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The M&A Process From A Buyer’s Perspective

When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, it is common for a seller to struggle to see the transaction from a buyer’s point of view. This is quite understandable because a business owner spends years, and even decades, building their company into a successful venture. It makes it more difficult to see the transaction from a potential buyer’s perspective. Many M&A transactions fall through because the seller and buyer simply cannot get on the same page. As a seller, you can work with an experienced M&A advisor to help you manage your expectations for the value of your company so that you can not only get the most out of your deal but also make sure the deal goes through. If you’re selling a business, you should understand how the valuation of a company works, what it is based on, and what is important to a buyer.

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What Is A Sustainable Growth Rate?

As a business owner, it is important to have a solid understanding of what a sustainable growth rate (SGR) is, and why it matters to the valuation of your company. 

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Eight Truths about The Current Market for Selling Your Business

For more than ten years, business owners have enjoyed a sellers’ market in the lower and middle markets. But the tide is turning. Here’s the headline: Multiples are not trending downward, buyers are slower, more cautious, and cockier, and deals are taking longer. 

 

The best analogy is that we have been on a roller coaster, and we no longer hear the clicking sound as we go up, but we’ve also not started to feel anything in our stomachs. It’s almost as if we are paused, and we feel certain that we know what is coming next. Buyers feel as if they’ve been bullied for the last decade by aspirational sellers and their agents. They have pent-up resentment. Some of it is starting to show. 

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M&A Trends In The Lower And Middle Markets

In the first quarter of 2022, global middle-market M&A activity maintained the momentum that we saw in 2021. Last year, lower and middle-market companies played major roles in deal-making activity. Companies of all sizes enjoyed significant buyer interest in sectors ranging from tech, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics.

 A notable imbalance in supply and demand in the lower and middle markets has been driving up the valuations of healthy companies in hot sectors. This trend is expected to continue through 2022 for strong companies in the lower and middle markets, especially in sectors such as healthcare, cybersecurity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and niche manufacturing.

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Seller Handover In A Business Sale

Handover Process

After completing the sale of your business, there is typically a handover process between the seller and the buyer. One of a buyer’s most significant concerns when taking over a business is that the company’s performance continues as it was before the sale. When a seller is willing to stay on for a handover process post-closing, the buyer has increased trust in the business, resulting in the business selling more quickly and at a higher valuation. Therefore, it will be beneficial to both parties to plan this part of the process well and in advance of the time that the handover will take place. The length, compensation, etc., of the Handover period will be worked through during the Purchase Agreement negotiations. If there is a failure to recognize and offer an acceptable handover period for the business, it could cause a deal to fall apart while it is in due diligence.

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Stages Of A Business Handover

The typical stages of a business handover are the Training Stage, Handover Stage, and Assistance Stage. Immediately following the sale, the seller will usually continue to run 100% of the business. During this time, the new owner will take some time to familiarize themselves with the business. Then, as the Training stage begins, the seller will slowly reduce their involvement while the buyer continues to increase theirs. In the Training stage, the seller must create a checklist of items that he can run through with the new owner. Mark each item as complete once it’s finished, and keep this for your records if you run into any issues down the road. It is a good idea to observe how a day in the life of your business typically goes. Take note of every payroll task you complete, every person you communicate with, any supplier or contractor documentation, provide copies of all budgets, information about cash flow, etc. Continue with this process until you feel that you have been able to document all of the particulars that the new owner will need to know in order to keep the business operating smoothly. As the seller trains the new owner, the seller will slowly start to reduce their involvement while the buyer continues to increase theirs. This sequence will continue until the complete handover is achieved.

During the Handover stage, the new owner runs 75%-100% of the business with the seller still on hand to help answer questions and ensure that processes are running smoothly. If you have had a successful Training stage, the new owner will have increased confidence in successfully running the business. This may matter to the seller as well, particularly if there are any deferred payments or earnouts that have been agreed to in the structure of the sale. It is imperative to train the buyer and put them in a position to be successful, as both parties benefit from doing so. The new owner will now be in charge of making crucial decisions and bringing innovative ideas and future plans for the business to the table. Customer and employee relationships with the new owner should be solidly in place at this point, and the seller should have very limited involvement in the day-to-day activities of the business.

Once the new owner is running 100% of the business, it is common to enter the Assistance stage, where both parties have made an agreement to remain in contact for a set period of time in case there are any questions that come up. While the seller is no longer directly engaged with the daily runnings of the company, it is best for them to make themselves available to answer any questions that the new owner might have. Many times the majority of this communication can be handled through email and phone conversations. An essential item to have established for this stage is the amount of time the new owner can expect to receive help from the seller, paying particular care to have the expectations and limitations outlined.

