The Covid pandemic has placed us squarely in unprecedented times. We know this is not exactly news at this point. However, counter to the tenor of most pieces you've probably read on the topic during the past 12 months, this one aims to shine some light on one industry that has thrived: The US healthcare market, more specifically, healthcare M&A. Healthcare M&A has generally been a big winner in 2020 and into 2021 and it's happening at both ends of the market.READ MORE >>
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic slowed M&A deal activity overall in 2020. According to data from PitchBook, more than 2,000 transactions closed for a value of $336.8 billion in Q2 of last year. That represents a 41 percent decline in the number of deals from Q1. Yet, deals did pick up in the second half of the year, which is likely to continue, as businesses are poised for improved economic conditions that leave COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.READ MORE >>
No one knows for sure how much longer the COVID-19 pandemic will be affecting our lives and our businesses. But we do know that mergers and acquisitions are still happening, deal activity will pick up, and the way we approach due diligence in a post-COVID world has the power to make major differences when it comes to selling a company. While there are new obstacles to consider, there are also significant opportunities to identify and create value, and help companies outperform the market.
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During the first half of 2020, M&A activity in the automotive industry was down from previous years due to uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, with cross-border deals becoming more complex. However, the pandemic also resulted in new opportunities for consolidation within the industry.
There were $11.9 billion in M&A deals, which represented a 54.8% decrease in value compared to the first half of 2019. Most investments were in the pursuit of CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electrified) technologies. This type of tech is predicted to drive M&A through the end of 2020. Dealmakers are expected to concentrate on securing supply chains and increasing resiliency rather than expanding globally.
Global Deal Activity
The majority of deal value in volume in the first half of 2020 took place in Asia and Oceania, followed by North America. The largest automotive transaction in the first half of the year was valued at $2.9 billion, with Traton SE, a vehicle-manufacturing subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, acquiring Navistar International Corporation. Volkswagen Group China continued to strengthen its electrification strategy by making two acquisitions valued at more than $1 billion each: Gotion High-tech Co. and JAC Volkswagen Automotive Company.READ MORE >>
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 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.
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.READ MORE >>
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.READ MORE >>
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.
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.READ MORE >>
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.
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.
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.
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It is now well-documented that care homes have been closed to visitors since early March, leaving already vulnerable residents feeling isolated and cut off from family and friends. Hospices and hospitals have also been forced to put severe visiting restrictions in place to protect people in their care.
In many instances, it has been the carers, themselves, going above and beyond by letting those in their care use their own personal devices to reach a family member, and to keep in touch with loved ones by video, particularly where the residents do not otherwise have access to technology.
In the most tragic cases, the devices are used by patients saying goodbye to their loved ones for the last time.
Like many businesses, Benchmark International has been keen to find ways of supporting those on the frontline. As a technology-driven business, we are fortunate to have facilities that enable seamless communication around the world, and we recognised an opportunity to make the same facilities available to the most vulnerable in our community, with the hope of bringing them some comfort during difficult times.READ MORE >>
The impact of the various lock-downs necessitated by the pandemic has directly affected the financial performance of the vast majority of businesses across the globe, both small and large.
Whilst certain M&A deals have continued on their charted timelines, others have seen an acceleration whilst some re-negotiation, and even stoppages, as a consequence of the impact in both buyer and seller positions. Funded deals feeling the most impact as they have in some instances experienced delays as bankers and financiers attend to more pressing matters in the moment.
The question foremost in most seller’s minds is that of value and how, in cases of a drop in performance, this might impact the value of their transactions.
In the same way that a company producing hand sanitiser cannot expect to achieve a valuation based on a short-term explosion of results, companies impacted negatively will not be unduly penalised if the effects are short term.
Normalisations are a fundamental element of negotiation in any M&A transaction where the objective is to determine maintainable earnings by ringfencing non-recurring income and expenses that might otherwise not reflect in the income statement under new ownership.
It would be naïve to suggest that these non-recurring expenses or even losses directly attributable to the effects of the COVID pandemic can simply be written out, but negotiations are bound to include provisions for such abnormalities. One can 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.
At Benchmark International, we have gone as far as to suggest to some clients they create a COVID-19 income statement line item in which to capture the additional expenses/ losses that will arise due to this once-off event, a list of examples is below;
- Lost Productivity
- New IT infrastructure
- Bad debts
- Increased provisions imposed by auditors
- Underprovided items now expensed (i.e. leave)
- Divisional shutdowns
- Bridge financing
- Fixed costs (like rent which is possibly redundant for a period) to be made to be variable
- Additional safety and hygiene costs
- Forex losses or gains
With proper records of these types of expenses, it is possible to defend the adding back of expenses to earnings for the purpose of acquirer valuation in the future.
There is great need all around us. During COVID-19 and this time of social distancing, many local businesses are considering ways of how to give back and do their part to support their local communities and businesses.
Benchmark International founders Steven Keane and Gregory Jackson showed their support to the community by purchasing 400 pizza pies over a two-day span from their favorite pizza place - Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in Tampa, FL to be able to feed the healthcare professionals at Tampa General Hospital (TGH).
Steven Keane and Greg Jackson hand-delivered the pizzas this past Tuesday and Wednesday to provide food to the frontline healthcare workers who are selflessly working each day to provide help and comfort to thousands of in-need patients.
As a team, Benchmark International and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria was able to set a few new Grimaldis records.
The records consisted of the following:
• The most pizzas to be in the oven at any one time
• The largest single order – 200 pizzas in one order
• The largest single order two days in a row – Totaling 400 pizzas
Benchmark International was honored to be able to provide this contribution to their local community and also the healthcare workers at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) and would like to thank Jeff, Rick and the Grimaldi’s team who work so hard to help make this happen.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.