Capstone Strategic’s survey of middle market executives shows most see the same (43%) or growing (31%) M&A activity in their industry. 47% are pursuing M&A in order to access new markets.

Capstone Strategic, the leading M&A advisory firm for the middle market, surveyed middle market executives from multiple industries on their growth and M&A experience in 2016 and their outlook for 2017. The survey was conducted in December 2016 and followed previous annual surveys of the middle market.

M&A activity across the board is mostly seen as the same (43%) or growing (31%).

Looking forward, our respondents are evenly split on whether or not they will pursue M&A in 2017. 35% are less than 50% likely to execute acquisitions and 35% are more than 50% likely. The top driver for pursuing M&A this year is access to new markets (47%).

As for obstacles to M&A, time and attention demanded by the process is the top barrier to pursuing acquisitions in 2017 (25%) while the most common reason for not considering M&A as a tool for growth is lack of appropriate target companies (28%).

The overall growth picture is improving. Those reporting modest growth rose from 58% in 2015 to 67% in 2016 and those reporting high growth grew from 11% in 2015 to 13% in 2016. Those reporting contraction shrunk from 9% in 2015 to 5% in 2016.

The business environment is seen by most in a positive light, with the majority reporting the same (50%) or an improved (35%) environment for growth. Compared to 2015, fewer executives saw a worsening environment for growth (8% compared to 13%).

Capstone’s CEO David Braun said: “The survey confirmed that 2016 remained an active year for middle market mergers and acquisitions and looking ahead, we believe we’ll see begin to see a renewed interest in M&A activity due to pent up demand and supply in the marketplace. 2017 presents a unique opportunity for companies that decide to execute strategic acquisitions.”

The full survey, State of Middle Market M&A 2017, can be viewed by clicking here.

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Monsanto has rejected Bayer’s all-cash $62 billion bid, but says it is open to negotiations. A combination of Bayer and Monsanto would create the largest seed and pesticide business globally with $67 billion in sales. While you may not be creating an agricultural behemoth with your acquisition, there are a few lessons we can learn from this transaction, regardless of size.

M&A Will Affect You…How You Respond Is Your Choice

One of the reasons Bayer wants to acquire Monsanto is because of consolidation in the agriculture industry. Last year chemical giants Dow Chemical and DuPont agreed to a deal that will combine their agriculture businesses. Earlier this year Syngenta, a Swiss pesticide maker, agreed to be sold for $43 billion to China National Chemical Corporation.

When acquisitions occur in your industry, they affect you whether or not you decide to pursue M&A. A major acquisition by a key player may change the market environment and industry dynamics and you’ll need to find ways to adapt to these changes. This may mean changing your approach to customers, developing a new product, or pursuing strategic acquisitions yourself. Whatever you decide to do, remaining static and maintaining “business as usual” is not the best path to success.

Price Isn’t Everything

The Bayer – Monsanto deal is a publicly traded transaction and so it must be reported in the news and to investors. With all the media surrounding the deal, all the information is available to not just the public, but Bayer’s competitors. It’s interesting that Monsanto has rejected Bayer’s offer as “incomplete and financially inadequate,” but is open to further discussions. In other words, Monsanto believes the offer is too low and would like a higher price.

In contrast to large publicly traded companies, privately held firms execute acquisitions a bit differently. First, there is no need to announce each acquisition to the public. This allows you to fly under the radar and keep your strategic plans hidden from competitors. It also may help you to avoid price wars and auctions where you are competing against other bidders.

Of course, price is an important aspect of any deal, but it is not the only important factor. Especially in the world of privately held, not-for-sale acquisitions, there are many non-financial factors that can (and will) convince an owner to sell. Finding out what motivates an owner and communicating the strategic alignment of the deal are critical.

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Middle market deal activity reached its lowest level since 2009, according to Mergers & Acquisitions. This may be a result of concerns about the upcoming U.S. presidential election and because banks are shying away from lending to private equity-backed deals.

