The use of leverage is always a challenge. Use too little, and you leave profits on the table. Use too much, and you could be putting yourself in jeopardy. Most middle market M&A transactions are financed using a combination of debt and equity. A deal may have a single lender, or a mix of senior, junior or mezzanine debt. Debt has a lower cost of capital than equity, so the return on equity increases as the percentage of debt goes up. The goal is to use as much debt as possible without hitting the point where cash flow from the equity component cannot service the debt interest.
In acquisitions made in 2011 to 2013, total debt averages were remarkably stable, averaging 3.4x in each of those years. However, for deals closed during the first nine months of 2014, we have seen debt averages begin to rise, with the average jumping to 3.7x. Deals financed on the characteristics of another entity (ie: an existing portfolio platform or the corporate-level facility of a family office) employed even more debt, with an average of 4.4X.
As one goes from the smallest deal tier to the largest, the pickup in leverage becomes more pronounced. At $10-25 million TEV, leverage increased just .1X from 2013 to 2014 year to date. At $25-50 million and $50- 100 million, the gain was .3X and in the $100-250 million bracket, average total debt jumped .6X.
From one sector to the next, the use of leverage is not equal. Currently, manufacturing deals are participating fully in the flush leverage market, with debt levels rising from 3.4x in 2013 to 3.9x year to date. Business services, on the other hand have not experienced the same leverage run up, with a slight decline in 2014.