer several advantages for a company looking to generate growth and value.

  • Expansion: M&A can easily extend the reach of a business in terms of geography, products and services, and market coverage. This translates into more customers gained without having to hire more salespeople or increase marketing expenditures.
  • Consolidation: M&A can unite two competitors to bolster market domination. It can also increase efficiencies by cutting surplus capacity or by sharing resources. Plus, M&A can increase production efficiency and bargaining power with suppliers, coercing them into lowering their prices. It can also allow a business with weak financials to combine with a stronger one and pay off debt.
  • More Capabilities: M&A can boost a company’s capabilities by quickly adding new talent and new technologies rather than taking the time and energy to develop each from scratch.
  • Lower Costs: By merging with or acquiring another business, you can lower costs and increase efficiency and output.
  • Speed: M&A empowers a business to grow more quickly, altering the landscape of the sector more rapidly than competition can adapt and respond.
  • Tax Perks: Profits or tax losses may be transferable within a combined business, benefiting from varied tax laws within certain sectors or regions.
  • Unbundling: Sometimes a company’s underlying assets are worth more than the price of the business as a whole. In this case, a company can acquire another and quickly sell off different business units to other buyers at a substantially higher price.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

  1. Through a Strategic Alliance

Mergers and acquisitions adjoin companies through total change in ownership. But there are ways that businesses can share resources and activities for a common goal without sharing ownership, known as strategic alliances. Strategic alliances enable a business to quickly grow its strategic advantage, but with less commitment. There are several ways a strategic alliance can be accomplished.

  • Equity Alliance: The creation of a new entity that’s owned separately by the two partners involved, such as a joint venture. Both companies remain independent but form a new company jointly owned by the parent companies.
  • Consortium Alliance: This is the same as a joint venture but can be formed with several partners.
  • Non-equity Alliances: These do not involve the commitment implied by ownership and are often based on contracts, such as franchising or licensing. Under this contractual alliance, one company gives the other the right to sell its products or services or to use intellectual property in return for a fee.
  • Scale Alliance: When businesses combine to achieve necessary economies of scale in the production of products or services or by lowering purchasing costs of materials or services.
  • Access Alliance: This occurs when a company needs to access the capabilities of another company needed in order to produce or sell its own products and services. An example of this is when an international company needs access to a local company to be able to product or sell the product.
  • Complementary Alliance: When companies of similar value combine their unique but complementary resources so both have any gaps filled or weaknesses strengthened.
  • Collusive Alliances: This involves companies colluding in secret to bolster their market strength, reduce competition, and demand higher prices from customers or lower prices from suppliers. Regulators usually discourage such behavior.

Mergers, acquisitions, and alliances can provide many benefits for a business that is seeking growth far above and beyond what is possible through organic growth. Each can enable:

  • Faster access to new products or markets
  • Instant market share
  • Economies of scale
  • Better distribution channels
  • Increased control of supplies
  • Lessened competition
  • Adding of intangible assets
  • Removal of entry barriers to new markets
  • Deregulation in an industry or market

Let’s Talk

If you are considering a merger or acquisition strategy to grow your business, we can make it happen. Our world-class team of experts at Benchmark International is a true game changer for accelerating your business growth in the smartest ways possible. Contact us today and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Buyer Appetites In The Lower To Middle Market in South Africa

Benchmark International’s industry agnostic approach has proven to be informative during the Covid-19 epidemic. Interest in most of our client base has not declined and we are receiving queries from a wide range of parties.

Who are these interested parties and what is their investment approach? Analysing the data provides an interesting insight and some understanding of the shifting approach amongst these different categories of buyers.

• Listed Companies with their robust balance sheets are compelled to continue investing to meet forecast performance targets and stakeholder objectives. Generally, their acquisition mandates are governed by their investment committees where risk is a dominant factor. Turnaround and distressed assets are typically less attractive unless fulfilling a defined strategic need.

• Foreign Corporates from the Western to Eastern hemisphere still see South Africa as a stable foundation to expand through to Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa’s well-developed IT and broadband infrastructure, advanced legal and banking sectors, safe aviation record, and access to a cost effective English-based labour pool facilitates business across the African continent. Themes of specific interest have emerged with a higher than normal volume of inbound enquiries for renewable energy, TMT, IT infrastructure and service as well as software businesses in particular.