While middle market M&A activity is down, when compared to 2015 levels, the middle market as a whole is actually leading the U.S. economy in revenue and job creation. According to the Middle Market Indicator, the middle market grew at a rate of 6.3% over the past twelve month while the S&P 500 growth rate was -3.4%. The projected twelve month growth rate is 4.6% for the middle market.

So how should an owner or executive see this paradox? In a word: opportunity. With continued strength in the middle market, but a decline in deals, you have the chance to move more freely than when M&A is hot.

If other companies are paralyzed by uncertainty, you should be emboldened. Seize the opening to pursue transactions while competition is reduced.

M&A can be the best way to own the future, by claiming new market share, adding new technologies, enriching your brand, or expanding your human resources.

But where to begin?

Your first step is to review your current market and identify predictors for future demand. What are your customers buying today? What will they need tomorrow? You probably have an approximate idea but now is the time to conduct thorough research, so you can spot the gaps that your company could fill.

The next step is to consider how strategic acquisition could position you to meet future needs faster than organic growth.

Especially if you have a strong balance sheet, right now is an exceptionally opportune time to accelerate your growth through mergers and acquisitions. So make a plan, and then act.

Capstone’s survey of middle market executives shows 53% likely to pursue mergers and acquisitions in 2016 compared to 41% when last surveyed.

Capstone surveyed middle market executives from multiple industries on their growth and M&A experience in 2015 and their outlook for 2016. The survey was conducted in December 2015, and followed a previous survey in 2014.

Respondents gave a mixed picture of growth for their industries in 2015. More respondents saw extremes in their industries. Those reporting high growth grew from 4% in 2014 to 11% in 2015, while those reporting contraction grew from 2% in 2014 to 9% in 2015. Between these two poles, most respondents were seeing modest growth in their industries during 2015 (58%).

How likely is it that your company will pursue some form of M&A or external growth in 2016?

How likely is it that your company will pursue some form of M&A or external growth in 2016?

The environment for growth in 2015 was seen by most in a positive light, with the majority reporting the same (46%) or an improved (36%) environment.
M&A activity across the board in 2015 was mostly seen as the same (36%) or growing (33%) when compared to 2014.

Looking forward to the coming year, companies showed a stronger inclination to engage in M&A, compared to predictions when we last asked this question in 2014 (53% certain or likely, compared to 41%).

When asked about their growth goals, respondents were evenly split between “selling current products in new markets” (40%), “creating and selling new products in current markets” (36%), and “increasing sale of current products in current markets” (38%). (Some respondents were pursuing more than one goal).

As for barriers to engaging in M&A, these were largely internal, with respondents citing “lack of resources” (33%) as a primary reason not to pursue transactions.

Capstone’s CEO David Braun said: “This survey confirms what we ourselves observed, that 2015 was an active year for middle market M&A and 2016 is likely to prove an even stronger year. We see a growing polarization between growth-focused companies and those that are sitting on the sidelines. While many companies are still holding cash, more players are emboldened to expand through external growth. This includes acquisitions but also minority ownership deals, joint ventures and strategic alliances. When growth stagnates, M&A can often provide the fastest path forward. When growth is high, companies should seize the opportunity to plan for further expansion.”

The full survey, State of Middle Market M&A, can be viewed by clicking here.

In light of recent FTC rulings against market domination, Sysco has changed its M&A strategy to focus on smaller, strategic deals rather than large transformative deals. Although Sysco’s change is motivated by regulatory obstacles to larger acquisitions, using strategic, smaller deals is an excellent approach from a strategic perspective. We have long recommended that our clients pursue a series of small transactions to achieve their long-term growth goals. We call this strategy taking “frequent small bites of the apple” because it’s much easier to eat an apple one bite at a time than to cram the whole fruit into your mouth!

