Selling your business is a paramount moment in your life. It’s something you absolutely want to get right so that you can extract the most value out of the deal—and so that you are protected from being swindled by a savvy buyer. It also takes a great deal of time and energy to sell a company, which can be rather difficult to spare when you are trying to focus on running a business. Most people simply do not have this time, energy, connections, or expertise that is required to put their company on the market. This is where the importance of an experienced M&A advisor comes in. By partnering with an M&A expert, they handle all the details of a deal, including due diligence, negotiations, marketing, vetting, and ensuring that you get the most value for your business. They also know how to navigate bumps in the process, and manage the expectations of all parties involved.READ MORE >>
A Seller’s Market Versus a Buyer’s Market
In a seller's M&A market, excess demand for assets that are in limited supply gives sellers more power when it comes to pricing. Such demand can be generated and galvanized by circumstances that include a strong economy, lower interest rates, high cash balances, and solid earnings. Other factors that can instill confidence in buyers—leading to more bidders willing to pay a higher purchase price—include strong brand equity, significant market share, innovative technology, and streamlined distributions that are difficult to emulate or recreate from scratch.READ MORE >>
If you are considering selling your company, you should be aware of a certain menace that could have you in its crosshairs. There are direct buyers out there who intentionally prey on business owners, attempting to acquire a company by blindsiding its owner with big promises and, more importantly, taking advantage of their lack of guidance from a seasoned M&A professional. These buyers purposely look to avoid competition for a company because competition drives valuations higher, and they want to make an acquisition on the cheap—in addition to other shady maneuvers.
Bait & Switch
Some buyers will attempt to pull “bait & switch” tactics. To initially intrigue a seller, the buyer will present a high dollar amount. As they conduct due diligence and get the target more and more committed to the deal, they begin chipping away at the value until they reach a price and terms that are far more favorable for the buyer. This is typically an exhausting process for the seller and can lead to plenty of regret. If the deal falls apart, the seller may be reluctant to restart the process with another buyer, thinking the process will just be the same. In reality, it could have been completely different for the seller if they had a reputable M&A specialist on their side from the beginning.
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 >>
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:READ MORE >>
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.
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.READ MORE >>
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.
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.READ MORE >>
Selling a company can take several months to even years, depending on factors such as the state of the business, the industry, the market, and the economy. At Benchmark International, we have created an efficient process that we use as a framework to guide any merger or acquisition from start to finish. While not every deal will follow this timeline exactly, it is what we strive to adhere to and what you can expect from the process, keeping in mind that when several parties are involved, timing depends on when they each do their part.
The 120 Days Prior to Going Live: Strategy Development & File Preparation
First, in order to determine the “go live” date (when we take the business to market) we carefully assess your needs and priorities as the business owner, the completion of audits and taxes, the harmonizing of the business’s external image, and the M&A market calendar.
In the 120 days prior to “going live” with your company, we will go through a preliminary preparation period. This period begins when you and your Benchmark Deal Team sign the engagement and we deliver a data request list to you in order to obtain the relevant information we will need to facilitate a deal. The initial delivery of these documents to us usually takes about two weeks. Then, two weeks after that, we conduct a Q&A session with you regarding the financial data to resolve any outstanding topics. This is when we dig in and do an even more thorough assessment.
A few weeks later, we have our first meeting with you for the presentation of any issues that we found, we request any additional data, and we conduct a preliminary discussion of a marketing strategy. In another 20 days, we have a second meeting to verify the completion of the harmonization of the company’s public image, finalize strategy, and recap any additional data still needed.
Then, in about three weeks, our deal team delivers drafts of the company Teaser and Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM). In the week subsequent to that, we will meet to finalize materials, we prepare market intelligence, and then we are ready to go live.
Two Months After Going Live: Solicitation of Candidates & Expression of Interest
Now that we are ready to go live, we move into the next phase of the process. We start by approaching prospective buyers. We begin obtaining non-disclosure agreements and screening candidates. Within about three weeks, our deal team delivers an interim candidate report to you, classifying candidates into three categories. We then meet to determine authorized recipients of the CIM out of the candidates delivered. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of prospects. You can expect us to be one month into this process when we deliver a finalized candidate report to you, which again classifies the candidates into three categories. Soon after, our team will meet with you to determine the authorized recipients of the CIM out of these candidates. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of invitees. By day 60, expression of interest is due from these candidates.
Two to Four Months After Going Live: Evaluation of Candidates & Offers
Now that we are two months into the process of having gone live, your Benchmark team presents the expressions of interest on behalf of prospective buyers to you. Next, you instruct us as to which candidates should be invited to bid. We then confirm each invitee’s continued interest and they are provided access to a preliminary data room.
At about three months in, letters of intent are due to us from the bidders. We revert to them with any questions raised by the letters of intent. Next, our team presents the letters of intent to you and follows up on any questions you have for the bidders. At this stage, around Day 107, we work closely with you to reevaluate the top bidders, and negotiations begin with one to three bidders. By Day 120, the letter of intent is executed and the counterparty is granted access to the complete data room.
Ready to Sell?
We’re ready to help. Contact our M&A advisory experts at Benchmark International to formulate effective strategies to grow your business or plan your exit strategy and sell your company for the highest valuation possible.READ MORE >>
1. Improve & Grow
Investors seek to buy companies that increase cash flow year over year. Obviously, the more profitable and healthy your company is, the higher valuation it will garner. This means that retained earnings (the amount of profit left over after all costs, taxes and dividends are paid) are an important factor, including how they are reinvested in the business as working capital. It also means you should be focused on lowering expenses and increasing revenues, as the efficiency of your operations is going to be a key driver of valuation. Look at the last three years to see if cash flow is trending upward. If not, you should take measures to get the company on the right course. Companies sell for higher prices when they show that they can continue to grow. Your future growth depends on your ability to identify new markets, adapt to changing technologies, and keep your workforce trained. Buyers look for businesses that have goals and a solid plan for achieving them.
2. Value the Power of Marketing
How marketing is defined when it comes to selling a business is twofold, and both are incredibly important. 1) Effectively market your products or services to customers and 2) Effectively market your company to potential buyers.
Create and retain a diverse customer base that creates recurring profits. Evaluate your marketing plan to determine strategies to boost sales, tap into new markets, get a competitive edge, and increase customer loyalty. The more diverse your customer base is, the more protected you will be if you lose a major customer. This insulation is important to buyers.
When you do the first part correctly, you will be in a stronger position to showcase your company’s strengths to acquirers. In order to best market yourself to buyers, it is smart to work with an M&A advisory firm that has the marketing experience and resources to make your company as appealing as possible.
3. Foster a Strong Team
A large amount of value in a business lies in its people, especially if it has few tangible assets. A prospective buyer is going to want to have faith and confidence in the existing leadership team and that they will remain there after your exit. They will also be more interested in a business that is known as a great place to work. Your key talent beyond management is also critical to the success of the company. They should be motivated, informed, and feel that their futures are in good hands so they are not tempted to jump ship because they are nervous about a possible sale. This is why it is crucial that the details and confidentiality of a sale and are handled very carefully. Employees need to be informed and feel included, but they should not be told about a sale until the proper time.
4. Have Detailed Recordkeeping
In order to sell your company, you will need to have all financial records and contracts related to the business for the due diligence phase of the transaction, and this extends beyond tax returns. Shoddy recordkeeping signals to buyers that there could be problems and that the business’s financial performance may not be portrayed accurately. Being transparent and thorough indicates to buyers that you are serious and more likely to be trusted.
5. Remain Invested
Just because you are planning to sell, do not lose sight of the fact that your business still needs you. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the M&A process, but you must keep the day-to-day operations running smoothly. Continue to improve and invest wherever possible and you will not only strengthen the overall value of your business but also demonstrate your commitment to its future success. Buyers want to see that you are doing what’s in the best interest of the company all the way up until your exit. At the same time, a business should not be reliant on any one person. While you should remain engaged through a sale, the company should be able to continue to operate successfully AFTER your exit, as well.
6. Get M&A Guidance
You have worked so hard to build your business and its sale may be the most important milestone in your life. You deserve to have the transaction done right so that you get the maximum value possible for your company. Experienced M&A advisors can not only make sure that the process goes as it should, but they have specific strategies and know-how that will get you as much as possible while adhering to your goals for your future and the company’s. Additionally, savvy buyers have solid knowledge of the M&A process and what to look for. Working with an advisory team will demonstrate that you are a serious seller while protecting your interests and getting you the amount you deserve.
Talk to our Experts
If you are considering selling your company, contact the M&A advisors at Benchmark International and tap into award-winning solutions and unparalleled expertise.