• Private Equity in South Africa has grown and matured immensely over the last decade and remains one of the top acquirers/investee categories in the middle market for Benchmark international. Attached to the funds they raise are set acquisition criteria, investment limits and defined investment timelines where cash reserves must be spent. Similar to the listed segment, risk profiles are a key investment mandate consideration. During lockdown, Benchmark International has experienced a slight shift in the number of deals concluded towards those that have private equity components to them.

• Family Offices have shown resilience through the epidemic and continue to show interest in our opportunities. Their mandates are more flexible but are primarily based on where their strategic and financial input will maximise returns.

• Covid-19 has forced Large Private Companies to look at vertical integration of their supply chains. They also continue to seek to grow their market share through horizontal acquisitions and acquisitions of niche market opportunities.

• High Net Worth Individuals remain interested in growing their asset bases. They generally focus on opportunities in which they have existing investments and expertise and are able to achieve economies of scale.

 

Author
Anthony Monne
Transaction Senior Associate
Benchmark International

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

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How To Value A Business

When it comes to valuating a business, a major distinction is whether the company is privately or publicly held. For a publicly traded company, calculating the market value is somewhat simple: just multiply the stock price by its outstanding shares. For a private company, determining its worth is a much more complicated process because the stock is not listed and there is zero regulated public financial reporting. For these reasons, private company valuations must be based on a series of estimations, which can be well founded when done properly. There are several different approaches to calculating the market value of a private business. You can choose to one singular method, but using each method of assessment together can form a more complete picture.    

Comparable Company Analysis (CCA)

CCA is a common way to assess a private company’s value. Under this process, publicly traded companies that are most similar to the private company are identified. The similarities must reflect the companies’ sector, size, competitors, and growth rate.

Upon establishing an industry grouping of similar companies, their valuations are averaged to paint a picture of where the private firm fits among its peers. These averages are calculated on aspects such as cash flow, operating margins, and assets. CCA may also be referred to as trading multiples, peer group analysis, equity comps, or public market multiples.

Precedent Deals

If the business being valued operates within a sector that has witnessed several recent mergers, acquisitions, or IPOs, the financial information and value determinations from those transactions can be used to help calculate a valuation based on consolidated and averaged data. While useful, precedent transactions become dated as more time passes since they occurred.

 

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Enterprise Value (EV) Multiple

Also known as private equity valuation metrics, the enterprise value multiple tends to offer a more accurate valuation because it includes debt in the assessment. The EV multiple is calculated by taking the enterprise value (the sum of its market cap, value of debt, minority interest, preferred shares deducted from cash and cash equivalents) and dividing it by the company's earnings before interest taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBIDTA).

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF)

The estimated discounted cash flow approach is a fairly detailed method of valuation. It compares the discounted cash flow of similar companies to the company being valued. The revenue growth of the company is estimated by averaging the revenue growth rates of similar companies. This process can be challenging depending on the business’s accounting methods. Personal expenses are sometime included in the financial statements of private companies, which can affect the estimation.

Once the revenue is estimated, any anticipated changes in operating costs, taxes and working capital are estimated, allowing for the calculation of free cash flow, or the operating cash remaining once capital expenditures are deducted. Investors often use free cash flow to determine how much money will be available to give back to shareholders in dividends.

Next, the peer grouping of companies are assessed to calculate their average beta (the market risk of a company without the impact of debt), taxes, and debt-to-equity ratios. In the end, the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) must be determined. This factors in the cost of equity using the Capital Asset Pricing Model, the cost of debt using the company’s credit history, capital structure, debt and equity weightings, and the cost of capital from the peer grouping of companies. Calculating capital structure can be challenging, but industry averages can help, keeping in mind that the costs of equity and debt for a private company will likely be higher than that of its publicly traded counterparts. The WACC furnishes the discount rate for the private company. By discounting its estimated cash flows, a fair value can be assigned.

Cost Approach

This method of analysis is less common within the corporate finance world. It assesses the actual costs of rebuilding the business, ignoring any value creation or cash flow generation. It is merely cost equals value.

Ability to Pay

Under this valuation approach, the maximum price a buyer can pay for a business while still reaching target is assessed. If the business will be ceasing operations, a liquidation value is estimated based on selling off the assets. This value is often highly discounted because it assumes the assets will be sold as quickly as possible.