Among the advantages of pursuing a series of smaller deals:

1. Focus on One Reason

You may have many needs to meet before you reach your long-term growth goals, for instance improving talent and technological capabilities and expanding geographically. If your vision is growing into a worldwide paint manufacturer and distributor, but you only have manufacturing operations on the East Coast, you will need to expand geographically, build your distribution networks, and perhaps improve on your manufacturing capabilities. Doing all this with only one company may dilute your efforts, or you might acquire a company that really doesn’t fulfill any of your strategic needs.  A better approach: first focus on acquiring a company with an excellent distribution network in the U.S and then another company with quality manufacturing capabilities that match your acquisition criteria. Once you’ve adjusted to this change, you might look at acquisitions outside the U.S.

2. Stay Below the Radar

Large transactions draw attention, especially the mega-deals valued at over $5 billion that have boosted M&A value to record levels. But many transactions are much smaller than these multi-billion dollar deals; in the U.S. from November 1, 2014 to October 31, 2015 there were 12,663 M&A transactions, according to Factset data. 95% of these deals were under $500 million or undisclosed. (Undisclosed deals are typically privately held, smaller transactions that are too small for financial reporting). Smaller strategic transactions allow you to make moves below the radar, out of sight of your competition.

4 reasons why smaller acquisitions are better

3. Adjust to Integration Challenges More Easily

Even the most carefully planned acquisition encounters integration challenges as people and systems adjust to the newly merged company. By acquiring a smaller company, you dramatically limit your integration challenges. Once you’ve had time to work out any kinks and make sure your new company is operating smoothly, you can begin pursuing the next acquisition.

4. Minimize Risk of Acquisition Failure

Although acquisitions are inherently a risky undertaking, smaller strategic transactions are much less risky than large transformative deals. Because integration challenges are minimized, you can remain focused on your strategic objectives, increasing your chances of realizing synergies from the deal. There’s also less financial risk associated with smaller acquisitions; you can minimize capital outlays while rapidly growing your company to reach your long-term goals.

Executing a series of strategic acquisitions is a proven way for middle market companies to grow.

A small deal is also ideal for first-time acquirers who have never pursued growth through mergers and acquisitions. All in all, smaller acquisitions allow you to remain focused, move covertly in the market, and increase your chances of success while still rapidly moving you closer to your vision for the future.

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Instead of investing in growth, companies this year have been holding more than $1.4 trillion in cash – close to a record $1.65 trillion in 2014. Oracle’s $56 billion cash stockpile is 1.5 times its sales and Cisco’s $60 billion in cash is 1.2 times its sales. Eleven companies have cash reserves double their annual revenue.

And it’s not just Fortune 500 companies. According to the Middle Market Center, more middle market firms plan to hold onto cash in 2016. Fewer of them are willing to invest extra money or plan to expand in 2016.

Have U.S. Companies Stopped Investing In Growth?

Companies that stockpile cash don’t invest in stock buybacks and dividends, research and development, other organic growth initiatives or mergers and acquisitions.  A strong balance sheet is important, but the levels of cash held by nonfinancial S&P 500 companies is astounding!  They may be worried about the economy or the upcoming elections. But there’s another possibility: all that money on the sidelines portends robust M&A activity in 2016.

Tax Savings

Publicly traded companies also are stashing profits offshore to avoid paying taxes on them. The U.S. corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world and tax inversions in particular are being driven by the pursuit of tax savings rather than for strategic reasons. .

The latest example is Pfizer and Allergan’s proposed merger which would relocate the company to Ireland and away from the U.S. corporate tax rate. Other companies that have done this include Chiquita, Perrigo, Medtronic, Endo, and Actavis despite calls for stronger restrictions on tax inversions by Congress and President Obama. Pfizer already has found ways to save on taxes even without the acquisition. The company has designated $74 billion as “indefinitely’ invested abroad.

Invest in Growth Now

As other companies hold onto cash, you have a unique opportunity now to invest in your future. Do this by developing a long-term strategic plan, investing in new products, services or equipment, or growing organically. Or pursue the faster, more powerful vehicle of strategic mergers and acquisitions. Middle market companies can seek privately held, not-for-sale deals that focus on long-term growth rather than on cost savings or short-term quarterly updates with shareholders. This increases the likelihood of a successful transaction and sustainable growth.