Throughout and following any M&A transaction, the retention of key staff members is critical to the long-term success of the business. When the structure and culture of a company changes, it is not uncommon for employees to feel uneasy and tempted to explore their options. Companies that practice comprehensive retention efforts are more likely to retain the majority of their senior staff. By getting employees engaged early in the process, it can help mitigate communication problems and promote a more inclusive experience. Additionally, the likelihood that your key staff will remain with the business will aid in your company valuation.
Know Your VIPs
Every company has their most valuable players, and keeping them is crucial for the business’s success. Know who they are at every level of management and how the changes to the business will impact their roles. Consider what you can do to avoid redundancy and ensure that their talent and knowledge will still be in a position to be valued. The earlier you do this, the better. A merger or acquisition can turn everything in an organization upside down. Have your best people tasked with challenges and opportunities. Give them the chance to use their talents and be part of the process in a productive way that works for their individual success as well as the success of the company. Be sure that your assessment extends beyond your leadership team. Look at all levels of the company to see where hidden gems may find an opportunity to shine.
Build Trust Though Communication
Communication is always key to running a successful operation, but it is absolutely paramount during the M&A process. Mergers and acquisitions can make people feel insecure about their jobs. While you never want to reveal information too soon, you will benefit greatly from gaining your employees’ trust by communicating with them about what is happening now and down the road, and what their role in the process will be. Key employees need to understand that their jobs are safe. Share your goals, your strategies, your vision and how you plan to go about running the show moving forward. Talking to them will go a long way in creating and maintaining loyalty to your company. If employees sense that something is afoot and feel like secrets are being kept, they are more likely to feel betrayed and even hostile about the process.
Think Beyond the Bonus
Retention bonuses for key talent are normal during M&A transactions. They are proven to be effective in the short term, but money does not necessarily make people feel inspired, engaged, or even secure. If someone is “checked out,” they are likely to leave for any amount of pay increase, however small. People who are truly invested in their careers want to be assured that the company is making good decisions, creating a strong culture, and working towards a goal they can support. While money talks, having talent feel enthusiastic about the future can be priceless—and contagious.
Avoid Culture Clash
When a business is acquired or merges with another, there is an inevitable convergence of cultures. Whether the convergence goes good or bad lies in the due diligence process. If you assess what you are dealing with ahead of time, you can anticipate how the cultures will meld. This includes having leadership and top talent working together through the evolution. They drive the culture and should be part of any changes to it. They will also play a critical role in the hiring of any new talent post M&A, and ensuring that the new hires will be conducive to the overall culture of the organization. If they feel empowered to be part of the future, it will go a long way in giving them a deeper understanding of the business and promoting its success in the future.
Let’s Do This
Your award-winning M&A advisory team at Benchmark International is dedicated to fulfilling your goals as a business owner. Whether you are looking to buy, sell or grow a company, we have the experience, resources, and connections that give you the upper hand and make great things happen. We look forward to speaking with you soon.READ MORE >>
You’re selling your business and thinking about hiring an M&A adviser, but you’re unsure of the best way to get the most out of them, and what exactly they can do for you.
The below discusses how to get the most out of your M&A adviser, ensuring the most successful exit strategy for you.
Communicate your goals.
Sellers each have their own goals of what they want to get out of their exit strategy, whether that be achieving maximum value, ensuring staff remain, or ensuring they remain with the company post-sale. Make sure that these are communicated with your M&A adviser to get the most out of them, as they can tailor the process to your needs.READ MORE >>
When selling a lower to middle-market company, enlisting the guidance of an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisory firm can make a world of difference in the transaction’s outcome for several important reasons.
- Having an M&A advisory firm act as an intermediary in a transaction increases the chances that a deal will be closed successfully. In fact, some buyers are willing to pay more for a business when an M&A firm is involved because they know there is a higher chance of closing.
According to a large study by the University of Alabama, private sellers receive between 6% and 25% higher acquisition premiums when they retain M&A advisors.
- When you work with an M&A firm, it demonstrates to buyers that you are truly committed to the sale process and that your valuation expectations have been properly vetted.
- Having an M&A team in your corner will save you a great deal of time and effort regarding complicated tasks such as due diligence, company valuation, and data management. Even simple transactions require a burdensome amount of due diligence regarding real estate, software, employment, benefits, accounting and legal issues. There are also many standard pre-closing tasks that must be completed in a timely manner and can affect the success of a transaction.
- M&A experts already know all the possible deal breakers and how to avoid them, giving you a major advantage in the market and protecting you from pitfalls.
- You will attract a greater number of serious buyers because you have access to the M&A firm’s global connections. And when you have drawn the interest of several buyers, you are more likely to get more for your company. If you sell your business on your own, experienced buyers know they can get away with offering you a lower price.
- A truly effective M&A firm will use proprietary technologies and databases to review the market for matches regarding the size, industry and geography of your company.
- Experienced M&A advisors know how to protect your confidentiality through the entire process. Confidentiality is critical because if information is leaked, it can not only derail a sale but also have a negative effect on crafting another potential deal.
- A quality M&A team will have the capability to build a strong marketing strategy and create materials to attract suitable and quality acquirers for your company.
- Another important task that an M&A firm will handle is third-party research. Buyers will immediately seek out negative information on a company that is on the market. A good M&A team will create a strategy to mitigate any potential negative impacts.
- The right M&A advisory firm will take the time to fully understand your objectives and aspirations and will be committed to making sure that the process is tailored to your needs and that you find the right fit. They will also work to keep eager buyers at arm’s length when you need more time to make decisions, understanding that selling your company is an emotional task and you deserve support and empathy along the way.
Work With the Best
Reach out to our world-renowned M&A experts at Benchmark International to discuss how we can help your business achieve its ultimate sale potential. You can trust that our objectives are aligned with yours, and that we will provide you with the most amount of information possible while protecting you from making rushed decisions. Simply put, your best interests are our best interests.READ MORE >>
When selling a company, of course the numbers are important. You want to obtain the most value in a sale and it can be easy to get caught up in revenue potential and expansion goals. But if you are truly concerned about the completion of a deal and the long-term success of the business, cultural fit between the converging companies is something that should never be underestimated or overlooked.
M&A Culture Shock
The culture affects everyone in the company, from the CEO and management down to every last employee. Values matter, communication is critical, morale is extremely influential when it comes to productivity, and these topics become even more important in cross-border transactions. Synergy in this respect can directly impact the bottom line of the business. Culture clash can utterly shatter the prospects of the merger or acquisition’s success.Research shows that complementary competencies contribute significantly to the enhanced overall M&A performance.This is why cultural integration must be considered before a deal is done, and why many savvy acquirers have formulas in place to address the fusion of two organizations’ cultures.
What Defines Company Culture?
The culture of a company is typically outlined by certain key factors:
- How the company defines essential capabilities and competitive strategies
- The normal behaviors of leadership and staff members
- The business’s operating model including structure, accountability, supervisory systems, and day-to-day operation guidelines
- National and regional customs, observances, language barriers, dress codes, work ethics and ideologies
Talent Retention is Key
Talent is a major factor in the acquisition of a company, as is the retention of that talent. Cultural fit has proven to be a critical factor in the retaining key talent after a sale due to issues related to autonomy and disruption—all things that should be negotiated upon a transaction. Research demonstrates that giving decision-making autonomy to the acquired business can improve integration and overall acquisition performance. Routines, relationships, and processes that are already embedded in a target company’s culture need to be understood by a buyer to avoid potential disruptions and ensure performance that is conducive to success. This can be especially important in the acquisition of high-tech companies.
Studies have indicated that if national and corporate cultural differences are not properly addressed during pre- and post-acquisition integration, it can have disastrous consequences on the overall success of the M&A transaction.
How Cultural Differences Can Actually Help
Cultural differences in cross-border transactions are not always a bad thing. It has been demonstrated that these differences can actually enhance the competitive advantage of the combined firms when cultural integration is properly handled. These benefits include:
- Access to distinct and valuable capabilities that may be rooted in the different cultural environment
- Development of deeper knowledge structures
- Lessened inactivity within the organization
- Excellent source of learning, innovation and value creation
- Greater manager involvement in social and cultural factors that are sometimes overlooked in domestic M&As
“Cultural learning” can change negative stereotypes, create positive attitudes, and improve communication between the two companies. For this process to work, there should be a controlled dispersion of information between parties that enables them to obtain accurate information about each other in a constructive way. This eliminates misconceptions and shines a light on actual differences that can be seen as the best aspects of both cultures.
Culture & the Due Diligence Process
Due diligence is crucial to every M&A deal, and this includes assessment of the cultural factors that may have impacts on the transaction and its success. Some questions to consider include:
- Does the target company have the right talent to carry out the acquisition strategy?
