Just how much use is EBITDAC anyway?

EBITDA

At PEM Corporate Finance we live and breathe EBITDA – it’s the performance metric of choice for M&A advisers and valuers alike as, at least in simplistic terms, it’s a good proxy for cash flow. And ultimately it’s cash flow that a corporate purchaser, investor or valuer ought to be focused on.  That’s what they’re buying or valuing.

EBITDAC

Of course EBITDA needs to be cleaned up before use, often adjusting for the true economic costs of the directors, and adding back any one offs costs. One might think it would be enough to consider the effects of Corona Virus on business, be it in reduced sales, margins, disrupted supply lines, or increased debt, as an add back. But in fact a new acronym has been coined: EBITDAC or earnings before interest tax depreciation and corona.

EBITDAC mug cropYou can even get it on a mug!

How might it help in practice. Well it will depend on how readily you can quantify and clearly identify the effects of Corona. That might not be altogether straightforward. It might hit the business in many ways, some of which won’t become apparent until later. It is also likely that the Corona effect will vary over time, and by sector. So for example we’ve found that some businesses are picking up slowly after an initial hit, and some sectors particularly in tech weren’t much impacted.
I do think it’s worth trying to isolate EBITDAC. It’s going to be an ongoing difficulty for business valuers. But in M&A there are some immediate impacts:-

Price expectations

Coming out of the recession that followed the financial crash in 2008/9 one of the issues was a big gap that had opened between vendors and purchasers expectations as to price. This could be an issue in the short term now. Vendors will want to sell on the back of the EBITDAC profit metric and on pre-Corona multiples. Buyers will want to back off some of the risk that the current reported EBITDA is the new normal through a reduced price. In practice we’re already seeing the use of earnouts, convertible instruments and ratcheted deals to bridge this gap. Creative deal structuring is going to be needed.

Locked box v Completion accounts

The locked box has become quite common and is especially popular with private equity buyers as it gives them certainly as to price/structure and their funding requirements to allow them to draw down funds if needed. However in a fast moving situation where there’s ongoing uncertainty as to how Corona Virus will impact it may now suit both buyer and seller to move to Completion Accounts where the final deal structure is established on completion. It’s quite likely that deals will progress slowly over the summer as buyers and funders are cautious with their diligence – that further emphasises the need to see what the world looks like on completion if that’s going to take to the autumn.

Normalised working capital

Upon closing an M&A transaction there is always a debate around the normal level of working capital, and what are the debt like items are in the target. And from that just how much surplus cash can be taken off the table by the Sellers. Of course short term there’s a good chance that working capital will not be normal, with a build up of creditors on stretched terms quite likely – and so that needs to be dealt with.

Just how much use is EBITDAC anyway?

Short term I’d say it’s interesting, we must use it, but as a proxy for cash flow it’s useless and that will ultimately limit its applicability in M&A without consideration of other factors such as the fundamental value drivers of the business, it’s forecasts and scenario planning for 2021. As far as valuation opinions are concerned 2020 EBITDAC can only really be used alongside consideration of 2019 results, and a detailed scrutiny of the business fundamentals and prospects for 2021.  It really underscores the need to start planning now for the recovery, as it will be all about having a credible view of 2021 and beyond.   

For more on business valuations and corona have a look at our valuations site or this article on the PEM Corporate Finance site 


There are still deals to be done even in "difficult" sectors

Its often said that the reason lots of deals are still happening in uncertain times is down to the liquidity in the system, and those companies being in good sectors. Conversely if asked many investors and advisors will tell you the retail and construction are "difficult". So it's heartening to report that there's always cream at the top of the milk bottle and that deals are still to be done in "difficult" sectors provided you're working with really good businesses.

Specifically I'm pleased to look back on two recent deals we've completed over the summer at PEM Corporate Finance, the sale of English Architectural Glazing and the sale of ATP Architects + Surveyors.

We acted as lead advisers to the shareholders of English Architectural Glazing.  Based in Mildenhall in Suffolk and Attleborough in Norfolk, this is one of the UK's leading contracting businesses providing envelope cladding packages for project such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, Wimbledon Centre Court, DLR Station City Airport and the BBC TV Centre conversion. Their clients include the great and the good of UK construction such as Kier, BAM and Skanska. The business was sold to Irish Private Equity Fund Elaghmore LLP. This deal closed in August.