Middle market companies cannot afford to dwell on cost savings and sit idle. Make sure you are thinking about long-term growth and how your company will not only survive, but thrive.

Is your company hoarding too much cash? Or are you investing in future growth?

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As we near the end of the fourth quarter, everyone is wondering what will happen in 2016. Will the frenzied M&A activity of 2015 continue into the new year?

There seem to be mixed reviews on what activity will look like next year. The Intralinks deal flow predictor indicates a 7% increase in global M&A in Q1 2016, but Mergers & Acquisitions Magazine has been citing a downward trend in the middle market for the past few months.

On the other hand, on a recent Deal Webcast “2016 Middle Market Outlook,” dealmakers were a bit more hopeful, expecting to see activity continue due to the high levels of dry powder and capital on the sidelines, while they did admit there may be a slight downturn.

The lending environment will be similar in 2016 to what it was in 2015 and in the middle market private equity will continue to be highly competitive, according to Michael Fanelli of RSM.

Healthcare and Technology Will Dominate

The Affordable Care Act brought about widespread changes to the healthcare industry, spurring a wave of mega-mergers by massive pharmaceutical companies. Despite this wave of mega-deals, for the most part much of the uncertainty surrounding ACA seems to have worked its way out of the middle-market companies. Tim Alexander of Harris Williams says that by and large, healthcare has become less of a due diligence item for dealmakers, especially those in the upper middle market.

On the other hand, in the lower middle market, the ACA may still raise some red flags, especially for businesses with part-time employees or ones that don’t have healthcare plans at all. While some sellers may have thought about the impacts of ACA, many are waiting to begin talks with a buyer before engaging professionals to deal with these issues, according to Fanelli.

The focus on healthcare is not only due to changes brought about from the Affordable Care Act, but is also indicative of a larger health and wellness trend we’re seeing in the U.S. Expect shakeups in the consumer and food and beverage spaces as people focus on healthier, organic specialty products.

As for technology, there’s plenty of disruption that will continue over the next one to two years, with a constant flow of innovative startups. This continuing trend will have its own impact on the middle market.

The U.S. Middle Market Remains Strong

For the most part, all three dealmakers agreed that middle market M&A is much stronger in the U.S. than it is cross-border or internationally. Most investors see the U.S. as the locale where they can expect their highest returns. This regional focus is not unique to the middle market: In the first 9 months of 2015, the U.S. accounted for 47% of global M&A transactions ($1.5 trillion).

Engaging with Sellers Remains Critical

When it comes to deal-making, building a connection with the owner and sharing your strategic vision remain the critical starting points. There are numerous reasons why an owner may decide to go with a financial buyer over a strategic buyer, even though technically strategic buyers should have an advantage from a cash perspective. In our experience, the same has been true (less money for strategic acquisition vs. financial). What it comes down to is really understanding the owner’s priorities and what he or she wants out of an acquisition. Hint: It’s not always more money.

As Marc Utay of Clarion Capital Partners said, echoing one of our key principles: “Price is important, but not the most important thing. It [the company] is like a child to them.”

 

Edelweiss Harrison brings over 15 years’ experience in senior-level consulting to enhance Capstone’s M&A services to middle market companies.

Capstone, a leading management consulting firm that helps middle market companies grow through M&A, announced today that Edelweiss Harrison has been promoted to Director of Strategic Growth.

She will lead Capstone’s strategic growth and market research projects for clients. Her primary focus will be on the first two phases of the company’s proprietary Roadmap to Acquisitions — “Build the Foundations” and “Build the Relationships.”

