Monday, 17 December 2012

2012 Year-End Summary

As another year comes to an end, I thought I would organize a topic reference page around themes.  The following are select blog posts from the last two years.  Happy Holidays and if you have any thoughts for a topic in 2013, please let me know.

Terminology and Documentation
M&A Acronyms

M&A Process

Preparing a Business For Sale

Buyer Selection


Choosing an Advisor

M&A/Corporate Finance Options

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What is Due Diligence and What Does it Consist Of?

Due diligence is an investigation of a business or person prior to signing a contract.  More specific to a divestiture, it is the process of verifying the representations made in the CIM and other marketing materials provided to the potential acquirer by the seller.  For example, in a CIM we may state that the seller’s customer contracts have an average life of three years and that no single customer accounts for more than 5% of revenues.  The potential acquirer will extend an expression of interest based, in part, on this information (remember, while the CIM highlights all the facts that drive sustainable value – it still holds back competitively sensitive information).  Business due diligence is the act of examining all of the signed and valid customer contracts and, in this example, confirming that customer contracts do, in fact, have an average life of three years and that no single customer does account for more than 5% of revenues.
A seller should always keep due diligence in mind when thinking about the sale of their business.   We typically provide sellers with a due diligence checklist early on in the process so that they can take the first several months of the process to get organized and assemble the documents.  I would be happy to share a due diligence checklist with anyone interested (just email me).  The  documents required for due diligence include all material signed contracts such as customer contracts, banking agreements, funding contracts, shareholder agreements, employment contracts, as well as resumes, benefit commitments, internal financial statements, receivables/payables aging schedules, capital acquisition and depreciation schedules, tax records, asset listings, articles of incorporation, the minute book, and perhaps software architecture documents, product roadmaps, environmental assessments, historical board presentations, and ultimately customer and bank reference calls.  These are just a few of the items typically included but, generally speaking, it consists of everything material to the well being of the company.  Clients provide us with these documents and we scan them and selectively, and in stages, make them available in a virtual data room to be shared with relevant parties. 
Due diligence generally happens in phases.  Some due diligence is performed before exclusivity (i.e. a signed LOI) and most after.  The first phase of due diligence is business due diligence; this is where the acquirer’s executive and accounting teams figure out exactly how the revenue streams and products of the acquirer and target complement each other in order to determine how much they can pay for the target while meeting their own ROI targets.  Legal due diligence occurs during the exclusivity period and will include title searches and other searches to ascertain the target company is a valid company, owning the assets that it purports to own and operating within the regulations of the jurisdiction and that no lawsuits or claims are outstanding.  Once a certain amount of due diligence is completed parties typically initiate work on the purchase and sale agreement.  Sixty to ninety days is a typical timeframe from signing an LOI to closing the acquisition of a straight forward private company.
Finally, after exhaustive due diligence the seller will still be asked to represent that they did not withhold any information such as knowledge of potential lawsuits in a purchase and sale agreement.  In “What Does a CIM Include and How Do You Position It?”, I said: “ CIM must not over-promise or leave less than flattering facts out because it forms the basis of an expression of interest that may turn into an LOI and, ultimately a purchase and sale agreement.  Due diligence verification throughout this process will uncover all of the facts.” From the outline above I trust you will agree with me.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

What Exactly Does an M&A Advisor Do?

In “How Does an M&A Advisor Add Value to the Divesture Process?”, I noted that M&A advisors typically charge between 3% and 7% as a success fee for managing the sale process for a company.  The question I addressed then was, will engaging an M&A advisor improve your expected sale value by at least 5%?
Here I would like to outline exactly what an advisor does in the process of a sale mandate.  At this point I am assuming that pre-mandate matters such as preparing a business for sale, value expectations and timing from a business and market perspective have been discussed and it is agreed that it makes sense to proceed.
The advisor side of the deal team typically includes a senior lead such as a Director or Managing Director plus at least one Associate or Analyst as support.  In addition, in our case, there are usually international resources involved through our M&A international alliance.  Our M&A partners can do as little as buyer introductions to as much as negotiating and structuring deal terms.
An M&A advisor will: (i) position the selling company as a strategic fit for target buyers; (ii) present the opportunity to numerous logical and capable buyers; and (iii) manage the process along a defined and orderly timeline, in order to generate the highest premium possible.  We typically identify what we are responsible for in our engagement letters as follows:

·              Conduct a review of the company in order to better understand the nature of its operations and value proposition to prospective partners including:
o      a review and analysis of the historical and prospective financial results of the company;
o      a review and analysis of operational, marketing, technical and other information regarding the factors that influence the cash flow prospects and risk dynamics of the company;
o      discussions with management regarding the operations of the company;
o      a review and analysis of public information and other available information pertaining to the company and the industry in which it competes, and
o      a review and analysis of transactions that have taken place in recent years among businesses whose operations are similar to those of the company.
·              Prepare company overview materials in consultation with the company, which will provide prospective partners with an understanding of the nature of the company and allow them to assess value;
·              Conduct a search to identify suitable potential partners, guided by any criteria provided by the company;
·              Contact and screen potential partners;
·              Assist the company in the preparation of due diligence documentation, a management presentation and related materials for review by possible partners;
·              Negotiate with possible partners;
·              Work with the company’s legal counsel, tax advisors and other advisors to assist the company in structuring the transaction so as to meet its financial objectives; 
·              Review the documentation in respect of the transaction; and
·              Other functions as required in support of the transaction, and as agreed to from time to time.

The whole process may take six to eight months and the M&A team will spend somewhere between 300 and 500 hours on a file.  M&A advisors will have a lot of familiarity with legal documents and tax issues, but ultimately lawyers and accountants are required in the areas of due diligence, purchase and sale contracts, and tax planning.

M&A advisors often highlight how competitive bidding between several eager buyers resulted in an extraordinary price for their clients but, like the over-night success story ten years in the making, a completed divestiture relies on a foundation of thorough planning and process.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It is all About the Platform

I have mentioned the word platform several times in my posts, however, the word actually means different things in different circumstances, so I thought I should clarify.  Private Equity (PE) looks for platform investments and sellers look for platform buyers but they are not necessarily the same thing.
A platform investment for a PE is an investment/acquisition in a new space that it intends to grow in.  For example, when Vector Capital bought 20-20 Technologies in July of this year, they announced it as a platform investment.  Before the acquisition Vector had holdings in consumer software (Corel) and digital media (RealNetworks) but nothing in computer-aided design software for the interior design and furniture industries.  In a platform investment, the buyer is looking for a market leader that it can use as a platform for growth.  Subsequent acquisitions or “add-on” investments will be one way to achieve this growth.  The investment criteria differ between platform and add-on investments in that they are typically stricter for a platform investment. A platform investment would ideally be on the larger end of a PE’s size range and be bought at a good price.  There is more risk in a platform investment because it comes with the challenges of learning a new sector landscape and the target company’s competitive position in it.  When considering add-on investments the PE is effectively acting as a strategic buyer and looks to exploit potential synergies between the buyer and the target.  Add-on investments are also called “tuck-in” or “tuck-under” investments because they tend to be smaller than the platform investment.
The other way the word platform is used is to describe a type of buyer.  A platform buyer is a strategic buyer looking for a platform to grow its revenues by adding complementary products, personnel, technology, etc.  Platform buyers are good buyers because, (i) they can pay a good price because they bring a growth opportunity to the target, and (ii) they will leave the existing assets (brands, people and legacy) in tact.  As an example, we were engaged to sell a pattern recognition company in the field of product quality control.  The technology would scan a production line and identify products that did not meet certain quality parameters.  In this case, the ultimate buyer was the US Department of Defense, who paid a strong premium and who then used the technology for facial recognition for national security purposes. 
I spoke earlier of a PE acting as a strategic buyer and looking to exploit synergies.  Synergies can come about in constructive or destructive ways.  A destructive way would occur when a direct competitor buys a company for its customer base.  In this case, if the buyer has excess capacity, it could shut down the acquired company and service the customers using its existing product and plant, thereby growing revenues and improving margins (synergies) but leaving the target decimated.  On the other hand, a platform buyer will consider the target company’s customers, personnel, or technology as complementary rather than redundant. In this case the target retains the existing customer base and also adds the acquirers’ customers thereby growing revenues by a higher factor than in the previous example and creating more value.  As a result, a platform buyer is a good buyer.  They can pay more because they can create more value and they retain the brand, team and legacy of the seller.
In the first instance the word platform refers to the vehicle that will form the basis of a sector growth strategy and in the second case it refers to the assets that generate complementary growth.  Either way, it is all about the platform.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

What Does a CIM Include and How Do You Position It?