- Which team members are essential to continued value?
- What are potential deficiencies within management that can hinder long-term success?
- What is the overall cultural compatibility between the two organizations?
Cultural differences that can be deal killers need to be identified as early in the process as possible, keeping in mind that cultural differences can, in some cases, be beneficial. In any case, cultural differences should never be disregarded. Because they are so important to the success of a deal, they must always be evaluated and effectively managed.
Ready to Sell?
If you feel the time has come to sell your company, start the process off right by reaching out to the M&A experts at Benchmark International. Not only will we help you craft a winning exit strategy and use our global connections and proprietary methodologies to find the very best match for an acquirer of your business, but we can also ensure that you achieve cultural synergy before a sale. As a global company, we understand the importance of culture and know exactly what to look for in the alignment of two organizations.READ MORE >>
“I am in a niche market space.” “Who would want to buy my business?” These are just a couple of the concerns that owners have when putting their business on the market for sale, which often leads them to limit the types of prospective buyers. However, business owners should not limit themselves to one particular type of buyer. The various buyer types often have different acquisition strategies and end goals. Receiving offers from each type enables sellers to explore the best of all options. Investment banks commonly group buyers into three main categories: Strategic, Financial, and Individual.
Strategic buyers are typically the first group that owners will think of when deciding who will have an interest in acquiring their business. These are businesses that are similar to the seller’s and can include competitors. Within this category, horizontally-integrating strategic buyers seek to increase their market share through segment expansion, such as adding new regions, new markets, or a new customer base. This could be a buyer that is located on the opposite side of the country seeking expansion through acquisition to reach a new customer base. On the other hand, Vertically-integrating strategic buyers desire to expand their internal capabilities, such as bringing a portion of the supply chain in-house. For instance, a distributor may be seeking expansion by bringing manufacturing in-house. This allows the company to reduce costs and become less reliant on critical or high-risk suppliers. This works for all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the service provider. A strategic buyer can come in many forms, each with their unique set of goals for a transaction, which will drive deal value.
Financial buyers are the next main type of prospects buying businesses. The most common buyers in this category are private equity groups. Private equity buyers seek a return on the invested capital for their investors. A private equity group can bring resources that a strategic buyer may not have access to, such as growth capital, strategic management resources, and new growth opportunities. While some of these groups aim to grow the business for a period and then resell the expanded operations for a gain, others seek to buy and hold, with no plans to resell. Typically, these buyers will invest in industries where they have experience and can bring new ideas and opportunities to a business. Sellers often think that private equity groups only look at very large businesses to acquire but that is not the case. Private equity buyers often seek add-on acquisition of all sizes. The add-on can be any business that has synergies with their larger platform companies, which can expand operations, geographic coverage, or fill small gaps in the portfolio. For example, a private equity firm that has a large HVAC platform business may add on several smaller HVAC companies throughout the supply chain. The private equity buyer that is adding on to an existing platform has similar operations in place and can therefore be thought of as both a financial and strategic buyer.
The third category of buyers that play a role in the M&A community is an Individual Buyer. These buyers seek businesses to own and sometimes also to operate. Individual buyers span all industries and have various goals for the acquisition. There are many ways an individual can finance a transaction, including high net worth, commercial bank loans, SBA loans, and investment sponsors. When the individual buyer is an entrepreneur that uses funds from investors in order to search for, acquire, and personally operate one company, this is referred to as a “Search Fund” model. Search Fund investment vehicles often have several operators, sometimes referred to an entrepreneur in residence, simultaneously seeking businesses in which they can take a day-to-day leadership role. The goals, value propositions, synergies and valuations of this buyer group varies significantly, and can often produce the best cultural fit for a departing seller.
There are companies, investors, firms, and individuals, both domestically and internationally, seeking to acquire businesses in all industries and of all sizes. Likewise, sellers have varied goals for a transaction and no single buyer type is guaranteed to align with those goals. There are countless prospective buyers and, by considering all types, a seller and his or her broker will uncover the right buyer.
Contact Benchmark International today if you are ready to sell your company, grow your company, or explore your M&A strategies. Our team of M&A experts will guide you every step of the way and will make you feel at ease that you are going to get the best deal possible.
While still managing to avoid a downgrade in April, South Africa has found itself at a crossroads of uncertainty since Moody’s Investors Service’s bleak budget reaction that sparked junk status fears for the country.
The speculation about the credit downgrade has been amplified by the fact that South Africa is in the middle of an election year – a factor that has also been blamed for a decrease in foreign investors’ confidence in the South African market.
An analysis of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity pre-and-post downgrades in Brazil and Greece suggest that although foreign investment will not end, investors do adapt their investment portfolios to align to the parameters of their investment mandates.
Government bonds and treasury securities become largely un-investable instruments post a sovereign downgrade. However, statistics suggest that while capital outflows are a reality, some funds do remain behind in these countries, and new funds do flow in. These investments will naturally seek viable and alternative high-return investment opportunities – options often presented by M&A. One theory that emerges from this analysis is that mature economies have more stable but lower growth rates. While developed economies also represent a seemingly lower risk, they do not offer sufficiently high returns.
In order to achieve the required overall return on investment in a risk-on environment following a credit downgrade, fund managers will inevitably still require some form of investment in emerging markets.
In order to understand the impact a credit downgrade has on M&A activity in a country, we compared M&A activity as reported by Zephyr, a Bureau van Dyk company that offers a database of deal information.
We compared M&A activity before and after a credit downgrade in Brazil, which has a similar economy to South Africa due to slow growth and political instability in both countries, as well as in Greece. The raw data suggests that a catastrophic capital flight is unlikely because the sums invested may be lower and the investment profiles between the countries are different. But opportunity abounds and returns remain strong as there exists a direct correlation between risk and reward.
According to Trading Economics, Moody’s was the first to downgrade Brazil in September of 2014 for political and economic reasons. Fitch Ratings followed suit with a downgrade in April 2015. In July 2015, S&P downgraded the country too.
The Bureau van Dyk / Zephyr data looked only at transactions where the targets were Brazilian companies and considered deals that were both completed and announced each year. The transactions analysed include mergers, acquisitions, institutional buy-outs as well as venture capital and private equity.
It is evident from the data that the volume of transactions was relatively flat after the first downgrade by Moody’s in 2014. The volume of transactions decreased by approximately one-third after the remaining agencies downgraded the country in 2015.
While the total value of transactions reported also decreased, it is evident that the average transaction value in 2017 was similar to 2015. For example, the average value per transaction in 2015 was R973 million and R929 million in 2017. On a cursory view, transaction values held up well after the Moody’s downgrade.
Analysing the data for Greece, which was downgraded in 2010, the following graph illustrates the effect on both volume and values reported by Bureau van Dyk over a similar period to Brazil.
The data illustrates a clear downward trend in M&A deal values over the period of the financial crisis in 2008, 2009 and well into 2010. While there was an initial slump in volumes and a slight decrease in value immediately after the downgrade in 2010, it is only 2017 that has subsequently underperformed the deal values as they were similar to levels seen in 2010. Again, the average deal size in the period following a downgrade is shown to have increased.
The data analysed makes no currency or inflation-related adjustments. And the data, being Euro-denominated, indicates that the M&A sector remained resilient even after credit downgrade events.
Although Moody’s did not downgrade South Africa to junk, the data from Greece and Brazil does indicate that deal flow will not evaporate should this happen. Volumes may initially drop but average deal values can be expected to increase.
While we continue to work to avoid it and acknowledge the punitive impact thereof, the statistical reality is that a downgrade is not likely to be as detrimental for the M&A sector as otherwise perceived.
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If you are a seller or buyer that doesn’t have a lot of experience in the world of M&A, it can be frustrating and confusing trying to understand the terminology that is used. As much as we try not to confuse our clients, it is many times more efficient to use the specialized terms of the profession. To help, we have put together a list of common M&A terminology that we hope will assist you and make the process smoother if you are buying or selling a business.
Acquisition: One company takes over the controlling interest or controlling ownership in another company.
Add-On Acquisition: A strategic acquisition fit for an existing platform/portfolio company.
Asset Deal: The acquirer purchases only the assets (not its shares) of the target company.
Confidential Information Memorandum: Sometimes called “the book,” pitchbook or a deck, the Confidential Information Memorandum is a description of the business including products, history, management, facilities, markets, financial statements and growth potential. This is used to market the business to potential buyers.
Data Room: Secure online website that contains information including contracts, documents, and financial statements of the business being sold. These online data rooms can track who views the information.