A couple of months later we were pleased to announce the sale of ATP Architects + Surveyors to RSK. ATP, which is based in Ilford in Greater London,  is a multi-disciplinary professional consulting firm, and its purchase was RSK's 7th deal so far this year. ATK, which was established in 1966 provides the complementary services of landscape design, interior design, space planning, employers’ agent, and health and safety. It works with a broad range of clients such as Barratt London, Sanctuary Housing Association and Hollybrook Homes.

We've not done anything in retail recently - but are always keen to speak with good businesses and to help shape their exit plans.

More on our website  about the EAG and ATP transactions.

 

 


Is this the end for Entrepreneurs' Relief?

There is a growing chorus of voices urging the government to scrap Entrepreneurs' Relief.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies which suggested that business owners respond more to changes in taxes by adjusting how and when they take money out of their companies rather than by changing their investment plans.  It also claimed that many owner managers hold significant sums of cash in their companies in order to access lower CGT rates and to save tax - no sh*t Sherlock!   IFS issue with the system is that while higher income tax rates encouraged lower income take from companies, especially if it kept owner managers just below the next tax threshold, but that the cash retained wasn't invested just squirreled away.

ER
Now the former head of HMRC has called for ER to be scrapped, as it costs the country c£2bn a year in lost tax but with "no real incentive for entrepreneurship"

An earlier HMRC research paper by IFF, found that in most cases ER was not the primary motivating factor for entrepreneurs when making decisions about investing in assets, or disposing of them.   But it did find that those most likely to be influenced by ER at the point of making their initial investment were those most likely to planning to set up a new company.  Perhaps it's motivating serial investors - and so perhaps this is a driver for enterprise?

It's difficult to predict anything in British politics, and that's also true about the future of ER.   Phillip Hammond tinkered with it in his 2018 budget but resisted calls at that time for it's abolition.  So perhaps more tinkering is the likely outcome post election?

Whether or not a transaction will qualify for ER is always an agenda item in exit planning discussions.   And it's relevant in any M&A activity, whether you're selling your business, doing a management buyout, or even if you're buying business (because it will influence the seller).  But we're now finding, in discussions with entrepreneurs around Cambridge and East Anglia, that the availability of ER is becoming a factor for some in accelerating their exit plans before possible tax regime changes.  It's certainly true to say that it's unlikely to get any more benign.  

Ultimately exit decisions are driven by personal factors such as age, and a desire to do something else in life.  Or by business factors such as the value of the company, and it's strategic plans.  So the tax tail actually doesn't often wag the dog, but it would be helpful to have some certainty on how capital gains on the sale of businesses are going to be taxed.

In the short term the best way for business owners to wrest back some control from the politicians is to have some exit planning discussions, work out a range of dates and values for you exit, and what needs to happen to deliver that.    We're always happy to have this kind of discussion, because it makes it easier for business owner and adviser to act swiftly when opportunity arises.  If you'd like to read more about exit planning and selling your business have a look at the PEM Corporate Finance website https://www.pemcf.com/services/selling-a-business/


Valuation and pricing lessons from the battle for Sky

Valuation is art not science

A recent finance editorial in The Guardian on the 21st Century Fox v Comcast battle for Sky was critical of the Sky independent directors.  It felt they should be embarrassed at recent events and should realise that valuation is art not science.

Sky-logo-b90e8c9Too good to miss?

Paraphrasing the argument - in 2016 the independent directors felt a £10.75 per share cash offer was too good to miss.  Surely offers 40% above the previous weeks share price don’t come a long too often.    In fairness at that time the share price had fallen from £11 in April 2016 to 769p as the market fretted about Netflix and BT.  And you can be sure that Brexit fears didn’t help either.  But at the same time based on the fundamentals including the benefits to be derived from getting Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland motoring properly UBS analysts reckoned a fair price for Sky was £13.70.   So they’d not have been sellers at that price.

Today in 2018, with the political and regulatory issues behind them the real bidding has begun and the action is around the £14.00 to £14.75 range - so far.