A properly planned Handover period can help the seller and the new owner is mentally prepared for the seller’s exit and help prepare the business, customers, and employees for the handover. Once the handover is complete and the seller exits fully, they can know that the business is in good hands. It is time for them to recover from and reflect on the ownership handover period and identify their next goal to get excited about.

 

  Author
  Amy Alonso
  Transaction Director
  Benchmark International

  T: 512 861 3301
  E: Alonso@benchmarkintl.com 

 

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What Is A 338(H)(10) Election And Why It Is Important To Me?

Knowing the structure of a transaction you are involved in is key to optimizing the composition of a deal. If you enter a proposed transaction thinking you understand the offer, you may be blindsided by various structures that may affect your net cash position. A critical aspect of a transaction is understanding the structure and what it means for you as a buyer or seller. Clients often believe that they agree to accept a stock transaction only to find out that the transaction will include an election that may affect their tax bill. A 338(H)(10) election is one of the more popular tax elections, but there are others.

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Applying EBITDA Multiples To Your Company Valuation

If you are considering selling your business, you undoubtedly need to understand its value. Unfortunately, arriving at that answer can entail many different methodologies, and it often involves the familiar valuation formula of applying a multiple of Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBTIDA).

For example, if a company boasts EBITDA of $1 million, and a five times EBITDA multiple is applied, the company’s estimated value is $5 million. But how do we know what multiple applies to your business? And how do we know if the EBITDA number is even accurate? After all, EBITDA will not be the same for every business.

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How Can A Buyer Claw Back Purchase Price?

Sellers often focus on the purchase price when considering a sale. Most sellers aim to maximize the proceeds realized through the sale of their business. This mindset makes total sense. They are monetizing their life’s work. Many have lived frugally, diverting money into rather than out of business. As such, the sale of the company truly is the time to monetize a lifetime of effort.

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Buyers who have been stretched to a valuation beyond their comfort level may be motivated to recapture some of that “excess purchase price” during the deal. Their approach to minimizing their outlay can take on several forms. In this article, I will cover a few of the most common methods used by buyers to “normalize” their outlay.

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You Haven’t Missed Out On The Ideal Seller’s Market

2021 was a strong market for business owners looking to sell their companies. The market remains ideal and will do so as we move into the first quarter of 2022. As we are in the middle of this year, there is no better time to consider putting your business on the market.

2021 Recap
M&A activity was moving at a record pace in 2021, thanks to economic recovery, a strong stock market, low-interest rates, rapid digitalization, more SPACs, confident boardrooms, and available debt. The U.S. had reported more than $2 trillion in M&A activity in 2021, with the year on pace to be the most active in history. Not to mention that the second quarter of 2021 was the third straight, with total global M&A value surpassing $1 trillion. That is the first time this has ever happened in three consecutive quarters. So even in the middle of the year, when things typically slow down, we are still seeing a great deal of investment, and the market is still flooded with capital.

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I missed the market!

We have been in an unprecedented bull market. I use the phrase here broadly as the public markets have been flying for over a decade, and the M&A market has seen similar levels of growth. Spurred on by aggressive monetary and fiscal policies and a relaxed regulatory environment, the S&P 500 has grown 15.47% as of the time of this writing from the bottom on March 9, 2009. Similarly, the DJIA (The Dow 30) has grown at an annual clip of 13.64% over the course of this thirteen-year bull market. Remember what the rule of 72 demonstrates- that money doubles every 6 years at 12% and in less than five years at 15%. This is a remarkable rate of growth when you consider this market has spanned nearly 1/7th of a century.

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But bull markets must end. Markets do work in cycles. Much like our natural habitats require destructive fires to seed future growth and a healthy ecosystem, so too does the market. I’m not referencing the concrete jungles we find ourselves in today, but rather our natural environments. Bear markets reintroduce a rational approach to investing that had long been sidelined in favor of momentum and emotion-based investment “theses."

 

Further, bear markets tend to focus investments toward the highest quality of companies, known as a flight to quality. This clearing of the playing field, separating the wheat from the chaff, will often spur innovation and future growth. So a bear market is as natural to the market dynamic as is a bull market. These countervailing forces are required for regeneration.

