In the exciting and jargon filled word of mergers and acquisitions, you may often find reference being made to a letter of intent. But what exactly is a letter of intent (LOI)? Given the importance of an LOI it is crucial to answering this question, as well as other common questions we come across when dealing with LOIs.
What is an LOI?
The best way to describe an LOI is to think of it as a roadmap to a transaction. An LOI typically outlines the terms and conditions of an offer from a buyer to a seller. Expressed otherwise, an LOI is a written expression of a buyer’s intention to purchase the business of a seller and together with its terms to the seller indicates the buyer’s intention for the transaction.
What is the difference between a binding and non-binding LOI?
Unlike most contracts, the terms of an LOI are typically non-binding unless the parties agree that the whole or certain parts of an LOI are binding.
It is therefore important for sellers to remember that the terms contained in the LOI may not always be the terms that the buyer and the seller settle on (assuming, of course, the parties agree that the terms are not wholly or partially binding).
What are the common terms of an LOI?
While each LOI will be different, certain recurring themes appear. The most common ones are:
1. The parties
Although this seems obvious, it is critical that the correct parties are cited. Large corporations tend to have various subsidiaries and affiliated companies, and it is important for both parties to understand who exactly they are dealing with.
2. Structure of the transaction
This part of an LOI will describe how the transaction will be concluded. Is the transaction a purchase of the shares, a sale of assets, or a combination of both? Depending on the jurisdiction in which the transaction takes place, the structure will have to be carefully considered to ensure that parties are aware of how exactly ownership will change.
The consideration is the payment that the seller will receive from the buyer. There are various ways in which to structure consideration. For example, the buyer can agree to pay a portion upfront with the remaining portion being paid subject to certain conditions being met once ownership changes.
4. Purchase price adjustments
Purchase price adjustments are used to adjust the purchase price for movements in working capital accounts (such as accounts receivable, inventory, and accounts payable) between the execution of the LOI and the transaction being finalised.
5. Conditions to closing
This part of the LOI will include the expectations and obligations of the buyer and seller, which are specific to them. For example, a buyer may need to get approval from regulatory bodies prior to concluding a transaction.
6. Confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses
Following the signature of an LOI, a buyer will typically receive sensitive information from a seller regarding its business. In addition, a seller may receive sensitive information from a buyer. It is crucial to agree on what information may be disclosed, to whom the information may be disclosed (such as accountants and legal counsels) and for what period the information needs to remain confidential.
LOI’s typically include an exclusivity provision in terms of which the buyer asks the seller not to negotiate with other prospects for a pre-determined time period. As a seller, it is within your best interests to ensure that the exclusivity period is as short as necessary and that the terms are well defined.
What are the benefits of an LOI?
A properly drafted LOI will address key terms, remove ambiguity and thereby benefit both the buyer and the seller as it often reduces the amount of time and costs spent on revisiting negotiating.
Many business owners will only sell a business once in their lifetime. When dealing with such a monumental event, a little more preparation today is certainly worth added value tomorrow. Advice from seasoned professionals can provide you with savings in costs and time in helping you sell your business. At Benchmark International, we are proud to provide world-class mergers and acquisitions services.
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