Edelweiss Harrison has over 15 years’ experience in guiding C-level executives through challenging strategic developments. She brings the added advantage of having worked in multiple manufacturing and services industries. Harrison is deeply immersed in the Capstone Roadmap methodology, having first joined Capstone in 1999 as a Research Assistant while studying at Georgetown University. For the last five years she has served as a Strategy Advisor in the firm.

During that time, Harrison advised medium and large clients on their domestic and international acquisition initiatives. She has conducted major research projects that follow Capstone’s demand-driven approach to M&A. She has also facilitated custom workshops for clients, evaluating opportunities and building growth plans based on objective data rather than subjective preference.

“We are pleased to have Edelweiss serving as Director of Strategic Growth. Her long history with Capstone and expertise in strategic consulting will further our commitment to helping clients grow through proactive growth programs,” said CEO David Braun.

Harrison’s strengths include her ability to build relationships of trust, based on candid communication and professional expertise. At the same time, she has exceptional analytic and project-management skills that ensure effective implementation. She says about her new role: “I enjoy helping clients clarify where they are today, define where they want to go and create an actionable plan for getting there.”

Originally from Brazil, Harrison is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. She has extensive experience working with international markets including New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

Harrison holds a Master of International Business from the University of Auckland and a Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Craig, and their two sons.

About Capstone

Capstone Strategic is a management consulting firm located outside of Washington DC specializing in corporate growth strategies, primarily Mergers & Acquisitions for the middle market. Founded in 1995 by CEO David Braun, Capstone has facilitated over $1 billion of successful transactions in a wide variety of manufacturing and service industries. Capstone utilizes a proprietary process to provide tailored services to clients in a broad range of domestic and international markets. Learn more about Capstone at www.CapstoneStrategic.com.

 

Capstone’s State of Midmarket M&A Q1-Q3 2014 Update indicates a steady growth in midmarket mergers and acquisitions.

We surveyed midmarket executives from multiple industries to learn how the first nine months of 2014 matched expectations from 2013, and to indicate any new trends in midmarket M&A. The survey was conducted in October 2014, and follows a similar survey conducted in December of 2013.

Midmarket M&A activity continued to increase despite economic uncertainty. More than half of the respondents (60%) engaged in M&A or external growth activities in 2014 and 44% are considering M&A in the last quarter of 2014.

Of the midmarket executives polled, 64% reported “modest growth” in their industries compared to 62% in 2013. “High growth” responses dropped by half from 8% to 4%. Perhaps most significantly, 24% of respondents reported stagnation in 2014, double the amount reported in the same period last year. This holding pattern may indicate continued anxiety about the economy, the political environment and government regulation.

David Braun, Capstone’s founder and CEO, noted, “As organic growth opportunities remain modest or stagnant, executives are continuously looking for new ways to grow, including mergers and acquisitions.”

While midmarket executives seem to be showing a renewed interest in M&A, they acknowledge there are hurdles to embracing external growth. Lack of time, people and money continues to be the greatest barrier to pursuing mergers and acquisitions with over half (52%) reporting insufficient resources as their biggest challenge. Insufficient resources also topped the 2013 chart (54%). 24% of those surveyed also said slow decision-making continues to be a hurdle.

In 2014, the same percentage of executives as in 2013 (28%) reported that they were concerned about the lack of suitable companies to purchase. About this Braun said, “It may be difficult to find suitable companies to acquire among those that are offered for sale. Restricting your search to for-sale opportunities is usually a mistake. At Capstone we encourage clients to expand their search and actively pursue not-for-sale acquisitions.”

Based on its survey and firsthand contacts with the market, Capstone predicts the economy will continue to recover, and as it does more midmarket companies will seize on the opportunities presented by external growth.

Braun said, “External growth embraces any strategy that leverages a relationship with another company, including strategic alliances, joint ventures, minority interest and acquisitions. When it comes to pursuing an acquisition, here’s one principle we’ve learned from years of experience: They are all for sale…for the right equation.”

The full survey, State of Midmarket M&A: Q1-Q3 2014 Update can be viewed at www.SuccessfulAcquisitions.net/report.