Deal Structure: May include seller debt, earn outs, stock, or other valuables besides cash.
Due Diligence: Part of the acquisition process when the acquirer reviews all areas of the target business to satisfy their interests. This includes viewing the internal books, operations, and internal procedures.
Earn-Out: A type of deal structure where the seller can earn future payments based on certain achievements or the performance of the business being sold after the closing. These are often based on revenue targets or earnings.
EBITDA: Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
Goodwill: An intangible asset that comes as a result of name, customer loyalty, location, products, reputation, and other factors.
Indication of Interest (IOI): A letter from the buyer to the seller that indicates the general value and terms a buyer is willing to pay for a company. The letter is non-binding to both parties.
Letter of Intent (LOI): A document that lays out the key terms of the deal. LOI’s are typically non-binding for both parties except for certain provisions such as confidentiality and exclusivity.
Multiple: Common measure of value to compare pricing trends on deals.
NDA: A confidentiality agreement that prohibits the buyer from sharing the confidential information of the seller. This is usually signed before the seller provides detailed, sensitive information to a buyer.
Purchase Agreement: The contract that contains all the specifics of the transaction and the obligations and rights of the seller and buyer.
Representations and Warranties (reps & warranties): Past or present statements of fact to inform the buyer or seller about the status and condition of their business and its assets, employees, and operations.
Search Fund: This is an individual or a group that is seeking to identify a business that the individual or group can acquire and manage. Usually, search funds do not have dedicated capital but instead, have informal pledges from potential investors.
Teaser: An anonymous document shared with potential buyers for a specific business that is for sale.
Working Capital: A financial term used as a measurement of a business’s ability to meet its financial obligations over the coming business cycle (which is 12 months for most businesses). It is not defined under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). However, it is commonly calculated using this formula: Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities.
If you are thinking about buying or selling a business, Benchmark International has a team of specialists that can help answer your questions. A simple phone call or email to us can start the process today.
The inverted yield curve is a situation that occurs when the interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than the interest rates paid by long-term bonds. It basically means that there is enough concern about the near-future markets that people move their money into less risky long-term investments. Any time this scenario arises, investors get nervous because it typically warns of a recession.
Short-term vs. Long-term Bonds
In thriving economies, bondholders demand a higher yield (profit) for longer-term bonds versus short-term bonds.
- Short-term bonds mature in less than five years and carry a lower interest rate risk. These funds do not yield large returns. They give investors a safe way to earn higher yields than they would with extremely low-risk investments and do not require money to be tied up for a long period of time.
- With long-term bonds, there is a much longer maturity period and people are required to invest their money for greater lengths of time. While these types of bonds yield higher returns, there is also an increased risk that higher inflation could reduce the value of payments, and that higher interest rates could cause the bond's price to drop. A longer-term bond also carries a higher risk of default.Basically, the longer it takes to be repaid, the greater the risk that inflation will swallow your investment.
- Most investors choose to have a mix of both short- and long-term bonds.
Government debt securities are known as Treasury bonds or T-bonds. These types of bonds are considered to be virtually risk-free. They earn fixed interest until they mature (a period of 10-30 years). Once they mature, the owner is also paid the face value of the bond. Treasury bonds make interest payments semiannually and the income earned is only taxed federally.
The Inverted Yield Curve
Treasury bonds help to form the yield curve, which includes the full range of investments offered by the United States government and diagrams yields by maturity. It usually curves upward, with longer-term bonds having a higher yield. The yield curve becomes inverted when long-term bonds are in high demand and the rates are shown to be lower than those of shorter-term bonds.Essentially, in this scenario, investors expect that they will make more money by holding onto a longer-term bond than a short-term one.
The yield curve inversion can also point toward expectations by investors that the Federal Reserve will cut short-term interest rates in an effort to boost the economy.
A Predictor of Recessions
Although it can happen months or years before a recession begins (usually an average of 18-22 months), the inversion of the yield curve has been a consistent predictor of every recession since the 1960s. For that reason, any time it happens, there is heightened anxiety and anticipation of slowed economic growth.
The last time the yield curve inverted was in 2007, prior to the financial crisis and recession of 2008, which was the worst recession since the Great Depression. The yield curve also inverted prior to the recessions of 2001, 1991, and 1981.
In this latest case, the yield curve first inverted in December of 2018, and inverted even further in March of 2019. Then, the 10-year yield hit a three-year low of 1.65% on August 12, 2019.On August 15, the yield on the 30-year bond closed below 2% for the very first time in history. Fears of the ongoing economic effects of the trade war between the United States and China are fueling the market concerns around the world.
The science of forecasting financial futures is never a 100% certainty, and while the inverted yield curve has proven to be a reliable indicator of things to come, it does not necessarily guarantee that a recession will happen. As of August 2019, the Federal Reserve has said that there is only around a 35% chance of a recession.
What It Means for M&A
An inverted yield curve can have implications for mergers and acquisitions, especially if you are aiming to grow your company.
For example, let’s say that part of your growth strategy requires funding for building expansion or new equipment. Under an inverted yield curve, short-term interest rates become higher than long-term interest rates. Some businesses may find this to be good news because they can lock in a good rate for the long term.
It may be impossible to predict financial futures, but enlisting the help of experience M&A advisors can help you formulate growth and risk management strategies for your company that make the most of available capital for expansion and lower your risk in all yield-curve situations.
Are you ready to make a move? Call our M&A experts at Benchmark International to start the conversation about your growth strategies and future opportunities.READ MORE >>
You’ve decided to sell your business. Congratulations! Whether you are retiring, looking to embark on a new business adventure, or wanting to hand off the reins and take a different role in the company, the process of selling a business can be a trying one without the correct preparation and support. Fortunately for you, you can learn from other entrepreneurs who have been in your shoes and have shared the five things that they wish they had known before selling their business.
1) Neglecting to perform pre-transaction wealth planning can result in you potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. Before you sell, consider your family members’ wishes and concerns. Communicating with family members before the sale can help ensure smooth sailing through the deal negotiations. Effective tax-planning to support family members’ needs, philanthropic plans, or creating family trusts can help increase the value gained from the transaction.
2) Don’t underestimate the importance of a good cultural fit with a buyer. While the price is always at the forefront of a sellers’ mind, cultural fit can mistakenly be pushed to the back burner. One of the many things that you have worked hard to create in your business is the employee culture. Most likely, you want to see the close-knit “family” that you have built continue when you are no longer working there. Benchmark International understands that and will help you find that partner. We remain committed along with you to your goal of finding a buyer who will carry on your legacy.
3) Skimping on your marketing materials does not pay off in the long run. With confidentiality being of the utmost importance, how can you engage buyers without them knowing who you are? Preparing a high-quality, 1-2 page teaser that provides an anonymous profile of your business is the tool used to locate a buyer confidentially. This is followed by the Information Memorandum, with an NDA that is put in place for your protection. Benchmark International will prepare these high-quality documents and put your mind at ease.
4) Sellers wish they had known how detail-oriented the process would be, how many documents would be needed, and how labor-intensive each phase would be. One of the most crucial pieces of advice that the majority of sellers wish they had known is that you need to have a team. Sellers need to continue running their business as they were before, or operations can really start to slow. The last thing you want is for the value of your company to take a nosedive because you are investing all of your time into a transaction. With the team at Benchmark International as your partner dedicated to the M&A process, you will be free to continue to focus on the growth and operations of your business. We will handle the details for you.
5) Finding a like-minded partner can give a seller a false sense of security that the transition from two companies to one will be easy. You need a trusted advisor that will help you navigate the complexities of integration, giving you insight on some of the other intangibles that need to be negotiated. Those intangibles include the details of your role after the sale, employment contracts, earnouts, etc. With Benchmark International’s vast knowledge and experience in M&A deals, we know what is usual and customary to request throughout the negotiation process and will bring more value to your transaction.
Congratulations again, this is an exciting time for you! With the right partner, it can be a smooth and profitable process as well. Benchmark International has 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 and move you one step closer to accomplishing your goals.
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What is private equity?
Private equity (PE) is medium to long-term finance provided in return for an equity stake in a company. The objective of the PE company is to enhance the value of a company in order to achieve a successful exit (i.e. sale).
Where do PE firms get their money?
PE firms generally invest funds they manage on behalf of groups of individuals, pension funds, and other major organisations.
What types of companies do PE firms invest in?
PE firms look for companies that can offer a lucrative exit within three to seven years. Therefore, the company has to be large enough to support investments from the PE firm and have the potential to offer large profits in a relatively short timeframe. This means that PE firms buy companies with strong growth potential, or companies that are currently undervalued because they’re in financial difficulties.