C.I.M. stands for Confidential Information Memorandum and it is the main overview document provided in the private company divestiture or private placement financing process.  A CIM is made available subsequent to signing an NDA and presents detailed company information as a basis for an indicative value discussion.
The CIM is typically prepared by the adviser and ranges from 40 to 100 pages.  CIMs describe the nature of the business (i.e. products/services, strategy, differentiation, revenue model, etc.), its history, ownership, legal structure, suppliers, customers, competitors, market opportunities, management, growth prospects, and high level financial information such as historical revenues, EBITDA and a balance sheet.  Customers, key suppliers and key management do not have to be identified by name.  It is still important to protect competitive intelligence at this point as there will be only one successful buyer and the company should not be put in a position where its competitors have access to sensitive information about the company.
The reader of a CIM will be looking to better understand the value proposition of the company and to identify attributes that drive sustainable value. Some examples of questions to be addressed include:
-       Has the seller transferred his/her relationships and know-how to ongoing management?
-       Are the revenues of a recurring nature or project based?
-       What are the key sustainable differentiators of the product or business model?
-       Is the customer base diversified / is the business reliant on key suppliers?

A CIM must not over-promise or leave less than flattering facts out because it forms the basis of an expression of interest that may turn in to an LOI and, ultimately a purchase and sale agreement.  Due diligence verification throughout this process will uncover all of the facts. 
CIMs are different for early stage financings versus divestitures.  In the former case, it is more like a business plan outlining intentions and how to achieve them whereas for a divestiture it is more of a description of the business and the market the company competes in.  In the case of raising capital you need a detailed and logical use of funds explanation and this use of funds needs to generate a positive incremental return on investment.  In the case of a divestiture it is not so black and white because, in my view you would only include a forecast if you expect it to be substantially different from past trends. If you have a strong historical growth record and you expect this to continue then it may be best to just provide an estimate to the end of the current fiscal year.  This is because you don’t know what the buyer may be thinking and he/she may actually envision a future that includes leveraging its assets to construct a forecast that is much higher than what you would have prepared.
Should a CIM be written for the best buyer/investor? What I mean by this is, if there is a well capitalized large company acquiring businesses in your space, should the CIM be written to appeal directly to this potential buyer?  My view is yes and no.  Yes in that, you should exploit every angle to best position the company and no in the sense that you would do 90% of that anyway as you write the CIM to highlight sustainable value drivers.  A CIM undoubtedly raises further questions, and this is a good thing because it allows advisors to engage potential buyers on the opportunity, add color, clarify any misunderstandings and strengthen the main selling points specific to that potential buyer.  In short, create a two-way exchange of information and gain a better understanding of a buyer’s strategy which can be leveraged during negotiations.
In the end, a CIM is a marketing document and should present the business in its best light.  There is an art to writing a good CIM.  A good CIM provides all of the basic information plus it paints a rich picture of opportunities.
Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

An Overview of NDAs

Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs, also called CAs for Confidentiality Agreements) are contracts that stipulate that information received from a counterparty will only to be used for the purpose as defined in the NDA and that it will not be used as a basis for competitive tactics or shared freely with others.  NDAs are signed in cases of divestitures but also for joint ventures and other collaborative and strategic relationships.  The term of an NDA is typically 1 to 3 years and the appropriateness of the term depends very much on the rate of change in the company and the industry in which it operates. 
NDAs may include non solicitation and/or non circumvention clauses.  Non-solicitation clauses can apply to customers and/or employees.  Non circumvention clauses protect entrepreneurs with great ideas from well capitalized parties acting on the idea without acknowledging or compensating the entrepreneur.
Every NDA will include clauses that describe when the agreement does not apply; such as (i) if the information falls into the public domain, other than as a result of a disclosure in violation of the agreement; or (ii) if the information is already known to the recipient at the time of its disclosure; or (iii) if it is independently obtained or developed by the recipient.  The reasons for these are fairly self evident.  You can’t stop a person from acting on information that they already know or is publicly available (that everyone else can act on). 
NDAs may need to be adjusted for different jurisdictions and for certain counterparties.  For example, NDAs usually address what the recipient should do with the information once one party determines the process is over.  This may include returning or destroying the information; however, in certain jurisdictions companies will want to retain a copy of the information in case it is required to be disclosed pursuant to applicable law, regulation or legal process.  Private equity and venture capital groups typically add a clause to protect their ability to invest in, or operate companies in the same or related fields of business as that engaged in by the company.
Certain companies will not sign NDAs at all (at least not in the initial stages).   IBM will not review blind teasers (i.e. a summary without disclosing the company name) and requires all introductory information to be marked "non-confidential".  Microsoft’s policy is that NDAs are executed on the condition of aligned business group(s) willing to sponsor an engagement.  These companies see so many proposals and are in so many businesses that they have simply decided that it is not worth the expense of processing NDAs at an early stage.
So, do NDAs really protect you from counterparties using the provided information against you? And if someone contravenes an NDA, can you prove it?  Can you sue them.. yes, will it be worth it?  Rarely.  My view is you should always put an NDA in place before you share information but then use caution and share only select information that will not potentially harm your business.  Don’t view an NDA as a bullet proof vest.  Continue to be guarded particularly in the areas of new business partners, potential new customers and key employees.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Friday, 28 September 2012

