April 16th, 2013 Market Update

Another sombre morning as we all send our thoughts and prayers out to those affected by the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  While it has been suggested it was small in nature, three are dead, including an 8 year old and more than 100 injured many critically.  The cowardice that this act makes us all angry, but the focus should be on the health of those affected and support for the authorities in bringing those responsible to justice.

Moving to the markets it was a relatively quiet night in Asia as markets there were mixed.  Europe following the release of German investor morale declined in April to date which has the markets there off about a quarter point at midday.

In the US positive earnings from Goldman Sachs, Ameritrade, Johnson & Johnson and Coke are causing futures to increase after the big sell off yesterday.  Currently we are looking at about a 1% increase on the open.  US Bank, a mandate company met estimates for the first quarter.

CPI was released for March and was slightly below estimates as inflation continues to be absent.  With that said, US Housing starts were up 7% vs. 1.4% estimated which is a large beat.  Housing permits were lower however down 3.9% vs. 0.3% estimates.

Gold is rebounding this morning up about $35.00 to just under $1400.00.  Oil is down another 20 cents to 88.82 and the Loonie is up this morning to 97.75.

We should see some upside in Canada today in sympathy with the US increase and bargain hunters coming in and looking for deals after the sell off yesterday.  We also got February Manufacturing Data that was up 2.6% vs. 0.6% estimated.  This is a solid upside surprise for the Canadian economy.

Kenneth A. Dick, BA, CIM, CFP, FCSI

www.canaccord.com

Improve Your Turnaround’s Forecast

Today’s business climate poses many challenges – from increased global competition to a tight capital environment – that can hinder or even destroy a business. Companies struggling with poor cash flow, inadequate capital and weak leadership are especially vulnerable. Such companies can provide significant upside potential to the right buyers. But to turn an unprofitable company around, new owners must have an implementation plan and be ready to execute it.

Getting to the Core

If you’re a potential buyer of a troubled company, you must examine it closely for hidden values, such as untried territories or poor leadership. Then decide if these opportunities mitigate acquisition risks and potentially provide enough financial benefits.

It’s essential to understand the company’s core business – specifically, its profit drivers and roadblocks. Without a clear understanding of this, you may misread the company’s financial statements, misjudge its financial condition and, ultimately, devise an ineffective course of rehabilitative action.

Due Diligence Matters

While due diligence is an important part of any acquisition, it’s probably the most critical stage in a turnaround deal.

Buyers should use a professional business intermediary who will take the time necessary to perform due diligence, request the supporting documentation needed and perform personal audits that cross-check reported and actual data. At this stage, it is important that the source of the company’s distress (such as maturing products or overwhelming debt) is pinpointed to determine what, if any, corrective measures can be taken. You also need to determine if the business harbors significant liabilities, such as pending legal judgments, product claims or dissatisfied customers.

This is the time to find hidden flaws. But due diligence may also unearth potential sources of value, such as tax breaks or proprietary technologies. Benchmarking the company’s performance with its industry peers’ can help reveal where opportunity lies.

Hit the Ground Running

hit the ground runningGenerally, the first post-transaction step is for new owners to determine what products drive revenue growth and which costs hinder profitability. This may be the time to divest the business of unprofitable products, services, subsidiaries, divisions or real estate. Staff cuts may further be in order. Make sure you keep key players. They may be expensive, but as long as they are pulling their weight and have good relationships, they have value when retooling.

Implementing a longer-term cash-management plan and forecast based on receipts and disbursements are also critical. Owners can manage each line item of the company’s weekly or daily receipts and disbursements in accordance with:

• Profit and loss projections,
• Changes in working capital, and
• Major debt and capital expenditures.

With a strong cash-management plan and a thorough evaluation of accounting controls and procedures, buyers should be able to identify lost revenue opportunities, such as unbilled services. This plan can also help buyers determine where they might be able to cut costs.

Mapping the Future

Buyers should ensure that accounting and reporting systems are producing the data necessary to run effective management reports. If these systems don’t accurately capture all company transactions and list all assets and liabilities, company leaders will be unable to fully pursue opportunities or respond to potential problems.

One troubled manufacturing company, for example, wasn’t tracking future purchase commitments. When the new owner took charge, it prepared and circulated among managers a comprehensive commitment and contingency report that helped senior management renegotiate the terms of the customer agreements.

Because the task may seem overwhelming, it’s easy for new owners to focus only on the business’s day-to-day operations. But a strategic plan that maps the path toward revenue growth and improved cash flow is necessary. Buyers may find, for example, that the company’s best revenue-producing assets aren’t reaching customers and that their potential could be realized with a more sophisticated marketing campaign or bigger sales staff. Macro- and micro-level planning is equally important.

Return to Profitability

Only a small window of opportunity is available to realize a turnaround’s potential. To take full advantage of it, buyers must get up to speed on the acquisition’s products, departments, delivery systems, staff and overall operating systems as soon as feasible.