How are PE fund managers compensated?
PE fund managers receive their income via two channels – management fees and carried interest.
A management fee is paid by the limited partners (the people who provided money to invest) to the PE firm to pay for their involvement. The fee is calculated as a percentage of the assets to pay for ongoing expenses such as salaries.
Carried interest is a percentage of profits that the fund gains on the investment. This compensation helps to motivate the PE fund managers to improve the company’s performance.
What is a platform company?
A platform company is the initial acquisition made by a PE firm in a specific industry. Typically, a platform company has a strong management team to drive the company forward and a proven track record in a specific industry. This company is the foundation for subsequent companies acquired in the industry.
What is a bolt-on company?
A bolt-on company is in a trade which the PE firm has already invested and is added on to one of its platform companies. The fund will look for bolt-ons that provide competitive services, new technology or geographic footprint diversification, as well as companies that can be quickly integrated into the existing management structure. Typically, a bolt-on company is smaller than a platform company and has minimal infrastructure in terms of finance and administration.READ MORE >>
That’s an easy answer. YES! You absolutely should hire an M&A advisor to sell your business. Here’s why.
It’s Not Easy
The process of selling a company is guaranteed to be complicated. While an accomplished attorney or accountant can help, you are going to need a true expert intermediary to handle the entire venture if you are serious about selling and getting the best possible deal.
Consider the seemingly endless amount of work that needs to be done.
• Data and documentation must be produced and organized, stretching back several years to a decade. This is going to include financials, vendors, contracts, and so much more. Do not underestimate how overwhelming the paperwork will be.
• Potential buyers will need to be identified and vetted. A good M&A advisor has access to connections and a knowledge base that you would otherwise never have, opening up an entirely new realm of potential buyers. This process will include a fair share of phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings, all of which add up to be very time-consuming.
• You are going to need an experienced negotiator that knows how to maximize your business value and lay the groundwork for getting you what you want. This means knowing how to push a deal forward while providing you with peace of mind that things are on the right track. This also means creating a competitive bidding landscape.
Get Peace of Mind
Selling your business is not a process that should be taken lightly. Countless decisions will need to be made. Consider the reality of what is going to be required and embrace the fact that you cannot shoulder the burden and run your company. Make sure you can sleep at night. Find an M&A advisor that will find you the right buyer, deal with the minutiae, and get the job done—all while sharing your vision for the company, as well as your exit strategy.
They Can Get You More Money
It is also important to note that an M&A advisor is more likely to get you more money. Research shows that private sellers receive significantly higher acquisition premiums when they retain advisors, in the range of six to 25%. Additional research shows that 84% of mid-market business owners who hired an M&A advisor reported that the final sale price for their business was equal to or higher than the initial sale price estimate provided. After all, they know how to value a company properly.
Another benefit of having an M&A advisor is that it shows buyers that you are a serious seller. As a result, hiring an M&A advisor can help drive up your company valuation and get you more favorable terms.
Enlisting the guidance of the wrong advisor can be disastrous. The last thing you want is to end up in negotiations with someone who does not have your wants and needs in mind at all times. Even worse, they can slow down the process and cost you a fortune. When making this decision, know what to look for:
• You want an advisor that understands you, your company, and what you expect to achieve from the sale.
• Consider their experience in your sector, as well as their geographic connections, and how that can work for your business. Global connections are especially helpful. And do they usually work with businesses that are around the same size as yours?
• They will adequately prepare you and manage your expectations.
• They will work diligently to find the RIGHT buyer, not just the easiest or the richest.
• They should be honest, and you should trust them because they have demonstrated that they are worthy of it.
• Their track record will speak for itself. A quality business acquisition advisor is going to have a proven reputation, client testimonials, credentials, and accolades.
• Also, ask if they use any proprietary technologies or databases and how it helps them gain insight into specific industries.
Take your time in evaluating potential advisors. A good firm will patiently accommodate your process. You are going to be working closely with them through a grueling journey, so you will want to feel comfortable with their team and confident that they will work around the clock to get you the most favorable results possible.
If you’ve decided to embark on an MBO, you might have asked yourself, how is this funded? Generally, members of the buyout team are required to invest a sum of personal money into Newco but it would be unusual for them to fund the whole transaction. The equity provided by the management is necessary to demonstrate their commitment to the transaction, therefore it needs to be meaningful, yet it does not have to be too vast – typically representing 6-12 months salary. So, how is the remainder of the MBO funded?
A common option to fund an MBO, seller financing is where the management team asks the seller to help fund the MBO. This is also known as deferred consideration, as the seller is deferring a proportion of their payment of the purchase price until after completion. While the seller would more than likely prefer the consideration paid in full on completion, often lenders may request that a portion of the sale is financed by the seller, as it demonstrates that the seller has confidence in the management team and the company going forward.READ MORE >>
What Is Buy and Build?
When private equity acquires a well-positioned platform company to acquire additional smaller companies, using the developed expertise in a specialized area to grow and increase returns, it is considered a buy-and-build strategy. This strategy is common with private equity firms with shorter holding periods of about three to five years.
Why It Is An Effective Growth Strategy
If a buy-and-build strategy is executed correctly, a great deal of value can be created when smaller companies are combined under the control of a new company.
- This type of acquisition saves time regarding the development of specialized skills or knowledge, allowing for growth and expansion to other markets more quickly and successfully with lower production costs.
- Creating a larger, more attractive company offers a path to exploit the market’s inclination to assign larger companies higher valuations than smaller ones.
- It provides a clear plan when deal multiples are at record levels and there is a need for less traditional strategies.
- Buy-and-build deals generate an average internal rate of return of 31.6% from entry to exit, versus 23.1% for standalone deals.
Getting It Right
The buy-and-build acquisition is not simple to execute. The process demands meticulous planning and due diligence for the strategy to work. The best deals usually employ multiple paths to create value.
- Synergy between the acquirer and the acquired is important to the outcome of the deal. Companies should target existing firms that will be a good fit as a team both tactically and culturally. The human element should always be considered.
- The management team must be an appropriate fit and have experience with these types of transitions.
- There should be a vision in place for where the company will be five years down the road.
- The platform company must be stable enough to endure the process regarding operations, cash flow, and infrastructure (IT integration in particular).
- Sector dynamics should also be considered. Avoid sectors that are dominated by low-cost rivals or mature, stable players. Focus on sectors with many active smaller suppliers and service providers. Consolidation should result in cost savings and improved service.
- While no two deals are the same, there are patterns for getting it right. Those experienced with buy-and-build strategies are more likely to lead to a successful deal.
- It can be difficult to identify private equity firms because of the nature of the way they do business. It helps to have an experienced M&A firm with extensive connections and a proven track record of negotiating successfully with buy-and-build-focused private equity firms.
These reasons are among several as to why it is a sensible decision to enlist the help of an experienced M&A firm such as Benchmark International for your vision for growth. Count on us to help you get your buy-and-build strategy done right.READ MORE >>
1. Globalization Isn't Declining—It's Transforming
Mr. Bhattacharya is a Boston Consulting Group Fellow, Senior Partner in their New Delhi office, and worldwide co-leader of the BCG Henderson Institute in Asia. Hear his interesting argument as to why globalization is not going extinct but instead is evolving due to cross-border data flow.
2. How to Build a Company Where the Best Ideas Win
Mr. Dalio is the founder, chair, and chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Learn how his strategies helped him create such a successful hedge fund and how you can use data-driven group decision making to your advantage.
3. Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals
In this talk, engineer and venture capitalist Mr. John Doerr discusses the established goal-setting system "Objectives and Key Results," or "OKR," which is currently being used by companies such as Google and Intel.
4. The Global Business Next Door
Mr. Szwast is the marketing director for UPS, and he has spent 25 years supporting the international transportation industry. In this talk, he explains how the image of global business is misunderstood and why businesses should stop hesitating to consider crossing borders.
5. How to Break Bad Management Habits Before They Reach the Next Generation of Leaders
Tune in as esteemed leadership development expert Elizabeth Lyle offers a new approach to cultivating middle management in fresh, creative ways.
6. Business Model Innovation: Beating Yourself at Your Own Game
Mr. Gross-Selbeck is Partner at BCG Digital Ventures, and he has 20 years of experience as an operator and a consultant in the digital industry. In this talk, he discusses the unique aspects of today's most successful start-ups. Also, he shares strategies for duplicating their philosophies of disruption and innovation that can be applied for any business.
7. How the Blockchain is Changing Money and Business
Mr. Tapscott is the executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute. In this talk, he explains Blockchain technology and why it is crucial that we understand its potential to redefine business and society completely.
