Revisiting the Topic of “Is 2011 the year of M&A, IPO or the return of Private Equity ?”

In 2010, I kept getting asked about this – it seemed to be the topic de jeur in many of the meetings I was in during H1 of 2010.

Check here for a link to the 2010 blog entry I wrote.

As I said last year, everybody has their reasons why they might favour one dominant approach (M&A versus IPO versus PE Funds) over the others, and ultimately that’s what it tends to be … people pushing their own wheelbarrow on the coat-tails of one of these types of trends.

Irrespective of which one ultimately dominates during 2011, there are some things we can definitely observe and therefore make some educated guesses about:

  • Mergers & Acquisitions will continue to be very busy during 2011, continuing what happened in 2010 with industry consolidations and tactical acquisitions.
  • The number of attempted IPO’s in 2010 was only a small % of the successful ones. In 2011 this % will be much higher, and also be based on a much higher number of attempts.
  • Private Equity got a bit of a run-on during 2010, but is still being brought unstuck by having to hold onto the trading operations for much longer than they used to.

Now, whilst those observations are very much SFW, there are some specifics to consider.

M&A.

  • M&A activity will actually be stronger again in 2011 than in 2010, last year it was about businesses leveraging their balance sheets again. In 2011 it is all about growth by acquisition.
  • Businesses were being picked up at 3 x EBIT early in 2010 it got better through the year – but didn’t get to the 6 x EBIT I thought it would. However, roll-ups have intrinsically greater value than a tactical acquisition and this is being borne out by some of the multiples being achieved.
  • At the larger end of town hiring of staff has become very tight, in the SME space it isn’t as tight but this is because they’re being less picky. As always, acquisition is an easier way to get the right people (then you just have to find a way to keep them !!).

IPO’s.

  • Public interest/appetite in solid businesses looking to list has continued to increase, and will do so throughout 2011.
  • Trading conditions are still very fragile in some sectors, so whilst IPO’s are a viable option again, there is definitely enough downside risk to require caution.
  • There are some heavy duty businesses looking to list, an example is the iSelect business in Australia which I gather is looking to IPO and list towards the end of 2011.

PE Funds.

  • The Facewash/Strip/Sell strategies are still not viable because of the EBIT multiples available.
  • PE Funds have had to hold and run businesses for the last 2-3 years, previously they’d have been out in 12 mths.
  • The PE Funds have now got a totally different skillset/timeframe/approach courtesy of the GFC.
  • Providing that trading conditions improve there will be a number of PE Funds looking to offload businesses during 2011, as they seek to reset their investment strategies for the growth times ahead.

Given all of the above, it will be a very active and interesting year for Corporate Advisory firms (like ours) and for those businesses out there that have a good story to tell.

Feel free to contact me if you want to explore this topic in greater detail.

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