Other Important Factors

While there are several financial methods of valuating a business, there are other somewhat intangible factors that should be considered. For example, the culture of the company is important because it motivates its underlying ethics and competitive strategy, creating an environment for less risk. Also, the company’s management is key, because their track records will say a great deal about the value they bring to the table and the level of confidence that they instill. Ultimately, they will have a deep understanding of the industry and have the skillset to foster and maintain a positive culture. Additionally, aspects such as innovative intellectual property, established branding that is well recognized in the market, retention of key talent, and strong customer and supplier relationships can drive up the value of a business.

Don’t Go It Alone

Due to a lack of transparency, the valuation of a private company is never an exact science, but there are advisory experts that have methodologies that do get it as close as possible. Our world-renowned M&A advisors are standing by, waiting to engage you in the process of taking your future to the next level. We are experts in helping to create added value for your business and getting the most value for it in a sale. Contact us to get this exciting process started.  

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Using Growth Capital To Grow Your Business

Every business owner wants to grow their company, but having access to capital to make it happen can make all the difference in the world. Growth capital is money that you borrow to help grow your business’s operations and, ideally, its profitability. There are many different forms of growth capital. It may be structured as a short- or long-term loan or as a line of credit. Long-term financing is the most common because it is easier to repay.

There are several reasons that growth capital can be secured by a business.

  • To purchase commercial real estate
  • To buy equipment to increase production
  • To increase workforce
  • To expand into new markets
  • To increase advertising and marketing efforts
  • To purchase another company

Growth capital is different from working capital because it is debt financing to create growth, while working capital is used for financing the daily operations of the business and keep it running. It is also different from equity capital, which requires relinquishing partial ownership and entering into a strategic partnership in exchange for investor funding. Growth capital does not require giving up any ownership.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Types of Growth Capital Loans

There are several financing options for small to mid-size businesses seeking paths to growth.

  • Conventional growth capital from bank lenders. This method typically offers the lowest rates and fees, and longest terms. The average conventional business lender approves between 20 to 50 percent of all growth capital loans.
  • SBA financing with an enhancement guarantee by the Small Business Administration to cover your losses if you fail to repay. This financing is used for startups, acquisitions, expansion, construction, revolving funds, and working capital.
  • Asset-based growth capital that shows lenders collateral and substantial cash flow for approval. If you do not have adequate cash flow to get approved, you can use assets such as real estate, equipment, or inventory as collateral. These lending rates are often higher than that of banks, and the terms are shorter.
  • Alternative growth capital from private lenders, non-bank lenders, marketplace lenders and mid-prime alternative lenders have shorter terms but can be amortized over up to five years.
  • Cash advance capital is a short-term advance that involves selling a part of your business’s future receivables for a lump sum. This form of financing is usually more expensive, so the ability to increase revenue needs to justify the cost.

Applying for Growth Capital

When you apply for growth capital, lenders will assess the profitability of your company. They will want to ensure that your business model is proven, cash flow is adequate, and operations are efficient. After all, they want to feel confident that the loan can be repaid.

As defined by the National Venture Capital Association, growth equity investments feature the following attributes.

  • The business’s revenues are growing rapidly.
  • The company is cash flow positive, profitable, or approaching profitability.
  • The business is founder-owned and has no prior institutional investment.
  • The investor is agnostic about control and purchases minority ownership positions more often than not.
  • The industry investment mix is comparable to that of venture capital investors.
  • The capital is used for company needs or shareholder liquidity and additional financing rounds aren’t expected until exit.
  • The investments use zero or light leverage at purchase.
  • The returns are mainly a function of growth, not leverage.

How Can We Help?

At Benchmark International, we have an award-winning team of M&A advisors ready to help you take your business to the next level, whether it’s through a growth strategy, an exit plan, a merger, or an acquisition.   