8. What it Takes to Be a Great Leader
In this talk, leadership expert Rosalinde Torres describes simple strategies to becoming a great leader, based on her 25 years of experience closely studying the behavior and habits of proven leaders.
9. How Conscious Investors Can Turn Up the Heat and Make Companies Change
Mr. Shandal is a partner in the Boston Consulting Group's Toronto office, leading their principal investors and private equity practice. Hear his chronicles of top activist investors and how you can persuade companies to drive positive change.READ MORE >>
When selling your business, receiving offers is a big hurdle to overcome so, when this happens, it might seem like plain sailing from here. Unfortunately, there is still quite a way to go with the transaction, the first being to analyse the offers on the table, to make sure they suit your exit or growth strategy.
This might not seem difficult, but there are many ways to structure a transaction. Therefore, depending on what you want to get out of the sale of your business, this will influence the type of deal you take. For example, are you planning to retire and need to live off the proceeds of the sale? Or do you want to remain involved in the business?
Consider the below list of ways to structure a deal to find out which is right for you:READ MORE >>
There is a vast range of different types of acquirers a seller can go to when selling their business. From trade to private equity, national to international buyers, there can be a large pool of potential acquirers to approach.
One of the many options available is selling to the current management team – otherwise known as a management buyout (MBO). This is a transaction where a company’s management team purchases a majority or all of the shares from the existing shareholder(s) to take control of the company. This requires the management team to pool resources to fund the acquisition, but there are various funding options available such as private equity financiers and seller financing.
There are different reasons as to why a company might opt for an MBO rather than look to sell to an outside company – for example, it might particularly appeal to a shareholder who is looking to retire. If the company is run by its management team and the shareholder(s) are no longer involved in the day-to-day then an MBO can allow the shareholder(s) to fully retire.
While an MBO may appeal more to a shareholder looking to retire, it can be an attractive succession plan for any company. One of the reasons being is that there is no need to disclose confidential information to outside parties such as competitors. Another reason is it ensures a smooth transition as the management team has the skills and experience to take the company forward and continuity is ensured for customers, suppliers and employees.
Nevertheless, there can be pitfalls to an MBO which must be treated with caution. If both the management team and the shareholder(s) are spending a lot of time working on the MBO, then this could be detrimental to business performance and, as MBOs require a lot of specialist knowledge in structuring and financing the deal, a lot of attention is required.
However, these pitfalls can be avoided – a good corporate finance team can assist in executing a successful MBO, without compromising business performance.READ MORE >>
If you’ve received an offer for your business, you have three options – the first being take the offer and sell your business. This is possibly something you have been considering, or it seems too good an offer to refuse; however, you should be cautious in such an event and, if you do want to pursue the offer, make sure you do the following:
Keep the Business Sale Confidential
Confidentiality is very important when it comes to the sale of your business. If it gets out that you are selling your business then this could potentially lose you staff, customers, and suppliers as they could get nervous about an impending sale and the changes that could be in store for them. Therefore, do not discuss anything until a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) has been signed, including whether you are prepared to sell the business.
Make Sure you Stay Focused on Your Business
One of the dangers of the sales process is that it is very time-consuming at the point where you really need to focus on maintaining a good business performance – if business performance dips, then this can give a buyer an excuse to lower their offer.
In fact, this is not the only situation where a buyer might decide to lower their initial offer. The buyer is under no obligation to actually pay this price for your company until you both sign the Sales and Purchase Agreement (SPA) and there are several reasons a buyer might try and chip away at the offer to try and get your business for a bargain price.
For example, when you have accepted the offer and signed the subsequent Letter of Intent (LOI), the buyer can commence the due diligence process, providing them with access to confidential information such as financial documents and contracts for a specified period of time, typically 30-60 days. There are two related problems with this. Number one is the fact that the due diligence process is time-consuming and a resource drain, which could lead you to take your eye off the business. Number two is the buyer can now look at re-negotiating now they have had a thorough look at the ins and outs of your business.
Therefore, after this huge resource drain, you now have an offer on the table that does not meet your expectations as the buyer has chipped away at the price. Either you still take this less than favourable offer, or you turn away from the deal. While it is your prerogative to do so, you have lost time and valuable resources, you have given information about your company to another party, and you have not had your full focus on the business.
So – what are the alternatives to accepting an unsolicited offer?READ MORE >>
1. Most M&As Fail
According to collated research and a recent Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for M&A is between 70 and 90 percent. To effectively complete a deal, there must be a clear strategy and open communication among all parties.
2. Expect Due Diligence
Experienced buyers conduct meticulous due diligence. They want to know exactly what they are taking on, and that includes factors such as obligations, liabilities, contracts, litigation risk, and intellectual property. As a result, sellers should be prepared to provide very thorough documentation.
3. Priorities Change
Your company may be a good strategic fit today, and in a year from now. But people are fickle, and priorities can change, so a good offer today could be a non-existent offer later.
4. Employees Will Have Questions
In any sale of a business, employees are going to have questions about how the transaction will affect them. Also, the buyer will want to know how specific issues are handled. Will there be layoffs? Have confidentiality agreements been signed? What about any stock options? How will management be changed? These are just a few questions that should be anticipated.
5. Don’t Overlook Technology
These days, virtually every industry is impacted by technology. In the M&A process, it is important to think about how IT platforms will be consolidated or integrated, how technological changes can affect inventory, and how cloud management will be used, among many other factors.
READ MORE >>
6. M&As Are Often Funded by Debt
Low interest rates on loans encourage M&A. In 2015, acquisition-related loans worldwide totaled more than $770 billion, the most since 2008.
7. Competition Will Result in the Best Deal
The more bidders there are on a sale, the more favorable the conditions are for the seller to negotiate a higher price and better terms. Even if there is only one serious bidder among several, the perceived level of interest can lead to brokering a better deal.
8. Synergy is a Must-Have
For an M&A deal to succeed, vision and strategy need to be synergized at the executive level and communicated to all management. M&As can fail due to a misalignment of vision for the culture, the industry, each company’s role, and more. The cultural fit of two companies can be crucial to how successfully they meld.
9. It Can Take Awhile
From beginning to end, most mergers and acquisitions can take a long time to be completed, usually in a period of around 4 to 12 months. The length of time depends on how much interest the seller has generated and how quickly a buyer conducts due diligence.
10. You Need an M&A Advisor
An experienced M&A advisory team can help ensure that the complex process of selling or buying a company goes smoothly, addressing all of the issues mentioned above on this list.
Are you considering buying or selling a privately held business? Below are a few stats that you might find surprising:READ MORE >>
Timing is everything, and 2019 is the prime time to sell a business for maximum value. The conditions are extremely favorable right now for several reasons, and waiting could mean that you miss out an ideal opportunity.READ MORE >>
When the time has come for you to sell your business, there are plenty of reasons why you do not want to embark on this journey alone. Enlisting the help of a trusted M&A advisor can make a world of difference in the process and, most importantly, the results.
A Better Process.
Selling a business takes time. It can take up to one year to complete a sale. Think about what you need to be doing during that time. You still have a company to run, and this is the most critical time for your company to be running smoothly and performing well. Selling a company requires a great deal of time and attention. For an owner, this time and attention needs to be focused on the day-to-day running of your business. You do not want be so preoccupied with the sale of your company that you end up neglecting the business that ultimately should be generating maximum results during this time. If your company falls short of expectations, it could result in a botched deal. Basically, you need to be operating your business as though you are not going to sell.
When you form a partnership with an experienced M&A advisor such as Benchmark International, you will have an expert dedicating their time to the sale of your business, so you can remain a strong leader for your company. You will still be heavily involved in the process, never missing an update on opportunities and negotiations. The difference is that you will not be bogged down by certain details, time critical deadlines on the deal won’t pull you away from key business situations, and your advisor will be there to resolve any issues that arise along the way.
Essentially, an M&A advisor is going to do all the heavy lifting for you. They will prepare the necessary marketing materials, find quality prospective buyers, market your business, negotiate terms, manage the due diligence process, arrange the closing, and even help you plan the transition and your exit strategy. Your time is precious and so is your business. Give them both the attentiveness they deserve.
Experienced buyers know what to look for in a company. They know how to get the most value from a merger or acquisition. Meanwhile, it is likely that you have never sold a business before, giving the buyer a major advantage in negotiating a sale. You need someone in your corner whose wholehearted motivation is to exceed your goals and get you the most value for your company. This includes the exploration of the full spectrum of your options, and even knowing when to walk away from a deal.
In a recent study titled The Value of Middle Market Investment Bankers:
- 100 percent of owners who sold their businesses with the help of an M&A advisor or investment bank said that the advisor added value to the transaction.