 

The bull market created trillions of dollars of dry powder for buyers to deploy in the coming years. The balance sheets of corporations, large and small, are replete with cash there to deploy in pursuit of their stated strategic goals. The best of markets tends to flood the M&A market with excess buyers, many of which lack the track record, experience, credibility, and true access to funding required to transact successfully. Bear markets tend to weed away many of these less credible buyers creating a similar flight to quality detailed in the above discussion about the public markets. And while the cost of debt will tick up and valuations may similarly tick down, the likelihood of actually consummating a transaction increase as there is a much better chance that the buyer selected can get a deal done.

 

I tend to view my decisions in life through a very specific lens- my expected value lens. If one were to look at an M&A transaction through that lens, we would likely find the expected value of the proceeds from a transaction as being higher, even if valuations tick down, because the likelihood of closing is greatly increased.   And frankly, while the cost of capital on senior debt will rise over the course of the year, given the aforementioned stores of cash in their coffers, buyers will have the ability to utilize more equity to bridge any gaps in the capital stack. Private Equity funds have more than $2 Trillion of dry power. They also have a mandate to put capital to work regardless of the cost of debt lest they face aggressive headwinds during their next fund raise. Their Limited Partners, known as LPs, require that they put the money to work. Deals will continue to happen and we may in fact see more deals in the next eighteen months or more as buyers finally draw down on the excess stores of cash build-up that resulted from inflated valuations and bidding wars with less credible buyers.

 

Sellers must consider several factors when considering a sale. Of course, valuation and a healthy economic environment are among those factors but they don't have to be the determining one. We are often faced with life changes of which we have no control. Some of us simply reach a stage where we no longer wish to carry the burden that invariably comes with owning and running a business. Or, God forbid, we encounter health challenges personally or in our family that requires that we focus our attention elsewhere. Perhaps we come to the realization that we are no longer the right caretaker for the business? That the business has reached a level where our skills no longer map to what is required to successfully steer. Whatever the reason to sell your company, we can only control the controllables.

 

Just like in the public markets, if we try to time it perfectly, we will invariably fail because the objective was unattainable. Selling one's business is a life-altering decision. Selling a business can be both liberating and gutting. Sellers are at once monetizing their life's work and entrusting someone else with its care. The stakes are high. When making that determination, it is critical that sellers consider all of the critical variables. While valuation, market conditions and timing are among the variables worthy of consideration, they are merely inputs to a multivariate equation. Often, upon careful consideration, sellers determine that the qualitative elements are more important than are the quantitative ones.

 

  Author
  Dara Shareef
  Managing Partner
  Benchmark International

  T: 813 898 2350
  E: Shareef@benchmarkintl.com 

 

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What’s The Difference Between Recurring And Repeat Revenue?

If you are considering selling your business, you will need to have a clear understanding of its type of customer revenue because it can significantly impact the value of your business. Sometimes people confuse recurring revenue with repeat revenue, but it is essential to understand how they are not the same thing.

Recurring Revenue
Recurring revenue stems from a contractually bound legal agreement for a solution delivered over time. It is usually contractual over one or multiple years, and because it may carry penalties or fees if the customer leaves, it can be counted on into the future. This makes it highly valued by prospective acquirers because of its predictability and lower risk.

However, recurring revenue does not have to be contractual to be valuable. Depending on the business and the services offered, it can be too costly or too much of a hassle for a customer to leave or switch providers. An excellent example of this is customer relationship marketing companies that collect large amounts of valued data over time, making it more beneficial for clients to stick with their services. Below is a list of the different types of recurring revenue.

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Questions to Ask Before Selling Your Company

What’s Your Competitive Advantage on the Market?

Consider why prospective buyers would be interested in purchasing your company. You should be able to identify its assets in order to get a proper business valuation. How unique is your product or service offering? Do you outperform the competitors in your sector or in a particular geographic area? You will also want to consider whether your revenues are stable, growing, or declining. If you understand why someone would be interested in purchasing your company, you will be more equipped to enhance those qualities and effectively articulate them to buyers.

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The Increasing Adoption Of Enterprise Resource Planning And Customer Relationship Management Software

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased adoption of enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and other entrepreneurial software. In 2020, many companies accelerated their plans to begin using these systems, and the market for them remains hot, particularly for Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models. COVID forced most businesses to digitize their offerings in real-time as consumers began turning to online shopping and employees started working remotely—both trends that are expected to continue into the future.

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The Shift From a Seller's Market To a Buyer's Market When Interest Rates Rise

So if you are a business owner considering selling your company, the good news is that right now, it's a seller's M&A market. By October of 2021, total M&A deal activity reached $4.4 trillion, which is an increase of 92% compared to a year ago and is the strongest opening period for M&A since 1980. In addition, merger activity resulted in deals totaling $1.52 trillion in the three months prior to September 27, 2021. That's up 38% from the same quarter in 2020—and more than any other quarter on record.