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7 Small Changes That Will Make A Big Difference When You Sell Your Business

So you have started to think about selling your business in the near future.  Will you be ready?  There are changes that you can make now that can make a big difference when the time comes to sell and help you avoid leaving money on the table.  Begin by starting to plan 18-24 months before you begin looking for a buyer.  Take a look at your business through the eyes of a buyer and ask yourself ‘What would I see as a positive about this business?’  ‘What would I see as a weakness about this business?’.  We have included 7 small changes here for you to consider implementing:

  1. Understand your business’s financials. It goes without saying that buyers are going to be delving pretty deeply into your business’ finances.  If you aren’t able to provide statements that are professionally prepared, this can be seen as a risk to buyers.  If the buyer doesn’t feel that they can rely on the numbers, they most likely will either offer a lower purchase price or pull out of the transaction all together.  You should be prepared to answer all questions and have at least 3 years of financial statements in perfect shape.
  2. Take a look at your customer concentration. Do you have too much concentration placed on a single customer?  This can cause buyers to take pause and wonder what will happen if they lost that customer after the sale.  It’s best to begin to look for ways that you can grow your other customers as well as gain new ones in order to reduce the concentration issue.  Multiple sources of revenue can lead to a higher purchase price.
  3. Can your business survive without you? Many business owners become the main point of contact with customers as they grow their business over the years.  Now is a good time to begin shifting those relationships to other members of your team.  Otherwise buyers will have the concern that when you leave, clients may leave the company as well.  In addition, you should have designated employees that can continue to drive the business forward and increase revenues after you have exited the business.
  4. In the time leading up to placing your business for sale, be sure to resolve any legal disputes that may be pending. Nothing raised red flags more for a buyer than finding out there is a legal case pending against you.
  5. Closely analyze the business practices that you are currently using and if you decide that it’s necessary, implement more efficient operating procedures before the sale. This could include reducing or adding employees, or investments in new technology or equipment.  Taking these measures before a sale can result in a higher sell price.
  6. Create a master system of how you access, store, organize and update all of your systems. In most cases, this will be a collection of enterprise software or file folders with controls that have been put into place for who can access what.  This system should become a part of your employee culture and be used on a daily basis.  A prospective buyer will see that the knowledge needed to run your company does not lie with any one employee, but instead is contained in the systems of the company and can easily be maintained after a sale.
  7. Organize your legal paperwork and make sure that it is all in order and readily available as prospective buyers will request access to these documents. Review your permits, incorporation paper, leases, licensing agreements, vendor and customer contracts, etc.  Ensure that they are current and in order.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Continue to keep your eye on the ball and run your business as if you are going to run it forever.  Benchmark International can be your partner throughout this process and help free up time for you to continue focus on running your business operations while selling at the same time.  With a team of specialists that arrange these types of deals every day, we can answer your questions and help you determine what is best for you, your business and your exit plan.  A simple phone call or email to us can start the process today.

 

Author
Amy Alonso 
Associate
Benchmark International

T: +1 615 924 8522
E: alonso@benchmarkintl.com

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Unexpected Upturn In The United States Economy

At 8:30 eastern time this morning, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released its US Household Survey for May, stating that 2.5 million new jobs were created in the US during the month of May, and unemployment fell by 1.4%, even while the overall labor participation rate increased.

These results indicate a resilient economy in which unemployment fell not because workers stopped seeking work but because an increasing number of those seeking work were able to secure it while an increasing number of workers re-entered the job market.

According to the report, jobs increased by 2.5 million while the workforce itself increased by 2.2 million and unemployment fell to 13.3%. This was a wholly unexpected result that bodes well for middle market businesses. Bloomberg’s commentator stumbled over the result when reading it on air at 8:31 am EST this morning. “unemployment fell by … wait rose by … no fell by 1.4 percent.”

Such government numbers are often revised in the weeks following their release, and this may well happen to today’s figures. The government report is available here: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

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

 

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As If Pronouncing EBITDA Wasn't Hard Enough, We Now Have EBITDAC

The novel Coronavirus's impact has been felt in companies large and small across the globe as business has been curtailed and economies have slowed.

In mid-April, Benchmark International published a blog article outlining some of the recommendations made to clients to record the pandemic's financial impact in order to readily identify any expenses or losses that arose as a consequence of this one-off event.

Whilst suggesting it would be naive to advocate that these non-recurring expenses, or losses, directly attributed to the effects of the COVID pandemic could simply be written out, it was evident that negotiations were bound to include provisions for such abnormalities.  The natural consequence of isolating these abnormalities would be that value could be preserved. However, one could expect deal structures to include deferred compensation - or earn out provisions - that will be triggered when the business demonstrates a return to prior performance and a resilience to the COVID impacts.