Price v Valuation

This is all about price v valuation.  So what are the lessons?  Well the discussions at the board are of course mostly about price.  First time around in a jittery market, amidst fears about market trends (the threat from streaming), and with a one horse race the independent directors view on price wasn’t too bullish.  They obviously weren’t feeling too confident.  Either that the value was light, nor were they sufficiently robust to turn it down and take and flak from further share price decline afterwards.  So that was all about what price to accept. 

But back in 2016 UBS valuation opinion based on fundamentals was clearly suggesting something much higher – I’d be surprised if that wasn’t also the view in the Murdoch’s camp.

Now it looks so different.  Better performance, better market sentiment, and true competitive bidding is driving a value c£7Bn higher than before!  No wonder Sky shareholders were angry in 2016.

The above is all about how it felt for the sellers, for some insight into how it might have felt on for the purchasers have a look at this blog post on the PEM Corporate Finance website on how to pitch an acquisition offer.

The need for competition to get the best price

Taking the lesson a step further this really underscores the need to sell your business at a time of your choosing and to get a competitive process going.  It also demonstrates graphically how much higher a price you might get as a result of real competitive tension between strategic buyers.


A good time for business exit or succesion - high company multiples and before any scary tax changes?!

The latest Argos Mid-Market Index which shows movements in private company prices has just been published. It shows data up to Q3 2017 and indicates a record high of 9.5x.  As you can see from the graph it has been steadily climbing since 2009.   So if you're a business owner it's a good time to think about exit.  Or at any rate to make sure you have a credible exit or succession plan in place.   Many owners of private companies have much of their wealth locked up in their shareholding and so even an equity release transaction - perhaps by selling shares to a third party like a private equity house can help balance their personal portfolio.

ArgosThe other factor I now start to hear in conversation with business owners is concern about the tax regime that a new government might bring.    The capital taxes regime re the sale of company shares is particularly benign with Entrepreneurs' Relief effectively reducing the rate to 10% on the first £10M of lifetime gains.  Whilst Entrepreneurs' Relief was brought in by a Labour government there is an up swell of concern that a Corbyn led government might change things.

None of this may happen of course but it does underscore the need for every business owner to have a plan for exit and succession - even if it is explicitly not intended to happen for some time.

We're running our Business Exit Strategies Seminar in Stevenage on 23 November the day after the Chancellor Philip Hammond's budget speech.  So we should have clarity at least on his short term tax plans.

Our event, which is free, gives useful insights into a range of topics:-

  • The current M&A market
  • Strategic planning
  • How to build value in your business
  • Business valuation
  • How to achieve succession through a management buyout
  • Tax - how to mitigate and also how to use your tax affairs to build value in your company
  • Company sales - how to sell your business, pitfalls, why some companies don't sell

There are a few places still available - and the venue (Novotel just off the A1M) is easy to get to from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and North London.  So have a look at our website for the full program and booking.  http://www.pem.co.uk/corporate-finance/business-exit-strategies-stevenage

 

 

 

 


Cambridge and East Anglia Businesses asked to think strategically about growth

Flyer_front_cover_Cambs_Oct15With the Cambridge and the East of England economy continuing to perform strongly we're hosting a free educational morning seminar targeted at local small and medium size business owners (in the £1m-£100m turnover band).

Alongside our own corporate finance, and tax specialists we have speakers from our joint event hosts Barclays and Business Growth Fund who will give insights into raising debt and equity finance.   The whole event is designed to give business owners practical ideas on developing a strategy for growth.

Any acquisition should have a sound strategy underpinning it.   And it should look not only at the why and how, but also at the long term implications – when will you see benefits? Will it make your business more attractive to buyers?”

As well as giving advice on acquisition, we'll cover using strategic growth to maximise the value of a business.  The event is going to be comprehensive, guiding attendees from growth right through to succession or trade sale.

The seminar will run from 8.30am to 12.30pm at The Trinity Centre in Cambridge on 22 October. Registration is free; for more details or to book, please visit http://www.pem.co.uk/corporate-finance/growth-cambs


Why revenue multiples aren't very helpful

In some industries people talk about multiples of revenue when working out what their business could be worth.  It has some relevance in some industries which use it as a metric (financial services/advisory for example) and in early stage businesses where profit is an alien concept.

However for the most part it needs to be used with care as a secondary measure - and here's why.