In a seller's market, demand is high for assets that are in limited supply, giving sellers more pricing and negotiating power. This demand can be attributed to a recovering economy, high cash balances, big government spending, new SPAC buyers, and low-interest rates. Plus, investors are flush with cash and ready to spend it on acquisitions that can help create growth or add capabilities. When market conditions shift, buyers have the upper hand in deal negotiations. And this could happen when the U.S. Federal Reserve increases interest rates in the next year or so.

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What Does Inflation Mean For Your Ability to Sell Your Business?

Short answer – We don’t know. The M&A market has never interacted with this much inflation before. Inflation is now at a 40-year high. In 1982, there was no M&A market. The birth of the market is most often traced to KKR’s 1988 takeover of RJR Nabisco, as made famous in the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate” and the 1993 movie of the same name. Whether that is the actual date of birth or not can be argued. Still, at the time it was commonly thought that the cash for the $25 billion price tag was unattainable because, as the book says, there was a belief that there was not anywhere near that much excess cash floating around for doing deals in the entire world.

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The Impact of Labor Shortages on M&A

The Labor Shortage Persists

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted companies of all sizes, but small businesses have certainly been hit the hardest. First, there were total shutdowns, followed by financing problems due to slowed business, and now it is labor shortages that are the latest issue as the world works towards recovery. 

The slew of workers leaving the workforce altogether is fueling a growing labor shortage in what seems to be every industry. Demand is up, and supply is down. Businesses are facing concerns with not having enough people to get the job done—especially in sectors such as healthcare and technology. These spaces are seeing attrition rates of 3.6% and 4.5% higher, respectively, than last year. Research even shows that 36% of workers who quit their jobs did so without another job lined up.

And the labor shortage is an issue that is happening on a global scale, from the US to Canada to Europe. According to the US Census Bureau, many businesses struggle to retain and attract employees, and 49% of business owners say the labor shortage is affecting their business. And a Canadian study reported that 30% of Canadian business owners say the top motivating factor for pursuing an acquisition is gaining access to new talent. That number is up from 20% before the pandemic. Additionally, a recent Eurostat survey found that, in the third quarter of 2021, a worker shortage was hampering production at 83% of industrial companies in Hungary, 50% in Poland, and 44% in the Czech Republic.

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2022 Is a Seller's Year for M&A

2021 Was a Record Year

In 2021, dealmakers worldwide announced $5.6 trillion in M&A transactions (that’s 30% higher than the previous record), and the U.S. reported $2.9 trillion in transactions (that’s 40% higher than the previous record). While 2021 may have been a record-breaking year for middle-market M&A activity, 2022 should be an excellent year for sellers. 

Last year several factors drove deal activity to new heights:

  • Pent-up activity from the previous slow year because of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • A wealth of capital seeking investment opportunities
  • Potential tax changes this year
  • Strong economic growth
  • Continued low-interest rates
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2021 Was a Record Year For M&A - And 2022 Could be, Too

After the trials and tribulations of 2020, no one really knew what to expect going into 2021. Yet, for the world of M&A, it couldn’t have been a more pleasant surprise.

Last year has most certainly been a record year for M&A deals, making a huge comeback from 2020. In 2021, the number of announced deals exceeded 62,000 globally. That’s up an unprecedented 24% from 2020. Deal values reached an all-time high of $5.1 trillion.

Almost all sectors are showing signs of recovery from 2020. Values are up and multiples are rising, with strategic M&A multiples at an all-time high (a median multiple of 16x EV/EBITDA).

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How Potential Tax Changes Could Impact M&A

There are several changes to tax policy on the table in the United States under the Biden administration. The administration has discussed tax increases on high-income earners at some point in the future, while the timing is yet to be determined. If you are a business owner considering the sale of your company in the next few years, you may want to speed up your timeline because waiting could mean you have to pay higher taxes if laws do change.

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Deal Fatigue: Preventative Measures

Deal fatigue is a condition that can arise during negotiations where involved parties begin to feel exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated in their attempt to reach an agreement. The negotiation process can sometimes be lengthy and demanding and requires players to spend valuable resources such as time, money, and energy. The inability to compromise in such negotiations not only depletes these resources but also can ultimately lead to a potential deal falling apart. Deal fatigue is a common obstacle in the world of mergers and acquisitions, one that both buyers and sellers alike have faced. From this, however, dealmakers around the globe have observed a few preventive measures that can be taken to ensure a successful transaction.