 

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Just a few short weeks later, a new acronym has emerged (as the financial sector always loves a good acronym) EBITDAC - the normalised Earnings calculated Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation, Amortisation, and Coronavirus.

At this early stage, this metric has only been adopted by a small number of European corporate companies to present a basis for the amount of debt they should be allowed to raise. Led initially by German manufacturer Schenk Process (owned by the US private equity firm Blackstone) and Chicago based building supplies firm Azek Corporation, the development certainly bodes well for M&A where corporate companies and private equity firms alike have formally recognised such adjustments and are thus likely to be open to negotiating value, subject to appropriate structuring of transactions.

Whilst not known for lightheartedness, it's an area where the industry has been able to poke a little fun at itself. Sabrina Fox, executive adviser at the European Leveraged Finance Association, commented on an item in the Financial Times, "It's a bit ironic to say we're adding back the effects of Coronavirus to deal with the effect of Coronavirus"!

Regardless of the diverse commentary surrounding this new metric, the reality exists. This one-off event has left a few companies untouched with certain sectors receiving significant boosts, and others impacted negatively. The factors attributable to the pandemic cannot be discarded or ignored, and diligent negotiation on issues related to it will be integral to any deal.

 

Author
Andre Bresler
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

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

 

 

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What Is An ESOP?

An ESOP is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan under which staff members acquire interest in the company through a particular benefit plan. This type of plan is designed to incentivize employees to act in the best interest of business and stay focused on company performance since they themselves are shareholders and will want the stock to do well. A study by Rutgers found that companies grow 2.3% to 2.4% faster after setting up an ESOP. 

ESOPs are established as trust funds and can be funded when companies:

  • Put newly issued shares into them
  • Put in cash to purchase existing company shares
  • Borrow money through the entity to buy shares

If the plan borrows money, the business contributes to the plan to facilitate repayment of the loan. Contributions are tax-deductible and employees pay no tax on them until they leave or retire. If an ESOP owns 30% or more of company stock and that company is a C corporation, owners of a private company selling to an ESOP can defer taxation on gains by reinvesting in securities of other businesses. S corporations can also have ESOPs and the earnings attributable to the ESOP's ownership are not taxable.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Companies of all sizes use ESOPs, from small family-owned businesses to large publicly traded corporations. Company leadership usually offers employees stock ownership with no upfront costs. It is common for distributions from the plan to be linked to vesting, which is the proportion of shares earned per each year of service. The shares may be held in a trust for safety and growth until the employee resigns or retires—they cannot take the shares with them. If an employee is fired, they usually only qualify for the amount they have vested in the plan. Once fully vested, the business buys back the vested shares from the departing employee and the money goes to that employee in the form of either one lump sum or periodic payments. After the business buys back the shares and pays the employee, the shares are either redistributed or voided.

ESOPs offer several benefits for the ownership, the company, and its employees. Owners gain liquidity and asset diversification, they can defer capital gains taxes on proceeds, and they maintain upside potential and leadership in the company. Companies get tax deductions on sale amounts, can become income tax-free entities, and have a tool to retain and attract talent. Employees secure retirement benefits and enjoy having a real stake in the company they work for.

It should be noted that employee ownership does not mean that employees are more involved in operations or running the business. They are not entitled to receive financial or strategic information. They are given a summary plan description and annual statements for their account. In some cases, employees may be granted certain voting rights.

ESOPs and Exit Planning

ESOPs are often used in succession planning as a strategy for liquidity and transition. Around two-thirds of ESOPs provide a market for the shares of a departing owner of a profitable business. Others are used as a supplemental employee benefit plan or as a way to borrow money in a tax-favored manner. Because ESOP transactions are flexible, they enable ownership to either withdraw slowly over time or all at once. Owners may sell anywhere from one to 100% of their stock to the ESOP, allowing them to stay active in the company even after selling all or most of it.

Additionally, ESOP transactions provide more confidentiality than third-party sales. Because confidential information does not need to be shared with prospective buyers, it eliminates risk of detriment to the business. An ESOP transaction is also known to offer a greater certainty of closing versus sale to a third party, and terms of the transaction are arranged to be fair to the ESOP and its members. It is also considered to be more conducive to maintaining healthy company culture because it aligns the interests of ownership, management, and employees.