Revenue is generally a poor indicator of value.   Its rather like focussing on cost per square foot of an office building.   But assessing the price for accommodation as rental/square foot will be driven by other factors, including quality but above all by location.  Or location location location.   So office space in a fenland village, for example, is going to be less per square foot than in Station Road Cambridge.

When we're selling a business potential buyers look at a number of financial metrics of which revenue is one.  But of course its not the only one, and as you'd expect profit is usually most important.  Specifically EBITDA as it can be a good proxy for cash generation.   A buyer will also be looking at qualitative aspects of the business or value drivers, that will influence its price/valuation.  These might include perceived weaknesses such as customer concentration or over dependence on the vendor.  In contrast positive value drivers could include having a strong intellectual property portfolio or significant market share/quality customers.

Business typically don't sell for multiples of revenue but for fractions of revenue as the chart (of US data) below shows

What this does show clearly is that revenue multiples vary over time and by sector.  

So when a company sale is reported as being an impressive multiple of revenue its probably because it has some other factor driving the sale - technology and intellectual property for example.

If you need a business valuation for whatever reason visit PEM Business Valuations to read more.

 

 

 


Will you be prepared for your moment in the sun?

As a business owner, you too need to be prepared when opportunity strikes. The two most common reasons owners sell their business are getting approached with an unsolicited offer and having a health scare. Either way you’re not in control of the timing, but you can be in control of how prepared you’ll be when opportunity knocks or necessity strikes.  Here’s 7 things to do right now to get your business ready to sell

Seven1. Make sure your customer contracts include a “survivor clause,” stipulating that the obligations of the contract “survive” the change of ownership of your company. That way, your customers can’t use the sale of your company to wiggle out of their commitments to your business.

2. Cultivate a group of a dozen “reference-able” customers that an acquirer could interview. When you sell, the buyer will want to speak with your customers; so you need a group of people – customers who are also friends – that would be willing to say good things about your company. In particular, the acquirer will be looking for assurance that the customer will keep buying after you leave, so make sure your reference-able customers are loyal not just to you but also to your business.

3. Keep in mind your elevator pitch to a potential acquirer. Writing your elevator pitch now will crystallize the important attributes of your company and ensure you focus on the right metrics in the coming years. It should the Who, What, Where When and Why of your business:

  • Who: describe why your management team is a winner. 
  • What: describe what you sell and why customers choose you.
  • Where: where are you located and what is the potential to expand geographically? 
  • When: how long have you been in business? 
  • Why: What are the strategic reasons someone would want to buy your company? Do you have a niche? Is your product a world-beater? Make decisions for your business now through the lens of how the results of your decisions would be perceived by a potential acquirer down the road

4. Identify 10 companies with a strategic reason to buy your business. Once you have a short list of potential buyers, study their M&A activity. What do they buy? What do they list as the strategic reasons for their acquisition in their media releases? Who are their lead corporate development executives?

5. Do business with your short list. Once you have a short list of potential acquirers, try to do business with as many of them as you can. Companies buy companies they know; so if you can find a way to work with a potential acquirer (either as a partner, supplier or customer) it’s a chance for them to become familiar with your company.

6. Professionalise your financial management – there’s nothing that freaks a buyer out more quickly than disorganised accounts.

7. Stop doing the selling. If you’re the rainmaker, nobody will buy your business without a soul-crushing earn out. Keep in mind that sales people take time to train and to hit their stride. Depending on your industry, it may take them a year or even two to start cranking out deals, so now is the time to hire and train them – not six months before you want out.


How to make a Safe Acquisition

Buying a business can be difficult enough, but that’s just the easy part. You’ll sleep in the bed you made. ChecklistMany an acquisition has turned to nightmare because of mistakes made during the purchase. Don’t let it happen to you.   Here’s some thoughts from our M&A experiences of both buying businesses and company sales to help you avoid the key pitfalls.

Seller financing

Not only does seller financing help minimize the equity required, it provides ready and meaningful recourse in the event the seller breaches duties, obligation, representations or warranties. Try to get “right of offset.”