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The Impact of U.S. Infrastructure Investment on M&A

The U.S. Senate recently passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, titled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), to improve the country’s roads, bridges, and utilities. The bill does face an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where its support is more limited. Still, the Democratic Party could use the reconciliation process to get the bill passed into law. 

The bill includes:

  • $73 billion for electric grid and power infrastructure
  • $66 billion for passenger and freight rail
  • $65 billion for broadband investments
  • $55 billion for water systems and infrastructure
  • $50 billion for Western water storage 
  • $39 billion for public transit 
  • $25 billion for airports
  • $21 billion for environmental remediation projects 
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways
  • $15 billion for electric vehicles
  • $11 billion for road safety

So, what might this all mean for M&A? 

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High Net Worth Retirement Planning Tips

You’ve proven you are an expert at running a successful business, and you know how to make money. But are you an expert when it comes to retirement? There are certain financial factors that high-net-worth individuals should consider leading up to retirement.  

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Growing Business Trends For 2021-2022

Our world continues to change, and businesses must remain adaptive in order to keep pace with their competition and consumer demands. Thanks to new technologies, changing customer priorities, societal movements, and of course, repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners can expect certain industry shifts that began leading up to 2021 to continue into 2022.

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10 Mistakes To Avoid When Selling Your Company

Selling a business comes with its share of challenges and concerns. Many business owners do not realize just how much time and energy is required to facilitate the sale of a company and are blindsided when they embark on the M&A process. The good news is that many of the pitfalls around selling can be avoided by learning from others' mistakes, like the 10 outlined below.

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Can you Fund M&A With Cryptocurrency?

What is Cryptocurrency?

It seems like everyone is talking about it, but what exactly is cryptocurrency, or crypto? It is a digital payment method that is exchanged online to pay for goods and services. Crypto uses blockchain, which is a highly secure, ledger technology that is spread between multiple computer systems that manage and record transactions. As of now, bitcoin (BTC) is the most popular digital token network, followed by ethereum (ETH). They are both decentralized, meaning that they are not issued or regulated by a central banking authority. In 2020, Bitcoin beat the investment returns of gold and the S&P 500.

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What To Look For When Choosing An M&A Advisor

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.

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Can It Be Too Early To Put My Business On The Market?

Timing the sale of a company can certainly be a tricky decision. You don’t want to sell too soon, and you don’t want to sell too late either. In both scenarios, you risk leaving money on the table if the timing isn’t right. So what is a business owner to do?

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Why 2021 Is A Seller’s Market

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.

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Selling Your Company? Beware Of Strangers Bearing Gifts

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.

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M&A Expectations After The Covid-19 Pandemic

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.

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10 Factors That Drive Business Value Beyond Revenue

The value of a company extends beyond the amount of revenue it generates. As a business owner, you should be monitoring the value of your company at all times, but it is especially important if you are considering exiting or retiring within the next several years, or even up to a decade from now.

Company valuations are based on far more factors than just financial statements and multiples. The process involves the forecasting of the future of the business based on several key value drivers. Sometimes these can be sector-specific, but there are many core drivers that apply to any type of business, as outlined below.

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Understanding Working Capital

Working capital, also referred to as net working capital, is the measure of a company's liquidity, operational efficiency, and short-term financial status. It is the difference between a business’s current assets, its inventory of materials and goods, and its existing liabilities. Net operating working capital is the difference between current assets and non-interest-bearing current liabilities. Typically, they are both calculated similarly, by deducting current liabilities from the current assets. So, essentially, if a business’s current assets total $500,000 and its current liabilities are $100,000, then its working capital is $400,000. But there are a few variations on the calculation formula based on what a financial analyst wants to include or exclude:

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Can I Put My Business On The Market Even Though I'm Not Actively Looking To Sell?

Maybe you’re not sure if you are ready to sell your business, but you’re curious about what you could learn if you put it on the market. You can always put your company on the market at any time, but you should understand the right way to do it, and everything that you need to consider.

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Reasons For Optimism In An Uncertain Oil & Gas Market

In December 2020, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told CNBC's Hadley Gamble that American shale producers should be concerned about their industry's future.[1] Secretary Brouillette stated: “…there are some in Congress who are going to drive a climate policy that's going to be very aggressive. So there may be a concern on the part of those folks, I know the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) movement is very strong.” Secretary Brouillette also added that, “The investment money may become a bit more difficult to get,” and, “Those are all policies where we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this new Congress.”

