Deciding to pursue a merger or acquisition can be a complicated process fraught with risk. Even when the financials look good and the potential rewards seem great, there are several reasons why a buyer might decide to walk away from a deal. Understanding these reasons can help sellers prepare for negotiations and improve the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Here are eight common reasons why M&A buyers might decide not to proceed with a deal:
- Big Surprises in Due Diligence: During due diligence, the buyer may discover that the target company is not what they expected. This could be due to operational issues, poor recordkeeping, inadequate systems, or other concerns. If the buyer believes that these problems make the investment too risky, they may walk away. That’s why it’s important to “go ugly early.” In other words, put all the negatives on the table right away, to reduce the chance of surprises ruining a deal later on.
- Financial Concerns: When evaluating an opportunity, buyers are looking at a company’s financial health and future earnings potential. If, during due diligence, they find significant financial issues, such as declining revenue, over-aggressive addbacks to prop up EBITDA, or inaccurate financial statements, the buyer may abort the deal process.
- Cultural Red Flags: An acquisition involves the integration of people and organizational cultures. Buyers and sellers should have had culture discussions before the letter of intent stage. But sometimes new information reveals itself as the parties work together. If the buyer perceives significant cultural misalignment, they may walk away to avoid potential integration challenges or disruption to their own corporate culture.
- Liability Concerns: As part of due diligence, buyers look at a range of risk factors. They don’t want to face an unexpected lawsuit or deal with the aftermath of someone else’s improper corporate conduct. Concerns here include ethical and legal issues, including non-discrimination and employment practices, regulatory requirements, and contracts, as well as tax liabilities.
- Environmental Issues: Many transactions will include an environmental site analysis. Even if you aren’t selling the real estate with the business, the buyers may want assurances that the business hasn’t been the source of any unknown leaks or contamination. Unfortunately, environmental events do occur, and some sellers find themselves tied up in years of environmental remediation issues before they are able to alleviate buyer worries and put their business back on the market.
- Strategic Shifts: Changes in a buyer’s strategic priorities can prompt them to walk away from an acquisition. Sometimes a buyer’s board of directors or investors don’t approve the deal. Something as simple as the buyer losing a key executive who championed the deal can sideline an otherwise healthy transaction. We’ve seen it happen!
- Unresolved Negotiation Issues: Negotiating an M&A deal requires reaching consensus on a wide range of deal terms, including price, payment terms, contractual obligations, warranties, working capital, and other deal-specific issues. If the buyer and seller cannot resolve key negotiation points, it can lead to deal termination. Resolving these issues can be a critical point of failure for many deals. That’s why it’s a good idea to work with an experienced M&A advisor and attorney who knows what’s normal and customary for your industry and won’t obstruct your deal with overzealous demands or omit critical deal terms. You want an attorney who will protect your interests, but you also want a proven deal maker, not a deal breaker. This is also why you want the buyer to outline as many deal terms as possible in the letter of intent (LOI). At the LOI stage, you still have other buyers at the table, giving you more leverage and options.
- External factors: Finally, some deals get foiled by external factors outside everyone’s control. For example, COVID-19 killed or delayed many deals. The dot.com and housing busts, 9-11, political shifts, supply chain disruptions, strikes, rising interest rates—these are just some of the many external events that have delayed deals or stopped them in their tracks.
It is important to note that walking away from an M&A deal can be costly for both the buyer and the seller. The buyer loses the money they have spent on due diligence, and the seller may lose the opportunity to sell their company. However, in some cases, walking away is the best option for both parties.
Before entering into an LOI with a buyer, your advisors can help you check their refences and deal history. You want a buyer with a track record of completing deals and staying true to commitments.
For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at email@example.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.