- For 84% of business owners, their final sale price was equal to or higher than the initial sale price estimate provided by their advisor.
- Business owners viewed “managing the M&A process” as the most valuable service provided by their advisor.
Selling your company is a very complex process. Some business owners think they can simply broker a sale through their accountant or their attorney, but these professionals do not have access to the databases, connections, and methodologies that you will gain with an M&A advisor. Another important quality that an M&A advisor brings to the table is a solid understanding of the market and precisely WHEN to sell to get the most value.
These are some characteristics that you should look for in an advisor:
- They understand your industry, your business, and its value.
- They have both global connections and local expertise that allow them to identify prospective buyers that are serious and high quality.
- They know the fair market value and will work to get you maximum value.
- They have a disciplined process and a proven track record.
- They have opportunities that are confidential and exclusive.
- They structure their compensation to align their interests to yours.
- They listen to your aspirations and concerns as a true partner.
Are You Ready to Sell?
If you feel that you are ready to sell your company, you will want to partner with an M&A firm such as Benchmark International sooner rather than later. Getting ahead of the game means that your business will be properly prepared for maximized value. However, no matter what stage you are at in the process, it is never too late to ask for our expertise.
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If your business is in or serves one or more of the 8,762 neighborhoods identified by your state’s governor as a “Qualified Opportunity Zone” under the 2017 federal tax legislation, new buyers will be entering the market for your company in the coming months and they will be looking to make some quick deals.
When the tax cut law passed, investors in these zones were granted numerous attractive tax benefits including:
- Deferment until 2026 of tax on capital gains from the sale of projects outside the zones if those profits were now invested in any zone
- A 15% reduction certain capital gains taxes
- No capital gains taxes on any investment held for at least 10 years
But acquirers of businesses never took advantage of the new opportunity. Reports came back to the Administration that the statute called for the Treasury Department to implement regulations laying out the details as to which investments would qualify and absent those regulations there was too much concern that the “investments” would only cover real estate acquisitions and improvements.
Seeing that the real estate industry had wholeheartedly undertaken the desired action - investing in the zones – and wanting other investors such as acquirers of businesses to do the same, the President publicly released draft regulations last Wednesday.
The M&A investment community is quite pleased with the breadth and clarity of the regulations and appear to be jumping into action to exploit the new guidelines. And their action will likely be immediate. The incentives are set to cover only those investments made by the end of 2019.
To view all Qualified Opportunity Zones to see if your business may qualify, visit the IRS’s map here. https://www.cims.cdfifund.gov/preparation/?config=config_nmtc.xmland follow these instructions. https://www.cdfifund.gov/Pages/Opportunity-Zones.aspxAs this map of Tennessee demonstrates, you might be surprised which areas are covered. The official method of designation is by “census track” and you can also search this website by your track – if you know it.
The regulations remain complex as there are a number of independent ways for an operating business to qualify based on where income is generated, where labor is provided, where services are provided, where working capital is invested, and where tangible property is maintained – among others. But business acquirers are getting ahold of the new details, have the firepower to get command of them, and will very quickly be refocusing their searches in light of these significant benefits.
There is still time to get your business on the market to take advantage of this increased interest and the potential boost to your sale price that it should also carry with it. Eight months from engagement to closing is not difficult with a properly motivated seller and buyer – and nothing motivates people like tax breaks!
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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.
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.READ MORE >>
The Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) process is exhausting. For most sellers, it’s a one-time experience like no other and a marathon business event. When done well, the process begins far in advance of the daunting “due diligence” phase and ends well beyond deal completion. This Seller’s guide summarizes key, and often overlooked, steps in a successful M&A process.
Phase I: Preparation – Tidy Up and Create Your Dream Team.
Of course, our own kids are the best and brightest, and bring us great pride and joy. Business owners tend to be just as proud of the company they’ve built, the success of their creation, and the uniqueness of their offering. Sometimes this can cloud an objective view of opportunities for improvement that will drive incremental value in a M&A transaction.
For starters, sellers must ensure that company financial statements are in order. Few things scare off buyers or devalue a business more than sloppy financials. A buyer’s Quality of Earnings review during due diligence is the wrong time to identify common issues such as inconsistent application of the matching principle, classifying costs as capital vs. expense, improper accrual accounting, or unsubstantiated entries. In addition, the ability to quickly produce detailed reports – income statement; balance sheet; supplier, customer, product, and service line details; aging reports; certificates and licenses; and cost details – will not only drive up buyer confidence and valuations, but also streamline the overall process.
Key in accomplishing the items above as well as a successful transaction is having the right team in place. Customarily, this doesn’t involve a seller’s internal team as much as his or her outside trusted advisors and subject matter experts. These include a great CFO or accountant, a sell-side M&A broker, a M&A attorney, and a tax and wealth manager. There are countless stories of disappointed sellers who regretted consummating a less-than-favorable transaction after “doing it on their own.” The fees paid to these outside subject matter experts is generally a small part of the overall transaction value and pays for itself in transaction efficiency and improved deal economics.
Phase II: On Market – Sell It!
At this stage, sellers that have enlisted the help of a good M&A broker have few concerns. The best M&A advisors are very hands on and will manage a robust process that includes the creation of world class marketing materials, outreach breadth and depth, access to effective buyers, client preparation, and ongoing education and updates. The seller’s focus is, well, selling! With their advisor’s guidance, a ready seller has prepared in advance for calls and site visits. This includes thinking through the tough questions from buyers, rehearsing their pitch, articulating simple and clear messages regarding the company’s unique value propositions, tailoring growth ideas to suit different types of buyers, and readying the property to be “shown.”
Most importantly, sellers need to ensure their business delivers excellent financial performance during this time, another certain make-or-break criterion for a strong valuation and deal completion. In fact, many purchase price values are tied directly to the company’s trailing 12-month (TTM) performance at or near the time of close. For a seller, it can feel like having two full time jobs, simultaneously managing record company results and the M&A process, which is precisely why sellers should have a quality M&A broker by their side. During the sale process, which usually takes at least several months, valuations are directly impacted, up or down, based on the company’s TTM performance. And, given that valuations are typically based on a multiple of earnings, each dollar change in company earnings can have a 5 or 10 dollar change in valuation. At a minimum, sellers should run their business in the “normal course”, as if they weren’t contemplating a sale. The best outcomes are achieved when company performance is strong and sellers sprint through the finish line.
Phase III: Due Diligence – Time Kills Deals!
Once an offer is received, successfully negotiated with the help of an advisor, and accepted, due diligence begins. While the bulk of the cost for this phase is borne by the buyer, the effort is equally shared by both sides. It’s best to think of this phase as a series of sprints and remember the all-important M&A adage, “time kills deals!” Time kills deals because it introduces risk: business performance risk, buyer financing, budget, or portfolio risk, market risk, customer demand and supplier performance risks, litigation risk, employee retention risk, and so on. Once an offer is received and both sides wish to consummate a transaction, it especially behooves the seller to speed through this process as quickly as possible and avoid becoming a statistic in failed M&A deals.
The first sprint involves populating a virtual data room with the requested data, reports, and files that a buyer needs in order to conduct due diligence. The data request can seem daunting and may include over 100 items. Preparation in the first phase will come in handy here, as will assistance from the seller’s support team. The M&A broker is especially key in supporting, managing, and prioritizing items for the data room – based on the buyer’s due diligence sequence – and keeping all parties aligned and on track.
The second sprint requires excellent responsiveness by the seller. As the buyer reviews data and conducts analysis, questions will arise. Immediately addressing these questions keeps the process on track and avoids raising concerns. This phase likely also includes site visits by the buyer and third parties for on-site financial and environmental reviews, and property appraisals. They should be scheduled and completed without delay.
The third and final due diligence sprint involves negotiating the final purchase contract and supporting schedules, exhibits, and agreements; also known as “turning documents.” The seller’s M&A attorney is key in this phase. This is not the time for a generalist attorney or one that specializes in litigation, patent law, family law, or corporate law, or happens to be a friend of the family. Skilled M&A attorneys, like medical specialists, specialize in successfully completing M&A transactions on behalf of their clients. Their familiarity with M&A contracts and supporting documents, market norms, and skill in selecting and negotiating the right deal points, is the best insurance for a seller seeking a clean transaction with lasting success.
Phase IV: Post Sale – You’ve Got One Shot.