While it may be politically convenient for those in a Republican administration to criticize their incoming Democratic successors, oil and gas investors should be hesitant to trust outgoing bureaucrats' economic analyses. Reasons for investor optimism can be found in past administration precedents' realities, current stakeholder adaptions, and the future uphill battle facing any reforms backed by President Joe Biden and his cabinet.

Obama-Biden Administration Precedents

For more than a decade, President Barack Obama’s Democratic party was conveniently used as the boogeyman for Republican politicians’ intent on gaining the favor of oil and gas companies and investors. However, in retrospect, the Obama administration—which included then-Vice President Biden—was a far greater friend to the industry than most pundits speculated. That administration’s treatment of the industry can be a useful precedent for setting appropriate expectations for the Biden administration’s treatment of the industry.

Obama’s tendency to favor working with the energy industry rather than to impede it led to drastic and unexpected results.[2] By the end of his two terms in office, natural gas had realized a massive uptick in both production (a 35% increase) and consumption (a 19% increase). In December 2015, Obama threatened to veto the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, which would have repealed 40-year-old oil export bans.[3] This would ultimately prove to be posturing for political negotiations, as Obama would go on to approve the export of U.S. crude by signing the 2016 omnibus budget just weeks later.[4] The Obama-Biden administration also loosened restrictions on LNG exports. Under their administration, the U.S. Department of Energy approved 24 LNG export licenses and denied none.[5]

This unexpectedly moderate approach by Obama can be accredited to two primary domestic policy issues: national security and climate change. Commentators frequently constrain their negative analyses of oil and gas's future with a reminder that domestic energy independence remains an important consideration in national security. While debate exists on whether American “energy independence” could indeed ever exist given the reality of American import trends, regulations on the industry will continue to be tied to deliberations on the country's reliance on foreign producers.

The second factor in the Obama-Biden administration's relatively moderate industry regulation was, surprisingly, climate change concerns. In particular, Obama's unexpected friendship towards natural gas has been credited to his administration’s belief that natural gas could assist in mitigating climate change. Forbes wrote in 2019 that President Obama, “supported natural gas as an essential strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by displacing coal and also backing up intermittent wind and solar power.” His treatment of LNG exports ultimately proved consistent with President Donald Trump's treatment of the natural gas industry. At a press conference in early 2019, Dr. Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, stated that over the past decade, “the emissions reduction in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy.”[6] Standing by his side at this press conference—which essentially credited the energy policy continuity of Obama/Trump with this success—was Trump’s own Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry.

 

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Stakeholder Adaptions in the Face of Progressive Policy Initiatives

Secretary Perry’s comments in that same press conference are indicative of what the private sector has worked to accomplish while operating under burgeoning public pressure to address climate change concerns. He stated that, “without carbon capture, any planned climate target is impossible to meet.” Carbon capture, commonly referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), uses technology to capture the release of carbon dioxide during fossil fuel usage. After capturing the gas, operators transport it to an underground storage facility. The method has become an increasingly popular solution amongst producers to manage emissions and mitigate environmental damage.

While elected officials continue to negotiate and posture on broad regulatory changes like the Green New Deal, private sector stakeholders are already acting to appease investors and the general public. While some in the industry may complain of the costs associated with mitigating environmental damage, industry leaders are exploring and embracing new climate-friendly technologies as a necessary pivot to maintain vitality. Dr. Vijay Swarup, Vice President for Research and Development at ExxonMobil, stated, “breakthroughs like the deployment of carbonate fuel cells at power plants are essential for reducing emissions, while at the same time increasing power generation and limiting costs to consumers.”[7] ExxonMobil developed those carbonate fuel cells in partnership with FuelCell Energy, Inc. as a tool for capturing CO2 during the CCS process.

Integrating alternative energy into existing operations has also proved to be a successful survival strategy for oil producers. Chevron announced in July 2020 that it would make a major investment in renewable energy plants to power its oil production facilities in the Permian Basin and abroad.[8] This was by no means the first investment by a major player to test such a production structure. ExxonMobil made a similar investment in 2018, purchasing 500 megawatts of wind and solar power in Texas. And Chevron had already run a pilot program by purchasing a smaller amount of West Texas wind energy to power some of its operations, as well.

At the time of their 2020 purchase, Chevron spokesperson Veronica Flores-Paniagua wrote: "What has changed is the cost of wind and solar power, which is becoming more competitive, and the technology, which has also progressed substantially. This makes opportunities to increase renewable power in support of our operations a feasible option for reliability, scale, and cost-effectiveness."

