InSight

Exit and Growth Strategies for Middle Market Businesses

Covid Can’t Beat This Seller’s Market

By Terry Fick | Oct 02, 2020

There is good news in the air for anyone thinking about or in the process of selling a business. While the Moody’s graph below depicts, the North American M&A results fell off a cliff in April, you also see that activity has almost returned to last August levels in number of deals and surpassed that level in total value of deals!

Surprised? Let’s look at the “Why?” and “What does it mean?”.

The Why may lie just below the Covid press, but the answers we continue to get from buyers and lenders is threefold:

  1. There is simply too much capital (corporate and Private Equity) looking for good acquisitions for them to sit still. Corporations are finding it even harder to grow today, so the solution is growth via acquisition. The slowdown in the second quarter puts extra pressure on PE to find and close acquisitions. When they raised their new funds last year and early this year, they did not promise their investors “if we don’t have a pandemic, we will perform and put your money to work.”
  2. Buyers now feel they can more clearly see the real impact of Covid on the targets they are considering and as we move further through that chaos, they can also get a better picture as to what a target may look like at the end of this period.
  3. Buyers and seller are getting more comfortable with the new rules and limitations on face to face meetings. Zoom is taking deals further into the process that before Covid, and buyers are getting more comfortable traveling when necessary. Life goes on.

Outside valuation professional are telling CFA that values for good companies are holding to pre Covid levels across the board. Other factors include some level of deal structure when that can maximize value for the seller and lower risk for the buyer. Also good seller are simply holding their ground and telling prospective buyers they won’t take lower offers due to this temporary environment. The buyers know there is competition for the attractive targets.

So what does this mean to sellers? The market for sellers is surprisingly good. At some point, the laws of supply and demand will start to even the odds as more and more companies get ready and come to the marketplace. Now don’t get me wrong. It takes time for that shift to come to fruition and there will still be plenty of capital to go around. The difference will be that just as sellers enjoy the competition of many buyers, the buyers will start to have more options relative to where to put their money.

What about those companies that are not doing so well during this Pandemic but don’t want to be valued on a more cloudy rebound from Covid? You might look into selling some part of the company to bring in some new capital and boost your growth curve. That way you create even more value later on and gives you time to look for a better window to sell the balance at higher prices.

I guess the main takeaway is that most sellers can defeat Covid, at least financially. And you may just pull one over on the Tax Man while you are at it.


The Value of Middle Market Investment Bankers

By Robert St. Germain | Sep 03, 2020

During these challenging COVID-19 times, most long-tenured business owners are likely shouting, if not out loud then in their minds, “Oh no, not again!!!” as they are reminded of the Great Recession of 2008 and the many years it took for them to recover from that downturn. Today’s uncertainties may have them thinking that it is finally time to consider an exit.

The decision to exit from a business is very personal and generally results from answering questions like: “Do I have the energy/interest/health to continue running my business?”; “Do I have tolerance for the continued financial risk of supporting my business?”; and “Do I have a well-defined post-close life plan that I know I would enjoy as a ‘former business owner’?”.

When answering those questions leads to the decision to sell the business, the typical next question is “Should I sell my business on my own or hire an investment banker to help me do what I (likely) have never done before?”

The answer to the question of using an investment banker (IB) or not can be informed by revisiting a study titled The Value of Middle Market Investment Bankers published by Fairfield University in October 2016. The study’s purpose was to answer two basic questions of its own: a.) Do IBs add value to the business sale process?; and b.) Which IB service do business sellers value most?

The study surveyed 85 business owners who utilized IBs to sell their privately held companies or majority stakes therein for between $10M and $250M during the period 2011 to 2016. The results were quite illuminating.

To the study’s first question of whether or not IBs added value to their respective sale processes, 100% of the surveyed owners indicated their IBs did add either moderate (31%) or significant (69%) value to their processes and the achievement of successful transactions.

To the study’s second question, the owners were asked to rank by value to them eight specific services provided by their IBs. The owners ranked first and foremost the management of the complex M&A process and its associated strategy setting as the most important service of their IBs in support of their companies’ sales.

