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Assumptions Matter! What Assumptions Form the Foundation of An M&A Transaction?

Assumptions form the foundation of every facet of an M&A transaction. They permeate every fiber of a deal. Sellers make assumptions. Buyers make assumptions. Lawyers, accountants, wealth managers, and other advisors make assumptions. Deals are built upon assumptions.  When assumptions are thoughtful, reasonable and defensible, there is a much higher likelihood of success.Buyers may assume they can get three turns of EBITDA in senior debt and another turn of second lien debt when determining both valuation and deal structure. However, what happens to the deal if those assumptions prove faulty?  Assumptions should be tested.  Before proceeding, apply a reasonable test.Determine if the assumptions will survive further scrutiny. Are they defensible? If they are not, challenge them and make the appropriate course correction.  

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Buyers often use Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) as at least a data point to derive a valuation. However, as any finance student or professional will tell you, DCF is limited by the inputs; the assumptions you make. One has to make assumptions as to the cash flows derived by the business, a terminal value, a growth rate and their cost of capital. Each of those is a lever that a seasoned professional can pull to move the results.  So, the results are subject to confirmation bias. I can make the model spit out a number that aligns with my preconceived notion as to value. Further, I can make the results provide evidence to a narrative that portrays the business in the most positive (or negative) light. Again, assumptions matter. They need to be reasonable and defensible. 

Sometimes we will see buyers assume that all businesses in a specific industry are perfect substitutes. I’ve seen buyers point to other sellers on the market with more “reasonable” price expectations. But that assumption, on its face, is flawed at best and perhaps intellectually dishonest. No two business are alike. They are living, breathing beings with unique people, processes, supply chains, distribution channels, relationships etc.Two businesses that compete with similar services or products will yield different valuations from buyers. Those differences in valuation may be vast.  Why is that, you ask? The answer is businesses are not fungible. They are not interchangeable. They aren’t gold, silver, frozen orange juice or any other commodity.  They don’t trade purely on price as they have unique aspects to them.  As such, we at Benchmark, as a sell side mergers and acquisitions firm, really thrive when we encounter a buyer with this argument.  We love it when a buyer brings that level of analysis to defend their assumptions.  Our clients do too. 

Assumptions matter on the sell side when contemplating net proceeds. Every seller concerns themselves with the amount they will take home once all fees and taxes are accounted for.  More importantly, they want to know if they can “live on” those proceeds.  When considering this question, make sure all of the inputs into the waterfall are reasonable and defensible.  The waterfall demonstrates the net proceeds to the seller accounting for all expenses and taxes. Are your tax assumptions correct?  Make sure you engage advisors that understand transaction tax. Your CPA may not be qualified to dig in here as the questions and answers aren’t black and white.  Often times, the sell side law firm has an M&A tax specialist on the team and that person may be best suited to assist. 

Let’s address the aforementioned question; how much do you need at closing to maintain my lifestyle? Again, as before, the assumptions here matter.  You may not know the market opportunities available to you post-close as perhaps you’ve never had the power and influence that may come from a sizeable pool of investable capital. We suggest sellers speak to wealth advisors to determine if their risk tolerances and investment goals align with the cash flow they require.  We have worked with wealth managers that specialize in working with small business owners transitioning out of ownership for the first time.  They will work with you to determine the proper asset allocation for your proceeds and provide the basis for sound assumptions as to rates of return. They will also review your entire financial profile and exposure to assist you.

Assumptions matter for your advisors. Attorneys may mistakenly assume a seller is adamant about an issue that may in fact be unimportant to the seller. Other advisors may apply their own biases to a deal and assume both buyer and seller think as they do. I’ve found that making this sort of assumption, that buyers and seller think as I do on all matters, leads to poor guidance and poor decision making. 

So, what is the cure for all of these issues that result form poor assumptions you ask?  Simply ask the other party, whether on other side of the transaction or on the same side, to present and defend their assumptions. Once the assumptions are on the table it is easy to test them to determine if they are credible, reasonable and defensible. 

Author
Dara Shareef
Managing Director
Benchmark International
Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Shareef@benchmarkcorporate.com

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How to Deal with State Income Tax when Calculating EBITDA

As we all know, EBITDA is not defined under either accounting’s Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  What’s worse is that there is no other evenly mildly authoritative source that delves into the specifics of the definition beyond much more than a one-word description of each letter’s meaning.

Despite its murky definition, EBITDA remains the lengua franca between buyers and sellers when discussing valuation of privately held companies. Regardless of the true manner in which the seller sets the minimum price for which she will part with her business and whichever of the likely more academic methods the buyer has used to determine its maximum purchase price, the parties tend to lob multiples of EBITDA back and forth across the negotiating table.

While the exact meaning of each letter in the acronym is worthy of its own discussion, there is perhaps no more frustrating issue than how to deal with state income tax in the “T” portion of the term. The frustration arises because some parties refuse to acknowledge that what is so eminently clear - that state income taxes should be treated in an identical manner to the treatment of federal income taxes.

