M&A in Pandemic, Not Panic

Business advisors are digging in right now, trying to figure out how COVID-19 will affect their clients. We’ve been talking with business owners, active buyers, and other advisors around the country.

Right now, we know that some M&A deals are getting delayed over routine process points. Certain bank approvals that used to happen in regular in-person review meetings are being held up as discussions take place via email chain instead.

Some businesses with real estate transitions are no longer able to get appraisers or environmental assessors out to their property. That’s a standard part of the process, and if it can’t happen the rest of the transaction must hold.

Of course, some deals are getting pushed out over more than procedural issues. Certain businesses, particularly anyone in travel or hospitality or key vendors to those industries, are getting beat up right now and will want to wait until conditions normalize.

But other business owners are unaffected, as of yet, and moving forward with plans to sell in 2020. We are still having conversations with potential sellers and prepping businesses for market. The key will be to mutually agree on when it makes sense to take actually “go to market” with each specific client.

Money to Invest

What we know is that many companies and private equity firms have been doing well for years. The private equity industry alone had $1.5 trillion of “dry powder,” that is capital to invest, at the start of the year. They still need to honor their commitments to investors and put that money to work.

What we’re hearing is that some buyers are putting all equity into deals right now. They’ll refinance later when things calm down, rather than wait on bank approvals to get things done.

That’s a sign of the times. The market has been very active up until now, and many buyers aren’t going to let up. In fact, some are getting more aggressive because they think they might find a better deal in the months ahead.

Considering Valuations

Herein lies the real question. Are sellers going to take a reduction in business value?

Imagine your company manufactured sanitizing wipes and was already in active negotiations with a buyer when the pandemic started. Your EBITDA is going through the roof with numbers your business has never seen before. But will the buyer adjust the price up for that extra cash flow, based on a one-time anomaly? My guess is no.

So, will buyers get away with asking sellers to take a haircut over a one-time dip? Perhaps a bit. Most likely we’ll see a shift in deal structures. Buyers will put in less cash at close, with slightly more hinging on earn outs or other contingencies based on future performance.

Still, given the competition in the market just a month or two ago, buyers will need to be cautious about pressing sellers for a bargain. The underlying, long-term value of most companies will remain the same, despite a temporary dip in cash flow. Savvy buyers understand that and will be judicious in their valuations.

What about right now?

If your business has been affected, and you still have slow times ahead, look at this as an opportunity to catch up on all the things you didn’t have time for before. Spring clean, if you’re allowed to be on site.

Document business processes. A business is more saleable, and will typically sell for more money, when there’s less risk involved. And there’s less risk when all systems and procedures are documented on paper instead of secreted away in the owner’s mind.

Think about how you can be training and growing your employees during this time. This might be a good time for online training, or even expanded team conference calls to discuss things like process improvements or strategic planning.

Focus on ways you can grow from the situation. Complete this sentence: The challenges we face today will help our business be __________. (If you can weather the storm and use this time for development, the answer could be: more valuable.)

For further information on M&A market conditions or to discuss a current business sale, acquisition or valuation need, contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.