What About the Form of Payment?

Public company take-over bids typically consist of all cash or a combination of cash and shares.  This is largely because the board of directors of a public company agreeing to an earn-out will be subject to serious questions (read lawsuits) if things turn out other than expected.
Consideration in private company acquisitions will usually include a sizable portion in cash (50 to 100%) but will often include an unsecured note and/or an earn-out as well.  This is typically because: (i) the buyer does not have (or have access to), the amount of cash required to complete the acquisition (particularly in the case of an MBO), (ii) the greater risk surrounding private companies (risks such as customer concentration, dependence on key suppliers, etc.) and (iii), buyers can usually stretch to a higher price if the purchase price is not all cash.  For example, $25 million all cash vs. $30 million two-thirds cash and one-third note ...which one would you pick?
There are a number of issues to consider when assessing the likelihood of realizing deferred consideration.  A dollar not received at closing is a dollar at risk.  In the case of a vendor note, the first question is, can it be fully secured by hard saleable assets (such as land, a building or other fixed salable assets owned by the acquirer).  This is not often the case.  If the amount is under-secured (i.e. 50% asset coverage) or unsecured, the terms have to reflect increased risk and due diligence should be performed on the buyer to get comfortable with its risk profile and prospects.  The higher the risk the higher the interest rate, and the more covenants and timely reporting are required.  Perhaps the most important item is timely reporting allowing for quick remediation.  Issues such as lawsuits, product defects/recalls, loss of customers can turn the fortunes of a company very quickly.
Earn-outs are tricky as well.  Earn-outs are more prevalent when the seller presents a strong growth forecast (for which he/she wants value).  If the seller will not entertain an earn-out, does that mean he/she does not believe in the forecast? They are not usually ironclad.  Many earn-out proposals begin with a premise along the following lines.  If you achieve $5 million in EBITDA you will earn another $x amount in purchase price.  Does this mean that if the company generates $4.9 million you get nothing? … and how is EBITDA calculated?  The acquiring company could incur discretionary expenses that you would not incur, or layer on additional overhead or, most drastic, a fundamental change of business direction could be required?
There are many possible situations to consider and many creative mechanisms and approaches to making vendor notes and earn-outs work.  For example, if the seller agrees that 75% of the earn-out will be paid if 75% of the target revenues are reached then he/she should also seek 125% of the earn-out when 125% of the revenues are reached.  Earn-outs can be tied to achieving development milestones, securing customer contracts but if earn-outs are based on the financial statements, then the higher up the income statement (i.e. sales vs. profit) the better… less room for manipulation. From a legal perspective it is important that purchase and sale contracts are clear, account for all possible scenarios, and that security is properly perfected in all relevant jurisdictions.
Un(der)secured notes and earn-outs can get very complex and this is where experienced advisors and lawyers really earn their stripes.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Multiple of What (and When)?

