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One Certainty about this Virus – Your Taxes Will Go Up

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

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

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

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

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

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

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

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

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Effects Of Coronavirus On Business Owners And The Economy

As the coronavirus known as COVID-19 spreads to more regions around the world, it is making a major impact on world and local economies. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has already disrupted global travel and supply chains and affected businesses of all sizes in both China and abroad.

The true impacts of the virus for companies will depend upon how far and wide the outbreak spreads and its duration. If the spread is limited and relatively short-lived, the damage to many businesses could be somewhat minor and recoverable. The types of businesses that analysts warn will feel the worst impacts are hospitality chains, airlines, transportation groups, retailers and makers of luxury goods, as people postpone travel plans and avoid shopping centers. Hospitality businesses such as restaurants and hotels will also face the largest challenge at making up losses later in the year.

Supply Chain Impacts
How long factories in China remain closed is also another important aspect of the situation because of how it is affecting global supply chains, as a great deal of the world’s products are made in Chinese factories. Some industries could begin to run out of parts and miss their revenue targets, such as auto manufacturers and smartphone makers. Smaller businesses that import products from China, such as Amazon third-party sellers, could also face a shortage if factories do not begin to reopen.

Business owners should be proactively assessing their supply chains and mapping out strategies to maintain resources and address vulnerabilities. Do you have a backup plan? Is it possible to source materials locally? Getting ahead of the problem can be worthwhile if it is feasible. Once the virus is no longer an issue, factories are expected to recover and offset lost production. What that ultimately means for business owners depends on their type of business and how much of their inventory has been impacted. Companies that plan for strategic, operational and financial agility in response to future global risks will be more likely to react and recover.

On a somewhat positive note, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in China now appears to be declining, signaling hope that circumstances may be able to improve. Chinese scientists believe that the outbreak will be under control by the end of April.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

In the United States
The virus has stoked fears on Wall Street has caused markets to fall at near-record levels. Outlooks for revenue growth in 2020 are down. According to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in the country of China, nearly half of U.S. businesses based there are expected to lose revenues if the effects of the coronavirus outbreak persist after April 30th. The U.S. House and Senate are working on funding to respond to the virus. Part of this funding may include interest-free loans to small businesses hurt by an outbreak.

There is no expert consensus as to whether COVID-19 could cause the U.S. economy to fall into a recession. Any optimism is partially due to the strength of the economy, the role of the Federal Reserve Board to provide support, and the ability to contain the virus. Meanwhile, the virus’s trajectory remains unpredictable. The Centers for Disease Control issued containment guidance to businesses. And the major stock market indexes continue to react and enter correction territory as investors try to sort out what it could all mean for business owners in the long run.

Around the World
As for the rest of the world, the impacts remain contingent upon how much the virus spreads and how effectively it can be contained. It has reached more than 40 nations so far. Currently in Europe and Asia, many companies are asking employees to work from home or take leave and are assessing their emergency plans to prevent or limit an outbreak. Hospitality companies face the biggest obstacle in this sense because the vast majority of their employees cannot do their jobs from home. In Italy, entire towns are on lockdown and tens of thousands of people are quarantined. In Japan, all schools nationwide are being asked to close for one month to help contain the spread of the virus. In South Korea, confirmed cases are rising. In Iran, cases have also risen and many schools, public offices and businesses have closed. And Saudi Arabia is closing holy Islamic sites to foreigners.

M&A Deals
The impacts on M&A activity remain unclear. If the virus causes a decline in profits for businesses, it could affect M&A. Buyers may lower offers in reaction to market changes, while sellers are likely to expect their original prices. This disparity could reduce transaction volume. For now, it remains a matter of wait and see.

Contact Us
If you are ready to make a move with your company, please reach out to our M&A experts at Benchmark International to discuss how we can help you achieve your goals.

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