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The very purpose of using EBITDA in these discussions is to place the concerned enterprise in neutral position with regard to capital structure, accounting decisions, and tax environments.  This is why, and all parties do agree on this point, federal income taxes would always be added back to earnings when making this calculation. The proponents of not adding back state income tax are never able to explain why differing treatments would result in better serving the objective of using EBITDA.

State income taxes, like federal income taxes, are only due when a business is profitable.  A business’s profitability is effected by, among other things, its capital structure (because more debt means more interest and interest reduces income and is therefore a tax shield whereas dividends do not and are not) and its depreciation (because, again, depreciation reduces earnings and serves as a tax shield). These factors have the same effect on state income taxes as they do federal income taxes.  Thus, the amount of federal and state income tax a business pays in a given year will vary depending on the quantity and rate of loans outstanding that year and the method and amount of depreciation employed (i.e., the entity’s capital structure and accounting decisions).  The amount of state income tax paid in a given measurement period is no more or less a function of the business’s operations than is its federal tax paid over that same period.

Further, while also not defined under GAAP, “profit before tax” (PBT) is a term more commonly used by accountants than EBITDA, appearing on a fair number, if not the majority, of companies’ routine income statements.  As accountants will always take this measurement before including the expense of both federal and state income taxes, why should the same logic not apply to EBITDA?  EBITDA is, of course, simply PBT minus interest, depreciation and amortization charges.

Proponents of disparate treatment suggest that the state income tax is an unavoidable cost of doing business. But this argument fails for two reasons.  First of all, it is not unavoidable. As discussed above, high debt levels and aggressive depreciation can allow the minimization or avoidance of state income tax (just as they can for federal income tax).  But more significantly, it is not the job of EBITDA to take out only the “avoidable cost of doing business.” Eliminating 401k matching, reducing salaries, renegotiating a better lease, or relocating to smaller premises may also be ways to reduce the cost of doing business. Yet no one proposes adding benefits, salaries, and rent to EBITDA because they are wholly or partially “avoidable”.

Continuing with this logic, state income taxes are avoidable by changing domicile just as federal income taxes are avoidable by changing domicile.  Ask Tyco, Fruit of the Loom, Sara Lee, Seagate or any of the other 43 formerly US companies that the Congressional Research Service identified as redomiciled for this purpose in the decade leading up to the 2014 election.  Would the EBITDA of any of these companies not have included an addback for federal income tax because it was an “avoidable cost of doing business”?

Ah, state income tax, the poor runt of the litter in the world of finance. Too small to be taken seriously, too complicated to be understood, and too varied to warrant the time.  Five states have no such tax on corporate entities. Most of the other 45 do not impose it on entities making federal S-elections.  Those who do impose it do so in many different ways.  And the names are so confusing, often being called by another name that allows the state’s development board to claim they do not have a state corporate income tax. Capped at 6% or less in most states, it pales in comparison to the 35% federal rate. (Though Iowa hits double digits at 12%, it is the only state to do so and there exists no documented record of anyone ever buying a business in Iowa.) How unfortunate that this scrawny beast seems to raise its head so uncannily when a deal is on the line, in those final days when the parties are so close yet so far away on valuation and the closing hinges on the fate of this oft-misunderstood adjustment to earnings.

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Understanding EBITDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author:
Patrick Seaworth
Analyst
Benchmark International

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

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What are EBITDA Multiples?

Adjusted EBITDA is a term often used in mergers and acquisitions. EBITDA is defined as “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.” It is the net income of a business plus interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization added to it. Adjusted EBITDA “adds-back” expenses a current owner may run through a business that do not reflect the typical costs to support operations. Typical add-backs include expenses that: 1) may be unusual or linked to a certain event (like a bad debt write-off or expenses related to move the business); 2) are at the discretion of the current owner (for example, payments to a spouse or child that is not active in the business); or 3) compensation to an owner or family member that may be more than the cost to replace the duties performed by that person. Typically, historical figures for adjusted EBITDA are used as a proxy to reflect the income stream a business will generate in the future.

Why is adjusted EBITDA important? Because it is commonly used to calculate, or impute, the value that is being put on a business. Value is a product of multiplying adjusted EBITDA by an EBITDA multiple. Value = An Income Stream times a Multiple. Conversely, Value divided by an Income Stream (like EBITDA) = Multiple. This is the same concept as a price to earnings multiple in the stock market. However, in the world of mergers and acquisitions, adjusted EBITDA is the income stream commonly used to determine value.

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I’m Thinking of Selling My Company, How do I Value My Business

So, you are entertaining the thought of possibly selling your business. How do you know what it’s worth? There are a lot of factors that go into deciding an asking price for your company. The market, the industry, and the level of risk can all affect the final value. The following guide will walk you through a quick rundown of the valuation process for middle-market businesses and help you gain a basic understanding of what your company might be worth.

Step One: Have Your Finances in Check

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What Makes a Company a Likely Acquisition Target?

A fascinating report has been published by Intralinks who, in conjunction with Cass Business School in London examined 23 years of data from almost 34,000 companies worldwide to identify the factors that make companies attractive M&A targets.

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It was October Dealfest at Benchmark International!

October was a fantastic month for Benchmark International and we are proud to announce that our teams in the UK and US have completed deals with an overall, combined transaction value of $160,000,000.

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