I discussed the pitfalls of relying on publicly available value comparisons in a recent post but what if an owner of a similar business to yours says “I sold my business at a 10 times multiple!”? or you hear, the tech sector is trading at a 25 multiple.  Early stage companies trade at 2 to 3 times.  The question is a multiple of what?
For public companies the most noted multiple is that of after tax net income.  For early stage companies it is quite often a multiple of revenues because, either they are not profitable or, they are in high growth mode, where profit levels are depressed as a result of higher than long-term average spending on R&D and product/service marketing.  For established private companies, the most commonly cited valuation metric is a multiple of EBITDA. 
EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes and Depreciation and it allows for comparison of profitability by canceling the effects of different asset bases (by cancelling depreciation), different takeover histories (by cancelling amortization often stemming from goodwill), effects due to different tax structures as well as the effects of different capital structures (by cancelling interest payments).  The drawbacks of using EBITDA are that it doesn’t account for maintenance/required capital expenditures (CAPEX) to sustain the business and, because it is a non-GAAP metric, it is often presented on an adjusted basis excluding (sometimes questionable) one-time items thereby boosting profitability.
The relationship of an EBITDA multiple to other multiples can vary widely across industries.    For consulting or software companies, that typically don’t or can’t carry long term debt and have little investment in fixed assets, EBITDA is often the same as earnings before tax.  For capital intensive companies, an EBITDA multiple of five might be the equivalent to an EBIT multiple of seven.  When we speak of a five times EBITDA multiple for a private company, the value may actually be the same as 15 or 20 times net income after tax for a profitable public company.
The period the multiple applies to is also important. While valuation is conceptually a forward looking principle, the standard is to use a historical multiple as a result of the difficulty of predicting what the next 12 months of earnings might be.  Some variants of timeframes used are “run-rate” (annualizing the last month or quarter), “latest twelve months” (LTM, typically calculated on a rolling four quarters basis), or last calendar or fiscal year.  Why does the timeframe matter?  Let’s look at a fast growing public company such as Apple.  On August 20th, its market cap was approximately $620 billion.  Its latest fiscal year ending (EBITDA was $35.5 billion and its 12 month consensus forecast EBTIDA was $55.8 billion.  People will say Apple is trading at 17.5 times EBITDA but the more proper metric is that it is trading at 10.7 times forecast EBITDA, a difference of 70%.
Finally, in addition to the specifics around the multiple, there are many bigger picture questions such as: did the buyer assume the debt; were there working capital adjustments; was the amount paid in cash on closing or will it be paid over time? Different answers to such questions will also measurably impact the net multiple paid.  So the next time someone tells you they sold their business for a great multiple, think about a multiple of what and when.

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Winner’s Remorse: Does the M&A Process Lead Buyers to Overpay?

When managing a company divestiture, there comes a point when interested parties are requested to provide non-binding expressions of interest (this is the first indication of value based on reviewing the CIM and answering select questions, see: How Much Information (and when) Do I Share With Potential Buyers? ).  An expression of interest outlines a value range, structure and other criteria, on which potential buyers are prepared to move forward.  It is requested so as not to waste the seller’s time with potential offers that will not meet the needs of the seller.  When there are multiple expressions of interest for a company, they typically form a normal curve around the company’s notional value. 
Non strategic/financial buyers are typically at or below notional value (E1..E4) and strategic buyers are typically at or above the notional value (E4..E7).  The parties engaged to go forward in the process will be the ones above notional value (E6..E7) suggesting that they may be ready to pay a higher price than fair value, however, fair value is very much in the eye of the beholder.
A strategic buyer may pay more than the notional value for a business for reasons of competitive strategy (i.e. prevent your competitor from strengthening its footprint) or when the seller has certain assets that complement the buyer’s assets thereby allowing for the potential to create value through synergies. The value of a business is different to every potential buyer.  To a financial buyer (one that does not have the potential for synergies, but may nevertheless be able to bring special expertise to the table) a business may be worth the notional value which maybe six times EBITDA, generating a 17% non-levered ROI (maybe more  than 30% with 50% debt); but a strategic buyer could pay seven times EBITDA and expect to generate even more based on synergies.
So does the M&A process lead buyers to overpay?  Not necessarily; the process extracts the highest price for the seller by appealing to potential buyers that will benefit most from the purchase.  The buyer has to weigh the risks and benefits of the price they will pay versus not getting the business. Overpayment has been in the news lately with HP writing off $8 billion of goodwill from its $13 billion acquisition of EDS and Microsoft writing off $6.2 billion of goodwill in its Online Services Division where it houses the acquisition of aQuantive (which it acquired for  just over $6.3 billion).  The onus is on the buyer to correctly estimate the realisable cashflow from a purchase and then to execute on its plan.  Many things can go wrong in execution but the fact remains that if there is more than one buyer at the table it is highly likely that the winner will have paid more than notional value.
Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

