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Supreme Court Makes M&A More Difficult

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, ever 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.

Author:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International
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Getting Down To Brass Tax

You’ve probably noticed by now that Benchmark International is growing. Geographic expansion is the most obvious outward sign of our growth. We didn’t reinvent the wheel of corporate strategy. Given the current economic climate, many other organizations are expanding geographically as well. They’re looking to capture a greater share of their existing markets, penetrate new markets, and attract new talent amongst many other things. These decisions, in terms of geographic expansion, are usually more calculated than many of us would or will ever realize.

While organizations are expanding geographically, many of these organizations are relocating their headquarters altogether. There are a few easily discernible and comprehensible considerations for expansion/relocation with many of them relating to taxation. We’ve witnessed the exodus from the Northeast to the South, really since the commercialization of air conditioning, but now we are seeing movement from all directions into the South. Quite frankly, the tax landscape is much friendlier in the South.

The multi-billion dollar leasing giant Hertz (NYSE: HTZ) announced in 2013 that they were relocating from Park Ridge, NJ to Estero, FL. They distinctly noted that the cost of doing business in New Jersey had become too much in comparison to other states such as Florida. In fact, the state of Florida and Lee County offered Hertz $84mm in tax credits. Florida’s corporate tax rate is noticeably more appealing at 5.5% compared to New Jersey’s 9%. Another selling point was Florida’s income tax rate of 0% in comparison to New Jersey’s bracketed income tax up to 8.97%. You might ask, why would income tax rates factor into Hertz or any company’s decision to expand or relocate? Well, Florida’s 0% income tax has been a noticeable driver behind its population growth. Consequently, the talent pool is expanding rapidly and the talent pool is undoubtedly a draw for a multi-billion dollar organization like Hertz. Between the glaring differences in tax rates, the county and state tax credits offered, and many other tax factors not discussed here (property tax for instance), it was an easy decision for Hertz to relocate.

Another case of corporate relocation to the South is that of CKE Restaurants. You’re probably familiar with their Frisco Thickburger making fast-food restaurants: Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. They announced in 2016 that they were consolidating their St. Louis, MO and Carpinteria, CA corporate offices and moving them to Franklin, TN. Much like Hertz’s case, the tax implications were too great to ignore. California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84% in comparison to 6.5% for Tennessee. Tennessee’s income tax rate is 0% (with the exception of dividends) in comparison to California’s bracketed income tax up to a staggering 12.3%.

We could discuss at length several other advantages, especially relating to taxation, of expanding or relocating to the South, but these are just some of the most transparent ones. Barring a dramatic philosophical shift in tax philosophy in the South, it seems that we’ll continue to witness substantial business growth for big and small businesses alike.

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What are EBITDA Multiples?

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

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

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Why the time is now to sell your business, more than ever

Posted on March 5, 2018 By in Tax + Business Tips + Time To Sell + Tips + Tax Cut

Earlier this week, projections for increases in the Federal Funds Rate increased from three 25 basis point increases in 2018 and one in 2019 to four and two respectively. As a “basis” point is 1/100th of a percent and a “25 basis point increase” is an increase of 1/4 of one percent, this means that rater than increasing by 0.75% in 2018, experts now expect a 1.00% increase for the year and a 0.50% increase as opposed to 0.25% increase next year.

This happened because (a) the recent tax cut is expected to boost GDP by an extra 0.3%, (b) the even more recent government spending bill, which is modestly termed “generous”, is also expected to add 0.3% to GDP, and (c) the regulatory roll-back that has occurred over the last 12 months is expected to add another 0.3% to 0.6% to GDP.

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