Ultimately, each producers’ bottom line will determine whether such ventures into renewables are sustainable. But while producers find creative ways to appease shareholders and adapt, any future inhibiting regulatory actions still face significant challenges to be enacted.

Political & Legal Hurdles for Biden Energy Regulations

On January 20, 2021, former Vice President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Some experts predict his administration will bring major regulatory changes for the oil and gas industry to appease his own Democratic party's growing progressive subsection. Others are more hesitant, noting the relatively moderate nature of his cabinet selections and campaign pledges to refrain from banning fracking.[9]

Most onlookers, experts or not, expect some energy-related regulatory changes. Among the most common expected policy shifts is a ban on new fracking on federal lands. This led to a mass fire sale by former President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management, auctioning off parcels of land in various parts of the United States to accelerate drilling before the change in administrations. Producers are gearing up for a fight, both in the courtroom and in the eyes of the public. Mike Sommers, Chief Executive of the American Petroleum Institute (API), told Reuters in November 2020 that API would “use ‘every tool at its disposal’ including legal action” to prevent restrictions by the Biden administration.

Potential regulations and green initiatives could go either way in reaching Biden's desk for a signature. Republicans, who are historically more friendly to the oil and gas industry, hold 50 Senate seats, but with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, they are formally the minority party. President Biden has already signed an executive order revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a move which many experts in the U.S.’ Permian Basin are optimistic about for those in West Texas as it reduces direct competition to those producers.

Conclusion

While fears on the future of oil and gas have merit and can be validated by recent trends, production will not cease for the foreseeable future. If Biden's administration reflects the values of the Obama administration, things may not be as negative as has been suggested. Within the oil and gas industry, private stakeholders have already spent the better part of a decade learning to adapt and continue production through carbon capture and storage methods. And any future regulations will face difficulties every step of the way, with major players vowing to fight tooth and nail to defend the industry. Investors should proceed with caution, but there is still room for optimism and opportunities for growth and success into the near future.

Sources: 

[1] CNBC 

[2] Forbes 

[3] Reuters 

[4] Investor's Business Daily 

[5] Lexology 

[6] Oilprice.com 

[7] ExxonMobil 

[8] GTM

[9] API

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Why You Should Consider Private Equity

How Private Equity Works

Private equity firms raise financing from institutions and individuals and then invest those funds into the buying and selling of businesses. Once a pre-specified amount is raised, the fund closes to new investors and is liquidated. All of the fund’s businesses are sold within a set timeframe that is typically less than ten years. The more successfully a PE firm’s funds perform, the better its ability to raise money in the future.

PE firms do accept some limitations on their use of investments under fund management contracts, such as the size of any single business investment. Once the money has been committed, investors have nearly zero control over its management, unlike a public company’s board of directors. 

The leaders of the companies within a private equity portfolio are not members of the PE firm’s management. Private equity firms control its portfolio companies through representation on the boards of those companies. It is common for a PE firm to ask the CEO and other business leaders in their portfolios to invest personally. This offers a way to ensure their level of commitment and motivation. In return, the operating managers can get significant rewards that are linked to profits when the company is sold.

With large buyouts, PE funds usually charge investors a fee of around 1.5 to 2 percent of assets under management, plus 20 percent of all profits (subject to achieving a minimum rate of return). Fund mostly profit through capital gains on the sale of portfolio companies.

How Private Equity Improves Value

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5 Things Benchmark International Tells Sellers to Ask Buyers

The first thing that can help a buyer purchase a business is putting their best foot forward in their first conversations with a seller. Buyers are often unsure what exactly a seller is looking to hear or how to impress a seller in the initial discussion. Below are a few of the things Benchmark International tells our clients to look for in a buyer when selling their company.

  1. How are they funding the acquisition? It may be cash, a loan, a personal lender, or ownership in a new entity, but sellers will need to know a potential buyer’s source of funding. It’s a straightforward question, but many people will not have considered it by the time they are conducting management meetings. Having a knowledgeable and honest answer for a seller will go a long way in cementing a relationship of trust.

  2. How well will the buyer culturally fit with the company? Were the first questions about the owners, employees, and business operations, or were they about the bottom line? Were they more interested in meeting with the owners and seeing the business they intend to purchase, or rushing into signing into exclusivity and then learning about the business at an unspecified eventual time? A buyer with no interest in the company beyond the free cash flow rarely develops deep relationships with management, employees, and the seller with whom they may partner in the future.