Other Types of Employee Ownership

In addition to ESOPs, companies can offer employees the following options:

  • Direct-purchase programs that allow employees to buy shares of the company with their personal after-tax money.
  • Stock options that offer employees the chance to purchase shares at a fixed price for a set period of time.
  • Restricted stock, which gives employees the rights to acquire shares as a gift or purchase after reaching certain benchmarks.
  • Phantom stock, which provides employees with cash bonuses equal to the value of certain shares based on performance.  
  • Stock appreciation rights that allow employees to raise the value of an assigned number of shares, which are usually paid in cash.

Let’s Talk About Your Future

If you’re ready to make a move with your company, we’re ready to make the most of the process for you. Contact one of our esteemed M&A advisors at Benchmark International and we can begin writing the next chapter of your success story.

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What Is A Buy and Build Strategy?

A buy and build strategy is commonly used by private equity firms seeking to expand operations, generate value, and increase returns. It is accomplished through the acquisition of a platform company with already established internal capabilities that can be further built upon. This can include the acquisition of several smaller businesses, combining their operations to create more value. Buy and build transactions, which can be aggressive, tend to occur more often in slower economies because private equity firms become even more interested in improving returns at a time when organic growth and operational efficiencies are not enough. They are also more common in highly fragmented sectors.

Buy and build can be a great formula for expansion and added value. It allows businesses to acquire skills and expertise that would normally require a great deal of time to build on their own. It can help a company expand into other markets in a much more efficient manner. Usually, these private equity firms have a relatively short holding period of around three to five years and investors expect a fair amount of interest after an agreed time period. Buy and build deals result in an average internal rate of return of 31.6% from entry to exit, versus 23.1% for standalone deals. While private equity is the most common employer of buy and build strategies, this tactic is also used by strategic buyers, stock listed companies, and family-owned companies.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Because it brings about a great deal of change, a buy and build strategy must be executed properly in order to succeed. Otherwise, the resulting effects can actually be detrimental to value. In an ideal situation, the private equity firm will have significant experience in the particular sector of the company that they are acquiring. Having a strong CEO and management team with a solid background in the field of business is also important because the transition and integration process can be complicated and needs to be handled adeptly. The leadership should also have a certain skillset that includes an understanding of areas such as risk management, operational metrics, and change management. This is especially true when the acquired companies are competitors and there needs be vertical integration of supply chains. Additionally, a buy and build strategy can take several years because it involves the acquisition and integration of multiple companies.

To learn more about why buy and build strategies work, check out our previous post here.

Time to Make a Move?

Whether you are looking to sell your business, create strategies for growth, or craft an exit plan, our experts at Benchmark International will take the time to carefully devise strategies designed for your specific needs. Your goals are our goals and we will put all of our resources and global connections to work for you, getting you the most value possible for your business.

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How Much Time Will The M&A Process Require Of Me?

As a business owner, you may be curious regarding how much of your time you should expect to invest in the process of a merger or acquisition from start to finish. First and foremost, it is important to recognize that any M&A deal will take time. This can be anywhere from several months to years, depending on various circumstances such as the state of the current market and the type of business. The good news is that if you hire an experienced M&A advisory team to handle the transaction, it will not require much of your time at all in the early stages.

The Preliminary Phase

A quality M&A team will handle the vast majority of the necessary work required to facilitate a transaction with the understanding that you have a business to run and you need to stay focused on doing just that. This early phase of work includes:

  • Compiling due diligence documentation
  • Studying the market
  • Assessing the data
  • Creating a solid marketing strategy
  • Vetting potential buyers

Of course, you should constantly be kept informed of all developments in the process, but you will not need worry about doing all the legwork and dealing with time-consuming details. An M&A team will guide you through every step, making sure that all communications are clear and concise, and that you can stay focused on your day-to-day life with some peace of mind.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

There are many reasons why enlisting an M&A advisory firm as your partner offers you a major advantage in a deal. You could try handling a sale yourself, say with the help of your lawyer or CPA, but it is a complicated process that makes it very difficult for a business owner to juggle running their business while dealing with all the minutia involved in an M&A transaction—especially when you have no prior experience in selling a company. Think about how much you really know about corporate and antitrust laws, securities regulations, and where to even find a buyer. Not to mention that experienced buyers will recognize that you are in unchartered waters and will not hesitate to take advantage of your lack of practice. Keep in mind that it is firmly established that the majority of mergers and acquisitions (70 to 90 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review) fail. This makes it even more crucial that you have an experienced team working on getting you results. Experienced M&A advisors know how to get deals done because they do it every day.