For the uninitiated, that M&A process and strategy setting typically include: a.) establishing pricing/valuation expectations; b.) crafting compelling marketing documents; c.) identifying all suitable strategic and financial potential buyers; d.) conducting the outreach campaign to those potential buyers; e.) establishing a virtual data room to house due diligence information appropriate for each stage of the process; f.) creating and maintaining competition between potential buyers to maximize shareholder value in the outcome; g.) calling for and negotiating indications of interest (IOI) to down-select to the sub-set of most viable buyers; h.) managing the post-IOI seller/buyer interface to include conference calls, management presentations and on-site visits; i.) calling for and negotiating letters of intent (LOI) to down-select to an exclusive potential buyer; j.) facilitating final due diligence during the post-LOI period; k.) assisting in the negotiation of the sale/purchase agreement and its associated documents; and l.) maintaining confidentiality throughout the entire process.

If participating in a professionally run sale process to maximize the return on your life’s work is of interest, contact your local CFA office, which is staffed with senior, securities licensed investment bankers operating in the context of a worldwide organization with over six decades experience assisting business owners sell their companies.


Measuring Growth and Profits

By Dan Vermeire | Aug 21, 2020

Business owners often face a crossroads. Should I invest to create growth? Or should I keep expenses in check and generate profits? It is usually hard to have both.

This question gets compounded in an M&A opportunity – Will my valuation be penalized because I invested for growth, rather than profits? How can I keep running my business-as-usual when I want to maximize the valuation?

 

The Rule of 40

In the technology sector, there is a handy equation that helps assess a company and considers both growth and profits – called the Rule of 40.
Simply stated: Revenue Growth % PLUS EBITDA Margin % should be 40 or more.
An example: Revenue growth over last year is 20% and the adjusted EBITDA margin is 25%. That equals 45, which is more than 40.

Looking more closely, you can see that a high investment in expenses like sales and marketing should generate higher revenue growth, though profits may be lower. This is particularly true of start-ups and younger companies. If the revenue growth isn’t that good, then perhaps rethink where the investment is made. Conversely, keeping expenses low and foregoing those investments should yield a higher bottom line. This could be the case of more mature companies with well established market relationships and product lines.

This rule can be applied to a variety of companies, both startups and mature, because it considers both growth and profitability. Most analysts will do this measurement over multiple years and also apply it to the forecast. While the number 40 is a recognized benchmark in the software sector, other benchmarks can apply to other sectors such as manufacturing, processing, services, and distribution.

If you are considering an M&A transaction, be sure to talk to a professional and discuss the balance between growth and profitability.


First Half 2020 M&A Surprisingly Active

By Roy Graham | Aug 04, 2020

While there were significant regional differences, first half 2020 M&A transaction numbers are in and they are better than many would expect. Refinitiv™ reports there were 20,728 deals under US$500 million closed globally and 5,152 deals in that size range closed in the US. As the chart shows, the second quarter was lower than the first but also not by as much as many might have expected.

Refinitiv™ reported that worldwide M&A total value declined by 15% compared to the first half of 2019. In the US, the decline was only 6% in both total value and number of transactions. Other regions were hit harder with Europe off 26% in number of transactions and 31% in total value.

With so much COVID related disruption in the economy, how do we explain why activity has not declined more? Firstly, except for the energy sector, the COVID impact did not hit most sectors until the tail of Q1. Additionally, Q2 was not down to the extent many would have expected with 2,514 US closed deals reported in Q2 vs 2,638 reported in Q1.

Technology has proven to be highly resistant to COVID’s impact and was barely down at -3% compared to a year ago. The technology sector represented 17% of all deals to lead all sectors while real estate related M&A totaled 15% of first half deals. There are also some deals that are being driven by necessity though US government assistance programs have clearly helped to limit the number in the US, at least for now.

While some companies are electing to defer their plans to go to market, others are moving forward. Companies that are going to market are generally finding many interested but cautious buyers as buyer demand remains keen while the number of sellers has diminished. In fact, PwC reported a surge in enterprise multiples during Q2 as investors rushed to invest in technology, media and telecom companies.

As government assistance programs taper off, we expect to see more interest in non-control equity and debt investments from private equity sources. Many private equity sources are actively promoting their existing non-control interests and others are rolling out new programs in anticipation of companies that need to strengthen their balance sheets to address bank concerns.

For more information contact your local Corporate Finance Associates investment banker. We will be pleased to discuss your questions without obligation.