More Thoughts on Price Expectations

I noted recently that it is very difficult to predict exactly what a business’s selling price might be as a result of a well managed auction between two or more highly motivated strategic acquirers.  Outside of a competitive environment, a buyer will pay based on historical performance and not the incremental value they believe they can create.  Competitive tension is the situation M&A advisors seek to achieve and, personally, I have seen many competitive situations result in very good prices for sellers of mid-market private companies.
Because it is hard to predict what price might result, a discussion about price expectations should start with the notional value (the price a proper valuation will assign a business independent of what a particular strategic buyer might benefit from; see: What Will a Strategic Buyer Pay?) and then estimate the potential price increase based on the selling company’s attributes (i.e. complementary customers, products, brands, patents, etc.) and market attributes (no. of possible buyers, their financial strength, growth rate of the sector, etc.).  This typically results in an indicative range.
Discussing price expectations is a delicate dance between being realistic and optimistic, between the likely and the possible.  Some sellers want to hear a high number even if it is not likely achievable.  Others will worry that if you don’t pitch a higher sale price than the next advisor, you won’t fight for the best price on their behalf.  Sellers are often guided by publicly announced data points. Headlines where one market leader buys another for a tremendous amount (i.e. Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion or HP buys 3PAR for 11 times revenues).  Such metrics don’t typically translate to smaller competitors yet, if you don’t account for the leading transactions in a business development presentation, you can be perceived as either not being in touch or not being the aggressive marketer the seller is looking for.  While I see the point, and I have lost mandates where other advisors led selling companies to believe they would achieve a higher sale price with them, I prefer to establish a reasonable expectation and over-deliver rather than over-promise and under-deliver.  The point I want to underscore here is that, regardless of whether one advisor promises to deliver a higher price than the other, if they both follow a thorough process and manage the auction as per the seller’s guidelines then both should end up pretty much at the same price.  Note, I say “as per the seller’s guidelines” because often the seller will guide the M&A advisor in the direction of a preferred buyer (and away from a potentially stronger but more hostile bid) for various reasons.  The point is, look to the material differentiators between advisors such as integrity, sector experience and international reach rather than promises of high prices.
I have talked before about aligning seller and advisor interest through compensation based on a successful transaction.  One mechanism that really awards over achievement is setting a base compensation rate up to an agreed level and then providing a substantially higher commission above that number.  For example, 3% up to $20M and 10% above that.  If the company sells for $24 million the seller would have generated $4M more than expected and the advisor would secure a healthy fee.  I am happy to subscribe to such models but the issue I have with them is that it is implicit in the arrangement that the advisor would not push for $24M otherwise.  The ideal situation is one where the seller has confidence in the advisor to do everything he can and the advisor in fact does everything he can.  If you are more cynical than that or need the additional assurance, then the extra incentive structure is something that can work for you.
Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap CorporateFinance in Toronto.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Veracap Technology Index Update

At Veracap we track Canadian mid-market public technology companies in an index called the Veracap Technology Index (the “VTI”, see  The VTI includes all technology sector companies trading on the TSX and TSX-V with a market capitalization between $10 million and $500 million.
Recently we examined whether VTI companies generating strong margins were also the highest valued companies in the index and we concluded that largely they were.  In the current issue we focus on growth; are faster growing companies trading at higher LTM EBITDA multiples than average growth companies.  A number of initial observations should be noted as follows: (i) within the VTI more higher growth companies are trading on the TSX-V than the TSX, (ii) many high growth companies are not profitable and, (iii) very few companies have Analyst coverage providing earnings forecasts.  As a result the best valuation comparison metric will be a multiple of LTM revenues.  We looked at average two year historical revenue growth and the following summarizes our findings:

Average 2 year revenue growth
Median LTM revenue multiple
Bottom Quartile
Second Quartile
Third Quartile
Top Quartile
Note: due to the small sample size these findings are not statistically significant.

The average two-year revenue growth rate in the top quartile is an impressive 67.4% per annum which is quite extraordinary and, as expected, this group trades at a substantially higher LTM revenue multiple. It is interesting to see that the middle quartiles are being valued the same and that even declining revenue companies are still trading close to 1x revenues.
Some of the stars in the top quartile include Bluedrop Performance Learning Inc., iSign Media Solutions Inc., Avigilon Corporation, Poynt Corporation, Amaya Gaming Group Inc., and ePals Corporation. Fifty-three percent of the top quartile companies were also profitable and the highest profit margins were generated by C-Com Satellite Systems Inc., Norsat International Inc. and Zedi, Inc.
As expected, high-growth VTI companies are trading at stronger revenue multiples than their moderate growth peers.  While there is insufficient data to draw statistically significant conclusions, the following summarizes some of the parameters we have observed in the VTI as at July 1, 2012:
No. of companies
Avg. Market Cap
$82.3 Million
% profitable
% Growing > 10%

Derek van der Plaat, CFA has worked in private market M&A for more than 20 years and is a Managing Director with Veracap Corporate Finance in Toronto.