  3. What is the reason behind the buyer’s interest? Direct competitors, strategic buyers, financial buyers, and individual investors all have different goals in buying a business, and they all fit different sellers' strategies. Being forthcoming in the reasons for your interest in acquiring the business will help conversations run more smoothly down the line, and different buyers can bring a lot to the table in terms of enhancing the seller’s business and offering their employees the security and longevity our clients are often trying to attract.

    Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

  4. What does the buyer plan to have our client do after the sale? Is the buyer likely to stay on for several years, or will they be in a consulting position as the buyer takes over immediately? This can affect whether a seller retains equity, offers a seller note, or works for an investor long term. Each deal looks different for the seller after a sale and having a solid plan for our clients after the transaction can help make long-term decisions for their employees and families.

  5. How knowledgeable is the buyer in acquisitions? Will they understand the tax implications, assignment of liabilities and assets, and other nuances behind acquiring a business, or will they need assistance from a third party? Regardless of the buyer’s expertise, a little honesty on both sides goes a long way in explaining both parties' thought process and explain that some actions that can appear aggressive or malicious are often just not well understood by one or both parties. Knowing who will work with both parties to figure out the details of the transaction can save weeks or even months of headaches later down the road.

Addressing these questions can provide a lot of comfort and understanding that can create the foundation for a sale, and in many cases, a partnership. The seller wants to know a buyer's business just as much as the buyer wants to learn about the seller's company.

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Why Choose An M&A Firm Over An Industry Expert?

Many business owners believe that enlisting an expert in their industry is the right way to go when selling their companies. But if you want to rake in the most value for your business, there’s a better way.

There is no question that mergers and acquisitions are complicated and subject to constantly changing market conditions and industry trends. An industry expert might know plenty about a particular industry, but they are not experts on selling and buying businesses. A mergers and acquisitions firm is.

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M&A As A Strategic Opportunity For Business Owners

It is not uncommon for a company acquisition to be viewed as a simple transaction that means transferring the business from one owner to another. But rather than just allowing the business to simply carry on as is under new leadership, a merger or acquisition should be viewed as a solid strategy to boost the company’s overall health, productivity, and bottom line. While M&A transactions can serve as great solutions for exit strategies, they can be so much more than that. M&A should be regarded as a powerful tactical opportunity.

Often times, M&A deals are considered to be a way to get out and cash out with instant gratification. But what else might be possible when a deal is carefully crafted to deliver sustainable returns and support a powerful legacy for the business in the long-term? M&A done right can translate into great success for a company and, ultimately, its leadership.

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When Is The Right Time To Retire?

The right time to retire is going to be different for everyone based on individual circumstances and goals. While finances are obviously a major factor in the decision, being emotionally and mentally ready is equally important. Here are some points you should consider if you are thinking about embarking on retirement.

Financial Stability
Retirement hinges upon having the appropriate income to support a comfortable lifestyle in the future. This entails having an accurate and realistic picture of what your expenses will be and how much you will need in order to cover them, including income from your savings, pensions, social security, 401ks, IRAs, and any other assets. The earlier you plan to retire, the more significant your nest egg will need to be. Waiting a few years can help you build up more financial security through tax-advantage investment accounts. So if you love what you do, a later retirement means that you can continue doing it while you shore up your savings for the future. A common algorithm for retirement planning is to have savings that are 25 times the amount of your annual expenses.

No Debt
When heading into retirement, it is advised that you make sure you do not have outstanding debt in the form of high-interest credit cards and outstanding loans aside from a mortgage or car financing, which can be taken into account for your needed expenses. By eliminating debt, your retirement income can be used for current expenses instead of past expenses and offer you added peace of mind.

The Economy
While there is no way to be sure what the future holds, if there are signs of an economic downturn, you may want to hold off on the retirement plans for a bit. This will give the markets time to recover, which will help you recoup your invested assets and retire with a better bottom line.

 

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Enhancing Company Value By Enhancing Culture

Culture Affects the Bottom Line

When a company demonstrates that it’s thriving with happy and motivated talent, it is more likely to garner a higher business valuation when going to market for a merger or acquisition.

There is a proven link between culture, employees, productivity, and profit. Research shows that:

  • Businesses with satisfied employeeshave been noted to outperform competitors by 20 percent.
  • Happiness leads to a 12 percent boost in productivity and companies with strong cultures see a 43 percent increasein revenue growth.
  • When employees are engaged, absenteeism falls 41 percent, productivity rises by 17 percent, and turnover is cut by 24 percent.
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