Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Q3 2017 M&A Update: Who Will Buy Your Business?

Businesses with enterprise values above $10 million are primarily sold to institutional investors. Those acquirers fall into two broad categories: financial and strategic. This article discusses the four most common types of financial buyers, sources of funding, and investment horizons.  

Private Equity Group, or PEG. A private equity group, or firm, is an investment management company that provides financial backing and makes investments in operating companies through a variety of investment strategies including leveraged buyout, venture capital, and growth capital. The PEG is responsible for finding suitable business opportunities, screening those opportunities, and selecting ones to pursue. A Committed Fund is the most common of the following three PEGs.
PEG Committed Fund or a fund with committed capital has set up a “Fund” which receives money from institutional investors, such as pension funds, college endowment funds, and high net worth individuals. Corporate Investment recently worked with a private equity fund that invested money from a high profile college’s endowment fund. The private equity group reviews the acquisition candidates, selects the desirable ones, manages the acquisition, and monitors the investment in the business. Each “Fund” typically has a defined investment horizon, which is typically 5 - 7 years, meaning the investors anticipate receiving their capital back and related returns in that time frame. The managers of the “Fund” are typically paid a management fee and participate in the gains realized on the investments made by the “Fund.”

A Fundless Sponsor or independent sponsor is a type of capital group or individual seeking acquisition candidates without having the equity financing required to complete the transaction up front (hence, they are “fundless”). Fundless sponsors raise the equity required to fund an acquisition after they have executed a letter of intent (“LOI”). Fundless sponsors may consist of a single individual or group of individuals with years of experience in investment banking and traditional private equity, who accumulated a significant amount of capital. They will then split off and operate a small office, and with their track record, there are other investors that will invest alongside them in business acquisitions. The typical investment horizon for fundless sponsors is also 5 - 7 years, but may be longer.

Search Funds are vehicles for entrepreneurs to raise funds from investors interested in making private equity investments. In the first two examples shown here, the PEG wants to rely on existing  management to continue to run the business day-to-day. In the search fund model, a small group of investors back an operating manager(s) to search for a target company to acquire. The manager typically has an established track record in a specific industry, and wishes to take over day-to-day management. Search funds may have a longer investment horizon, and be more flexible.

Now – the new kids on the block:

Family Offices are a relatively new entrant into the financial acquirer mix. These are private wealth management advisory firms that serve ultra-high-net-worth investors. They are different from traditional wealth management shops in that they offer a total outsourced solution to managing the financial and investment side of an affluent individual or family. Family offices serve multi-role functionality as well as wealth management, including, accounting, security, and property management. Family Offices can be Single Family or more recently, Multi Family offices. More recently, many family offices have hired an experienced professional from a traditional private equity firm to search for companies to acquire. Corporate Investment recently dealt with two large family offices who have hired individuals from private equity firms to help them source, acquire, and manage their acquisitions of entire companies. They typically have a longer investment hold period than traditional funded private equity firms.

Our client, the seller, must align their objectives in the transaction with the right type of purchaser.  Knowledge of the type of funding, risk of being able to close, and investment time horizon of purchasers must be taken into account for us to successfully achieve our client’s goals.

An understanding of the types of institutional buyers is very important, as private equity buyers are now actively investing in lower middle market companies. Over the past 8 years, significant institutional funds have been committed to private equity firms, and the competition for middle market companies (revenue above $100 million) has increased dramatically, leading many firms to lower their sights and seek investments in lower middle market companies. 

There are about 350,000 companies with annual revenues between $5 million and $100 million, compared with less than 30,000 companies with revenues above $100 million, according to Forbes magazine. “Interest in the lower middle market has grown substantially,” according to Probitas Partners Private Equity Institutional Investors Trends for 2017 Survey. “In 2017, 63 percent of institutional investors said they are focusing on the U.S. small market buyout sector.” (Mergers & Acquisitions magazine, October 2017). 

This development is extremely positive for Central Texas business owners, as the competition for a well managed, profitable business to acquire leads to attractive transactions.