Scenario Planning

By Andrew Baird | Jun 03, 2020

In January 2019, how many of us could have envisaged the type of difficulties which have hit our businesses in the last few months? Scenario planning helps you to review what you can control and what you cannot – Dick Cheney’s famous “Unknown unknowns”. It helps you to test and challenge the assumptions you make about the future shape of your business – even more important when there is a global pandemic!

A starting point is to try to define what you don’t know about the future and consider which issues would have the biggest impact on your business.

Go Back To The Basics

REVENUE – Customer numbers, what might affect supply, can you satisfy likely demand?
COSTS – How to price changes, impact of changes to credit terms.

Don’t make it too complicated – too many uncertainties will drive you mad!

Have Current Information

CASH FLOW – Accurate forecasts -both weekly and monthly are an essential tool.
SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS – Changing the key drivers in your cash flow forecast will show how the shape of your business could change.

Develop Your Scenarios

Don’t just plan for the worst – it’s good to know exactly how things could be if your assumptions are sound.
Is that “Ideal World” a serious possibility in the current environment?
If not – how might Covid-19 affect your assumptions? In that case, what do you need to do to achieve an acceptable outcome?

Best Case

What does that “Ideal World” look like? What needs to change and are those changes within your control (e.g. how to control customer numbers!)
Use your cash flow as a basis to change policies and procedures to support the “Ideal World”.
Never forget – it’s still going to be an unpredictable world, so conserve cash to be able to deal with a sudden reversal.

Medium Case

Planning what’s between the “Ideal World” and your worst case (so arguably what’s most likely to happen!)
If your business looks unlikely to survive a medium case, now is probably the time to seek some restructuring advice (and perhaps reconsider the components of your medium case scenario!)

Reconsider the basics – for example:

If you only have 75% capacity, can you break even?
Can you introduce other cost savings?
If not, then…

Worst Case

Less likely if you can recognise early, but you know what it looks like!
Where would be the point of no return? This probably depends on cash reserves, creditor and banking relationships, asset position, etc.
A wind-down reserves calculation is invaluable – what is the minimum cash required to pay all the businesses liabilities and avoid needing an expensive insolvency process.
If you have any concerns, insolvency advice is best taken early, before insolvency seems inevitable.

Scenario Planning is a valuable means of assessing your business and could be considered as important a part of regular review as examining the P&L and Balance Sheet.


M&A AS THE ECONOMY RE-AWAKENS

By Kregg Kiel | May 04, 2020

Everyone wants an ending, a date on the calendar when all of this is “officially behind us”. However, that seems unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future. This crisis will resolve itself in fits and starts. What we will see is an M&A landscape that may be permanently changed. We’ll focus here on what will happen as the economy begins to re-awaken and what happens if we hit headwinds.

BUYERS WILL APPEAR
PE firms interested in acquisitions are already moving beyond the triage stage internally. At the outset of this crisis, firms were focused on the fiscal health of their portfolio companies, not acquisitions. That will change.

The internal laser focus on existing portfolio companies will lessen as PE firms stabilize the salvageable investments and cull those that are not. This will allow them to again turn their attention to deploying capital into acquisition targets – many of which have become more attractive due to the repricing of the market. Opportunities are likely to abound.

SELLERS WILL NEED TO DECIDE
Some business owners who were considering selling their companies before COVID may hold off on exiting in order to avoid selling at a severe discount. Instead, they will focus on rethinking how they do business in a post-COVID world and implement those plans in hopes of increasing enterprise value. Alternatively, some sellers may choose to accelerate their plans to exit – especially those at risk in the Baby Boomer generation.

LENDERS WILL CONTINUE TO BE DISTRACTED
Debt is a key ingredient in most private equity transactions. Without lenders’ debt commitments, most deals have no chance of reaching the finish line. Banks are currently digging out from their government assistance workload which has demanded most of their attention over the past month. While this focus may change as we move into May, it is very unlikely that it will be business as usual anytime soon. Lenders are now very tentative given their inability to access economic risk and/or assign a value to potential transactions. They will also need to devote additional resources to distressed clients who begin to struggle with cash flow issues.

Public acquirers who can rely less on debt and more upon their own stock as currency for acquisitions may benefit the most during a debt tightening. Watch for public companies to become more aggressive in the post-COVID environment.