If you can purchase assets instead of shares

Buying shares can be more risky, and you will need to conduct some due diligence on tgeh company you’re buying.  Its easier if you can negotiate to only buy the aseest. Asset purchases also reduce taxes.   But of course its much less tax advantageous to the seller, and most sellers will insist on a share sale or a greater price to compensate.

Reasonable returns

If the business can’t safely pay, beginning on day one, a resasonable return to you and comfortably service your debt and equity financing then you’re paying too much.  Remember that the bank that's helping to fund your deal will want to see a detailed business plan, and to agree financial covenants that are robust before supporting you.    And if you're raising Private Equity finance they'll also want to scrutinise the returns profile closely.

A clear, actionable penalty for every seller promise

Seller promises are frankly meaningless if your agreement doesn’t have specific, clear, actionable and valuable recourse outlined for each.  Make sure you're corporate lawyer has this all covered in the Sale and Purchase Agreement.

Verify seller’s ownership and rights to sell

Don’t trust that the owner legally owns anything, especially intellectual rights like trademarks, trade names, web domains, websites, formulas, patents, copyrights, etc.

Ensure that the non-compete is enforceable

No matter how sick or old or ill or tired or incompetent the seller says he is, nor how far away he says he’s moving, get a non-compete that your competent lawyer says is enforceable.

Pay no more than can be comfortably serviced by proven, historical cash flow

By all means count up all the synergies and cost reductions you think you’ll enjoy post completion, but try to pay only for the profits that are historically stable and proven.

Get personal recourse for seller breaches

For each and every promise, get the seller to agree to be held personally liable for any breach.

New, valid, lease on key property

Don’t  assume that the landlord will renew the lease or keep the same terms. Get it in writing!

 List the three things that could put you out of business the fastest

And be prepared to answer the question: “When the worst happens, how will I survive?” Don’t accept, “it’s unlikely to occur,” as an answer. If it “could,” you better plan for it.

Much of this is  common sense, but its amazing how people push through acquisitions only to regret them afterwards – I can think of a few examples in Cambridge and around East Anglia where folk have got this wrong, but there are some really glaring corporate horror stories out there in the UK banking sector.  Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Bank and Coop Bank probably all wish they’d not done the deal!   But if you take your time and work with an M&A adviser and corporate lawyer who will challenge you on all the key points – even if it means telling you not to do the deal, then you’ll be fine.


So what does Maximising Value really mean to a business seller?

ValueWhat Does Maximum “Value” actually mean when selling a business?

When the time comes for business owners to think about selling their business it is usually one or, if not the, most valuable assets they possess.   And so it’s important that they get something truly valuable in return.   Typically, that’s money.   But most transactions have lots of other valuable features – so in company sales it’s not just about the money.

When a company owner hires an M&A adviser like PEM Corporate Finance to work with him or her on the sale of his/her business we are typically charged with helping to maximize value.  But not all business sellers appreciate fully that “value” can mean much more than money.   “Value” can of course be extracted in many forms other than cash, such as:

  • Loan Notes
  • Earn-out agreements
  • Releases of liabilities, such as guarantees.
  • Waiver of contingent liabilities
  • Ongoing benefits, such as insurance coverage or use of a vehicle or premises
  • Consultancy agreement for the Vendor
  • Employment agreements for employees
  • Agreement to lease certain real estate or other assets

In the sale preparation process, we work with Vendors to determine what they would enjoy or find value in.  Of course there’s no telling what a strategic buyer might be prepared to pay until we can get them into a competitive process, but its useful to prioritize before going into an auction.

For example:

  1. Cash at closing
  2. Long-term “market” lease of property that the Vendor owns personally or in his/her pension fund
  3. Firm obligations to pay cash post-closing – i.e. deferred consideration rather than earn out.
  4. Employment agreements for top 3 executives
  5. Earn-out agreements
  6. Release of contingent liabilities

This priorities list can then inform the negotiation, and it’s a useful expectations setting exercise ahead of the sale process. 

So “maximising value” relates to anything that is of value to the seller.  It will probably should be much more than cash because the buyers have a limited amount of cash they can provide at closing, and yet they usually have other “things of value” they can deliver if the negotiation is skilfully handled.  This is one reason why its better to have skilled experienced M&A/corporate fiannce advisors on your side rather than working with a brokerage which simply puts buyers and seller together and then leaves them to it.