But there is more to it than that. Selling your company is an emotional journey. Your personal feelings can easily cloud your judgment regarding a sale. It is incredibly helpful to have a team in your corner that is looking out for your best interests while being able to assess buyers on their true merit. A good M&A advisor will have empathy for you during this difficult process and know how to help you through it while getting a high company valuation and the results that you deserve.

 

The Later Stages

Once you agree to an offer, it will require a little more participation on your part, but in a way that you should welcome, because this great milestone is finally nearing completion. You will be introduced to prospective acquirers and presented with their letters of intent. Contract negotiations and financing strategies will be underway. Your M&A deal team will work with you to evaluate the top bidders and narrow down the options, and get you across that coveted finish line to an exit strategy that is designed specifically to fulfill your unique aspirations for the future. Once you have decided on a buyer, you will need to work together to formulate integration strategies for the ultimate success of the business.

Thinking About Selling?

Even if you have not made up your mind to sell, it can still be fruitful to have a conversation about the possibilities for your future. The M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to discuss your options and help you gain insights into what and when is right for you, your company, and your family. If you choose to sell, our proprietary methodologies and global connections will help you find the right buyer and get the maximum value for the business you have worked so hard to build.

 

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How To Look Good To Clients

In any industry, it is always important to look good to clients and to live up to their expectations. When working with clients you should always try to go above and beyond what they expect, which will help your firm look good. Regarding mergers and acquisitions, impressing clients is key when it comes to selling their businesses. From the onboarding process to the closing of the sale, looking good is essential. There are many ways to look good to a client but focusing on the firm’s professionalism, knowing your client, and building relationships with customers are a few keys ways to look good to your clients.

Professionalism

Looking good to clients starts with a first impression and how professional you appear to a client. A firm handshake, an appropriate suit, and a friendly greeting can help impress a client, but professionalism is ongoing and will continue throughout the process of selling a company.

A few ways to maintain professionalism are:

  • Well-rehearsed presentations
  • Constant communication
  • Proper business etiquette

Clients want to be respected and treated appropriately in a business setting. Clients will expect professionalism, so it is important to go above and beyond their expectations. Providing well-rehearsed presentations about the client’s company, market, and industry will help you stand out against other firms.

Constant communication and updates on the status of the client’s file are key to impressing the client. Clients will be impressed by proper business etiquette how well you can articulate an understanding for their industry and particularly their business structure. 

Know your client

Knowing your client is about more than just understanding what they do and whom they serve. There are many aspects to a business, and clients will be impressed if you take the time to understand the ins and outs of their company.

Businesses are multidimensional and no one knows the business as well as the owner. Before you meet with a client make sure to know some of the important aspects of their businesses. Some key things to research before your initial meeting with a client include:

  • Details of services and products provided
  • The markets they operate
  • Customer review

Understanding and knowing your client starts before the initial meeting in person. Complete your research on the company prior to the meeting, note public information about the markets they operate, and their customers.

Building Relationships

Selling a company can be a very emotional process for business owners and building a relationship with the sellers is key to looking good to clients. Clients want to know that you are taking the time to understand what they are expecting to get out of selling their business. For some this can be monetary, for others it can be retirement or a change in their careers. Regardless of the reason, it is important to take the time to understand what they are looking for and understand those key aspects.

Some crucial ways to build and maintain relationships are

    • Always be available
    • Be open to listening to concerns and honest with responses
    • Be realistic, do not over-promise

Clients want to know they are being taken care of when it comes to selling their businesses. It is important to build a relationship, establish trust, and let your client know you will be available through every step of the process. By building relationships, you will look good to clients and help them feel at ease throughout the mergers and acquisitions process.

