We stay in regular contact with private equity groups from around the country to monitor M&A market activity. Currently, the message we are hearing is that these firms are “open for business.”
Private equity firms are in the business of buying, building and selling businesses. It’s how they deliver investor returns. They don’t have time to sit back and wait things out. The clock is ticking as they work to meet investor expectations within fund deadlines.
These firms are pretty good about tracking and studying their deal flow. They have data, going back years, on the volume and quality of potential deals that they see.
What we’re hearing, from multiple private equity firms, is that the number of good, quality companies coming to market is down anywhere from 50 to 80% over a year ago. That means the law of supply and demand is working in sellers’ favor.
We know that some buyers have pulled out of the market. Based on what we and our peers are seeing, I’m estimating that 25% of buyers have left the market. But compared to the number of new sellers who are not going to market, we still have a demand/supply imbalance.
That competition has kept valuations and deal structures strong. Previously, we predicted sellers would be sharing much more of the risk through increased earn outs and other alternative deal arrangements. And we are seeing a bit of that, but not to the degree that we expected 3 to 6 months ago. In fact, according to the latest Market Pulse Report sponsored by IBBA and M&A Source, Q2 median selling prices in the Main Street market came in anywhere from 89 to 92% of benchmark. Meanwhile, lower middle market companies in the $5 million to $50 million range achieved the highest values at 100% of benchmark.
What we’re seeing in M&A is somewhat mirroring a phenomenon in the home buying market right now. Fewer sellers are listing their homes, but buyer demand is still high. According to data from Zillow, new for-sale listings are down about 25% over a year ago but house values are up 4.3% year-over-year.
To clarify, sellers that are faring well in the M&A market are those who have been relatively unaffected by COVID-19 and those who were able to recover quickly. Essential businesses and those who have otherwise remained resilient are still having success in the M&A market.
As one example of the competitive dynamics at play, we recently took a technology distribution business to market and within 45 days had 8 written indications of interest on the table on similar terms to what we would have expected 12 months ago. And deals are getting done. A peer organization of ours in Pennsylvania just sold a company with $4-5 million EBITDA at an eight-multiple (above the 2019 market average) with 80% of cash at close.
So if you’re thinking you have to wait out the market to sell, talk to an M&A advisor before you count yourself out. If you have a quality business, it’s easier to get attention right now. Private equity and corporate buyers have fewer businesses to consider and more time on their hands to evaluate acquisition opportunities.
The right businesses are still selling with strong values and favorable deal structures. The window has not closed for high quality companies; in fact, you may be able to benefit from the current market dynamics.
For further information or to discuss a potential sale, contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or firstname.lastname@example.org in our Petaluma, California office.