You were introduced by mutual acquaintances and have been “dating” for a while now. Via probing questions and answers you realize you are compatible, synergistic and seemingly a perfect fit. It’s time to move to the next step… the engagement ring? No… the letter of intent, or LOI.
In the mergers and acquisitions world, the LOI is a legal document which spells out the initial price and terms upon which a buyer acquires a company. In M&A, rarely is the balance of power between a buyer and seller even. Prior to the signing of an LOI, the seller is more in control of the process. They are negotiating for the best possible price and deal terms and are usually speaking with more than one potential suitor. With competitive bidding underway, the seller has the ability to negotiate his sale price upward. Favorable deal terms are part of this negotiating process. However, once the buyer has been selected and a letter of intent signed, power shifts.
Exclusivity is a normal component of the LOI. Once a letter of intent has been signed, the seller is no longer allowed to engage in dialog with other potential suitors. This exclusivity lasts from 30 to as long as 90 days, during which the buyer and his legal team begin the due diligence process. During this process, the buyer makes certain that representations about the company are true and complete. During due diligence, the buyer isn’t necessarily looking for more “good stuff”, but generally seeks out that which may have a negative impact on the acquisition, deal terms and purchase price. The buyer usually has more control during this phase of the M&A process. You’ll rarely see the purchase price negotiated up during due diligence.
Do all engagements end in marriage? No. Do all LOI’s end in closed M&A transactions? No. LOIs give both the buyer and the seller time to decide “should we make the commitment final?”
Posted by David Hulett.
Download How to Sell Your Business at Full Value in a Down Market