VIRTUAL SALES AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT WILL EXPAND
For all M&A participants, business development will still be essential in this new environment, however, it will be quite different. The basic ability to have face-to-face meetings has changed for the foreseeable future. Even if permitted, would you go out to lunch with a prospect next week? Even, if you are comfortable with face-to-face meetings, it makes good business sense to extend the courtesy of asking invitees if they are. There will be a varying level of discomfort with having face-to-face interactions for quite some time — until we have a vaccine.

The key to dealing with this new reality is to learn to excel in the virtual world. As much as we’ve learned to rely on virtual online meetings in the post-COVID world, most of those interactions have been with co-workers, business associations and other groups we are not actually selling to or negotiating with. Being able to successfully log into a meeting with sound and video actually working is no longer enough. The investment banking industry will need to grow comfortable with a slew of new practices. Getting transactions to closing (which very few have done during this crisis) will prove to be much more difficult. The need to read body language, make eye contact, and observe the myriad other non-verbal cues associated with interpersonal communications did not go away with the onset of the pandemic. They’ve merely been swept aside while we attempt to cope with the rapid developments that have occurred over the past two months. Be innovative in your use of remote technology. Having the ability to successfully leverage virtual tools for initial business development through the close of a deal is going to be what separates those who are successful from those who aren’t.

YOU WILL NEED TO PLAN FOR THE WORST
Many countries are beginning to cautiously roll back their stay at home rules. What happens if COVID spikes again just as the economy begins to regain its footing? This scenario has to be anticipated and planned for as a real possibility. Imagine that you had known in advance that the current crisis was going to happen. Now, assume a scenario where this “re-opening” of the economy fails at least once and think about what you would have done to prepare for it — because this time you can. Give serious thought to what will happen to the economy and how it will affect the climate for M&A transactions as well as your clients’ businesses. And, again, learn to excel in the virtual world. Developing a plan to address a potential economic relapse before it happens could be the difference between managing your way through another downturn and throwing in the towel. Be safe.

CFA is capable of providing assistance along the entire spectrum of M&A advisory services. We have over 60 managing directors in 30 offices (in the US and abroad) with broad expertise in a number of industry verticals. For more information, contact your closest CFA office.


Capital Markets and M&A | Under COVID-19

By Joe Sands | Apr 17, 2020

INITIAL IMPACT

The unprecedented shut down of the US economy has jolted all industries and left only a few benefiting from the crisis such as select healthcare, food manufacturing, technology, ecommerce, grocery and mass drug stores.  The capital markets have been highly difficult from a logistical point of view with the ‘stay at home orders’ and firms having to restructure operations to serve clients and market participants unable to meet in person or visit the businesses.

The lack of transparency, liquidity, precedent or even the ability to predict when and in what form the economy will reopen makes the ability to value businesses and securities difficult to say the least, never mind assessing risk in a business or a transaction.  We are mindful that as fast as this crisis arose, it’s becoming more conceivable that a substantial, but not full reversal may occur in the near term over a couple of quarters. We are hopeful.

UNCLE SAM’S INITIAL RESPONSE

As rapid as the crisis hit, the US fiscal and monetary policy response has been equally rapid and unbelievably robust.  In addition to the government response, the responses from the medical & scientific communities and the private sector has been like nothing ever seen before.  The US government and the Federal Reserve provided in excess of $4 trillion of liquidity within weeks and before much of the damage, not months after the damage as in previous crises.  The public equity markets fell by an astounding 34% from their peak in only five weeks and bounced back in three weeks as a result of the fiscal and monetary policies and some encouraging signs of the virus subsiding or not even coming close to the disastrous scenarios previously forecast.

OUR RESPONSE

On a case by case basis, each client engagement is being evaluated based on the stage of the engagement, specific business issues, and industry dynamics.  As always, we are focusing on our clients’ best interests and focusing on presenting options and the benefits and risks of each option.  Our goal remains to maximize value, deal terms and the probability of closing in each of our engagements.  For most sell-side M&A and growth capital raise engagements, the general options being reviewed are (1) pause deal marketing until the capital markets settle down, (2) expand the depth of due diligence, (3) extend process timeline to allow for additional due diligence or expanding the marketing outreach, and (4) modify deal terms to reallocate risk sharing.  For buy-side M&A, additional efforts are implemented to the extent that more favorable valuations and targets may be available.  Experience and expertise are what is most important for clients to make informed decisions in these challenging times and that is our mission. Read more »