Whether a seller’s passion post-sale is continuing to grow the business, retire, travel, support charity, or a combination of these, once again, preparation is key. Unfortunately, many sellers don’t think about wealth management soon enough. A wealth advisor can and should provide input throughout the M&A process. Up front, they can assist in determining valuations needed to achieve the seller’s long-term goals. When negotiating offers and during due diligence, they encourage deal structures that optimize the seller’s cash flow and tax position. And post-close, sellers will greatly benefit from wealth management strategies, cash flow optimization, wealth transfer, investment strategies, and strategic philanthropy. Proper planning for post-sale success must start early and it takes time; and, it’s critical to have the right team of experienced professionals in place.
The M&A process is complex, it usually has huge implications for a seller and his or her company and family, and most sellers will only experience it once in a lifetime. Preparing in advance, building and leveraging the expertise of a dream team, and acting with a sense of urgency throughout the process will minimize risk, maximize the probability of a successful M&A transaction, and contribute to the seller’s success and satisfaction long after the
You have come to a point in your business life where you have decided that it is time to sell and move onto the next project. Of course, you want to command the best price for your business and explore all the opportunities available. As such, you have considered an M&A adviser to help in the process – but is it really worth it? They could help you generate more value for your business but if you factor in the fee for engaging their services, will you make any more money?
Then again, there are many advantages to hiring an M&A adviser, which are not just limited to value. If you have thought about hiring an M&A adviser, but are unsure of the benefits, consider the below:
They can Minimise Distractions During the Process
You know your business the best and if you are knowledgeable about the M&A process you could facilitate the transaction yourself – although this doesn’t mean you should. After all, an M&A transaction takes a significant amount of time and the time you have to spend on the transaction could end up being detrimental to business performance. As the value of a business is more often than not linked to financial performance, you need to focus your efforts into making sure the company is performing the best it can be, rather than focusing on the transaction itself.
They can Source a Larger Pool of Buyers
If you’re thinking of selling your business you may have an idea of the acquirers you want to approach. This is good, but an M&A adviser constantly networks with various strategic and financial buyers on a national and international basis in various industries; therefore, they have a very large pool of acquirers at their fingertips to contact about the opportunity. Not only is an M&A adviser’s pool of acquirers large, it is also varied, which means they can think outside the box and a lucrative deal could be sourced cross-sector. Another benefit of generating interest from a large pool of acquirers is you are more likely to have multiple competing bids, strengthening your negotiating stance.
They can Negotiate a Favourable Deal
As mentioned, an M&A adviser can help to create a competitive bidding environment which can lead to a better deal being negotiated; however, this is not the only way an M&A adviser negotiates on your behalf. Often, deals are not for 100% cash so an M&A adviser will negotiate a deal structure so both parties can reach a compromise and agreement. This can be very beneficial for you if, for example, you have just secured a large contract where earnings will increase over the next year, as, if the deal has been based on a multiple of current earnings, then you will not be correctly compensated for the contract you have secured. Therefore, an M&A adviser will negotiate a deal which will maximise value beyond the purchase price.
They can Protect your Interests
It is in your best interest to keep the sale of your company confidential – if it gets out that you are selling this could potentially alienate employees and customers and give your competition the upper hand. By yourself, when approaching potential acquirers, it is difficult to protect the identity of the company as it’s not easy to solicit interest without disclosing who you are. An M&A adviser, on the other hand, will have interested parties sign a non-disclosure agreement before they are given any information about the business, including the name of the business and the owner. At this stage, it is also important to gauge whether the company you are approaching has the finances to purchase your company – again, this is something which is difficult to do without compromising confidentiality.
They Add Valuable Resource
They say ‘first impressions are the most lasting’ so when it comes to selling your business, it is important that a potential acquirer’s first impression is first rate. An M&A adviser can assist with this through their proven processes that help businesses to market themselves as the complete package. As well, engaging an M&A adviser can add credibility to potential buyers as they can see that you are serious about conducting a transaction, which can save time and improve offers.
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Benchmark International's Dustin Graham, Managing Director of the Cape Town and Johannesburg offices in South Africa, was interviewed by Business Day TV. The "How to Value Your Business" discussion can be viewed here:
Business Day TV is broadcast on Channel 412 on DStv and is available to over 10-million viewers in 9 countries across Southern Africa. It is one of three TV stations owned by The African Business Channel.
ABC is owned by SA’s leading financial publisher BDFM, publisher of Business Day and Financial Mail. BDFM in turn is owned by the Times Media Group, one of SA’s largest media houses. One of Business Day TV’s strengths is its access to content from this extensive network.
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The sale of a privately-owned business is often the most significant financial event in the life of the owner. It marks the culmination of years of hard work and converts paper wealth into real wealth. It is a one-time opportunity with no do-overs. Every business owner surely desires the best economic outcome, yet, time and time again, business owners leave money on the table by not adequately preparing for the sale of their company. This article suggests five actions that private business owners can take to avoid leaving money on the table when selling their business.READ MORE >>
Due diligence, the start of the end whereby a business is scrutinised by a prospective buyer to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential before purchase. Unfortunately, it is very time intensive and can make or break an M&A deal.
Thankfully, due diligence has evolved and improved, largely due to advances in technology and digitisation, helping those undertaking due diligence avoid physical data rooms and huge volumes of paper documents, instead using sophisticated, intelligent virtual data rooms, complete with digital content libraries and access to automated analytic reporting.
This has led to greater speed, simplicity and security across the entire process, enabling practitioners to close deals faster.
However, it is still a frustrating process, so is it possible that due diligence could become more efficient than it has in the past? Could technology transform due diligence? And what other factors could impact the process in the next five years?READ MORE >>
Federalism has always posed challenges for middle market M&A. While compliance with federal laws and regulation does not typically lead to issues in acquirers’ due diligence on middle market companies, the companies do often have problems with those pesky out-of-state state-level issues. Experience indicates that this is true for a variety of reasons. First, many of these companies have only recently expanded into other states and, as is common in a growing business, operations often get ahead of back office tasks (such as compliance). Second, owners of middle market businesses are often selling precisely because they realize that their businesses have grown to the point that they require additional overhead expenses that the owners are not interested in dealing with. Third, every states’ rules are different and ever-changing and it is very hard to get a handle on six, or a dozen, or 49 different sets of rules and shape a business compliant with each set. Fourth, and nobody likes to admit this, states can be a bit lax on enforcing their rules, especially on out-of-state companies. Acquirers are well aware of these facts and, as a result, dig deep on state-level issues in their due diligence.
While very few business owners are attorneys, most have at least a vague sense that when they establish a “physical presence” in a state, they need to start worrying about that state’s laws. Most probably also realize that physical presence is a bit fuzzy and that each state interprets the term differently but the US Constitution places a limit on the breadth of that definition due to the Interstate Commerce Clause. So, this has always been a nebulous issue but at least there was a bit of a bright line test around when a company might have to start thinking about looking at the rules in a new state for things such as income tax, collection of sales tax, workers compensation and the like.
Ah, things were so much easier before 2018.
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Then, on October 1, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., et al. South Dakota was attempting to require the online retailer Wayfair to collect sales tax for online sales for which goods were shipped into the state’s boundaries. Wayfair had a very strong case that it had no physical presence in the state and therefore the state could not force it to do anything, especially not collect taxes for Pierre. The state argued that it had a very powerful statute that said even without physical presence it could force companies to collect sales tax on sales made into the state if the seller had an “economic presence” in the state. Wayfair responded that decades of Supreme Court rulings indicated that this statute violated the US Constitution as an unfair restraint on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court stepped in and changed its mind.
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Since that day, the bright line with regard to when to start worrying about a state has been erased – at least with regard to sales tax. And, in the four months following the opinion, states have begun to rub that big eraser across other areas of law as well. The next to disappear is likely state income tax, then perhaps use tax, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance. As of the writing of this article, of the 45 states that have a sales tax, all but eight have already passed the economic contacts test for sales tax. (That sure didn’t take long.) How many middle market companies (selling items subject to sales tax) have adapted their practices to this tsunami of a tax change? From what we’ve seen, just about zero. How many acquirers have adjusted their due diligence process? Let’s say the adoption rate there is at least as fast as those of the 45 states - and that is being generous to the states.
The results on M&A already include (i) longer due diligence, (ii) acquirers demanding larger escrows and holdbacks, and (iii) purchase price adjustments. The longer middle market companies go without getting up to speed on the new reality, the larger the potential penalties on the business once the acquirer gets hold of it and therefore the larger the issues will become in the deal process.
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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.
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.READ MORE >>
The merger and acquisition (M&A) process requires careful planning, professional support, and an understanding of the deal dynamics involved in the negotiations. Completing a transaction is not easy. Many sellers only do a transaction only once in a life time. Companies that have not been engaged in many M&A transactions frequently make mistakes that can result in a less favorable price or terms. They can even potentially destroy the deal.READ MORE >>