When it comes to looking good to clients, there are many ways to be impressive. However, professionalism, knowing your client, and building relationships are fundamental. When you can provide professional materials and a true understanding of their company and industry, you will look good to clients. Diving deeper with your clients and showing an understanding on more than a basic level will set you apart from competitors and impress the clients. Building relationships and maintaining those throughout the process will also impress clients. While there are many ways to look good to clients, showing clients that you are professional, understand their business, and want to build a strong relationship with them will help you look good to clients.

 

Author
Madison Culberson
Transaction Support Analyst
Benchmark International

T: +1 615 924 8950
E: culberson@benchmarkintl.com

 

 

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7 Key Considerations When Selling Your Business

You have poured your life into building your business. Selling it is not only a very emotional process, but it can also be a monumental task that involves many intricacies. Careful planning and preparation before a merger or acquisition can translate into your efforts being rewarded with a high value deal. While there is quite a bit that can go into preparation, the following seven considerations are key to arriving at a successful deal in the end.

1. Protect What’s Yours

Intellectual property can be a company’s most significant asset. It differentiates you from your competition, is an important marketing tool, and can provide revenue through licensing agreements. It is also a major driver of value in a merger or acquisition. Any intellectual property that belongs to your business (proprietary technologies, copyrights, patents, design rights, and trademarks) must be legally protected. Enlist your legal counsel to ensure that all the proper paperwork is filed and current. If you are considering a cross-border transaction, you will want to make sure the property is protected on an international level as well as a local level, as different countries have different laws and requirements.

2. Get Your Finances in Order

It’s never a good look when a prospective acquirer asks for financial documentation and you are scrambling to put it together. This can also delay the process. Before taking your company to market, you will want to compile all of the proper financial and contractual records and have them organized and ready to turn over. Having your finances in order also means that you should seek to resolve any outstanding issues where possible before trying to sell. For example, if you know you have a situation you can probably resolve, getting it straightened out ahead of time can eliminate unnecessary complications during the due diligence process. The due diligence process is also going to require an audit of your assets. A buyer is going to want a complete picture of what they are acquiring. Intellectual property is an important element of due diligence but the process also includes areas such as equipment, real estate, and inventory.

3. Maintain Business as Usual

Going through the lengthy process of selling a business can certainly provide its share of distractions. No matter how easily it can be to become sidetracked or consumed in the details of the sale, now it is more important than ever that you stay focused on the daily operations of the business and ensuring that it is running at its best possible level. This includes keeping your management team focused. Deals can take time and they can also fall through. Every aspect of an M&A transaction hinges on the health of your company at every stage of the game and you need to make sure the business does not lose any value.

4. Think Like a Buyer

As a seller, you obviously don’t want to leave money on the table. That is why it can be helpful that you look at your business from the perspective of a buyer. This will help you avoid being fixated on a sale price the whole time. Think about why they would want to buy your business and what opportunities it affords them in the future. If you can improve your business and develop it as a strategic asset before you try to sell, you can increase its value and get more money.

5. Predetermine Your Role

Sometimes after the sale of the business the original owner executes a full exit strategy and severs all involvement with the business. You need to decide up front what is right for you. To what extent do you plan to relinquish control of the company? Do you wish to remain an employee or a member of the board? How much authority do you plan to retain? You should think these options through before going to market so that you can find a buyer that supports your intentions for the business.

6. Have a Post-Sale Plan

Consider what life will look like following the sale of your company. Think about what your financial picture will look like. How will you invest the proceeds to maintain your financial health? How much cash will you take at closing? How long should the earn-out period be? What about stock options? And don’t forget about tax liability. How much will be paid immediately and how much will be deferred? These are all important questions to ask yourself when anticipating the sale of your business.

7. Retain an M&A Expert

Selling a business is a complicated process and a seller should never go it alone. You may be an expert at your business, but chances are you aren’t an expert at selling businesses. Enlisting the partnership of a M&A experts can not only help you get a deal done smoothly but can help you get the maximum value for your company. M&A advisors know what to expect, they know how to avoid common pitfalls, and they have access to resources and experience that can be game changers for your deal. They can also help you work through some of the difficult decisions mentioned above. Of course, they come at a price, but a price that is worth it when you consider how much their involvement can increase the value of your sale and the chances of the deal being closed.

Ready to Sell?

When you are ready, so are we. Reach out to our M&A advisory experts at your convenience to talk about your options and how we can help you sell for the utmost value.

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