Banking Relationships and the Small Business Owner

By David Sinyard | Apr 16, 2020

I have previously written about the importance of maintaining good banking relationships.  The recent Covid-19 emergency financing reinforces this need.  As of today, April 16, 2020 the program is out of money unless the government agrees to additional funding.  Millions of applications were filed under this program.  Many will not receive funding.  Those that will are companies that have very good banking relationships.  Their bankers made it a priority to get these loans approved.  A friend of mine is a senior executive with a regional bank.  Their staff worked through the Easter weekend to process loans – ultimately 6000 loans worth $1.2 billion will be funded.  Anecdotally, I know of many who applied and were not processed.  Why?  The importance of the relationship.  These PPP loans are 100% guaranteed by the government, meaning the banks will not suffer any losses. Much is being made currently about the “Main Street Loan” program.  These loans require the banks share 5% of the risk.  The effect of this requirement will be that these loans will be made to borrowers with whom the bank has good relationships.  Good luck to those who don’t.


CFA | COVID-19 Financial Impact, Assessment and Strategy Tool

By Peter Moore | Apr 16, 2020

The Crisis in Business Context

While the health crisis is the threat the Coronavirus holds over each of us, the business consequences are financial and often felt before anyone’s health has been compromised by the virus. Our economy relies upon cash flowing from one person and organization to another, and another, and another and so on. This “cash flow” circulation throughout our entire economy, when  measured is the “velocity” of money. The faster it flows the more robust our economy becomes. Most of our business economic arrangements depend on the basic trust of each party to a transaction, no matter how small the sale or how large the contract. This trust is shaken right now because of the uncertainty of our businesses and our livelihoods. The Federal Government’s job with stimulus funding is an attempt to restore the trust that helps to keep our economy going. Let’s all try and do our part and keep the cash flow moving.   See: What Is Money Velocity and Why Does It Matter?

The worksheets on the following two pages provide a way of looking at your company’s situation through the lens of your financial statements – both balance sheet (your financial condition at a point in time) and your income statement (your financial performance over a period of time). Looking closely at each line item of your own unique financial statements provides an orderly way of considering what and where you may be able to positively impact your own financial circumstances. Can you reduce liability, collect on assets owed to you, reduce an expense, and eliminate some overhead? All of these you’ve probably already looked at somewhat, but as circumstances continue to change it might be helpful to look even more carefully by visiting this worksheet for your business and your home situation too. Read more »


Who Moved My Deal? | Why Selling Your Company isn’t a DIY Project [Part 1]

By Daniel Sirvent | Apr 09, 2020

While intelligence, creativity and grit are all requisite characteristics of a future surgeon, nothing quite works like experience.

Nearly any medical school resident can handle a surgical procedure under normal circumstances; they’ve studied and memorized the procedures and the most likely risks associated with them. So why do they need an attending surgeon to supervise? Because when things don’t go according to plan, they need someone who’s “been there and done that” who can remain calm and work through the situation to re-stabilize the patient and get them to recovery.

How Business Owners Kill Their Own Deals

Why would an intelligent, creative and gritty business owner who hires a mechanic to repair their car and a plumber to fix their toilet, ever even think about trying to sell what may be their most prized and valuable financial asset all by themselves?

Simply put, they believe they understand the procedure (just find a buyer and stand your ground) and they believe they have the “right stuff” to negotiate a great deal.

Unfortunately, what they’re often lacking is the experience to handle the unexpected turns that come with the territory and often don’t realize their mistakes until it’s too late. Which could mean that at best they’ve missed an opportunity or at the worst, agreed to a deal that’s left them holding the short end of the stick.

So what are some of the most common mistakes that can derail a transaction and/or lower the transaction value in a business sale?

Time vs. Ego – What Kills More Deals?

Years ago, I had a public company CEO as a client who told me “time is the enemy of all deals.” While his intentions were well placed (he didn’t want to be the party that was dragging its feet), I gently and directly let him know that…he was completely wrong. Time is actually an asset that both parties need to protect and manage effectively, but that’s not the same as assuming that every part of the process must be fast. While poor time management carries its own risks, ego is the true enemy of all deals. When either party in a transaction fails to acknowledge the role ego plays, the entire deal is put at risk.  Read more »