Insurance specialists can also be used in a risk-management role, evaluating company insurance coverage and claims. Auditors may be useful for interviewing accounting personnel and financial statements to verify their accuracy. Finally, private investigators can research the backgrounds of key executives for possible fraudulent activity and misrepresentations.

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Companies Can Improve Their Bottom Lines with a Spin-Off

Slimming Down

Companies Can Improve Their Bottom Lines with a Spin-Off

If your company suffers from growing pains or anticipates a hard stretch due to the current economic climate, you may want to consider a spin-off. Spinning off a business or unit can provide a variety of benefits, such as yielding much-needed cash, removing poorer-performing entities from your balance sheet and freeing up management to concentrate on your core business or pursue more profitable initiatives. To effectively grow your company, in fact, you may need to first scale back.

Several Forms

Spin-offs can take many forms and are accomplished in various degrees. A unit may be fully divested of its parent and become an independent, publicly owned entity. Or it may merely become a subsidiary of the original company, gaining owners but still being run by the same management.

Whatever the spin-off form a company adopts, a wholly owned segment of a larger company becomes a fully or partially independent business. Most often, the divested company’s shares are offered in the public marketplace.

Staging the Transaction

Spin-offs involve several stages, the first – and one of the most critical – being the “pre-spin” period. This is when a company prepares a division to be spun off and announces its intentions to the public. During this period, the company will work with the IRS and SEC to ensure the proposed deal meets all tax and regulatory requirements. The company also must gain its board of directors’ final approval.

From here, spin-offs generally are executed in one of two ways:

  1. Pure spin-offs. This is when the parent company distributes 100% of its ownership of a subsidiary operation as a dividend to current shareholders. After the spin-off is complete, there are two separate public companies. Shareholders have the option of selling their holdings in the new entity, if desired.
  2. Partial spin-offs. Here, the parent company sells an interest of less than 20% in the subsidiary in an SEC-registered initial public offering. This method often appeals to companies that need to raise capital but want to maintain ownership of their subsidiary or shine a spotlight on an undervalued division.

Which type of spin-off a company should pursue primarily depends on its long-term goals. A partial spin-off, for instance, may be a better choice for a division that’s not yet ready to stand on its own but that a parent company nevertheless believes the market has undervalued. Spinning off part of the division could enhance its value for an eventual sale or pure spin-off.

Why Do It?

Spin-offs have long been a popular and successful way for companies to improve their bottom lines and streamline strategic plans. As of this writing, General Electric, for example, is in the process of spinning off its 101-year-old, low-growth appliance business, planning either to sell it outright or accept outside investors in a strategic partnership.

Companies spin off divisions for many reasons. A company may need to raise cash for capital-intensive projects. Similarly, a unit’s elimination could improve the parent company’s credit rating and make it a more attractive loan candidate. Some companies even enjoy tax benefits from a spin-off.

Government regulators may require a public company to remove a division if it’s considering a merger with a competitor. For example, the Federal Trade Commission might ask merging companies to divest similar businesses that could, if joined, enjoy too large a market share.

Sometimes spin-offs are accomplished for strategic reasons. A company might spin off a healthy entity with strong growth prospects to gain greater investor attention. Say, for example, that a company has a promising software division that’s undervalued because its parent company isn’t well known in the software sector. If that division is put up for sale and no longer buried in a larger company’s basement, it could receive the market attention it deserves.

Finally, a unit could be a poor performer that has become a drag on the parent company’s earnings. Selling troubled units can be challenging, however. To compensate for additional buyer’s risk, you may need to retain an equity stake in the division or provide financing for the seller.

Benefit of Separation

Whether your company is undercapitalized and looking for cash with which to pursue new markets or make business acquisitions, or you simply believe that a current division could be more competitive as a separate company, consider a spin-off. Separations can be painful, and they require some time and expense. But the benefits can more than make up for the trouble. ______________________________________________________

Ensure Your Spin-Off Isn’t Taxing

One advantage of spinning off a subsidiary is the potential for major tax savings. Although, selling a subsidiary outright typically means that your company will pay substantial capital gains taxes, tax professionals can help you structure the transaction to minimize the burden.

The key is to comply with Internal Revenue Code Section 355, which requires a spin-off company to have existed as a subsidiary for at least five years. It also demands that:

  • The spin-off be undertaken for “a real and substantial non-federal tax purpose” and not just to dodge the IRS;
  • Before the spin-off is conducted, the parent company own at least 80% of the total combined voting power and 80% of each class of nonvoting stock of the subsidiary;
  • Both parent and subsidiary be involved in what the IRS terms an “active” business immediately after the spin-off, and
  • At least one shareholder of the parent company retains a minimum 50% equity interest in the spin-off.

If you spin-off doesn’t conform to Sec. 355, your company could be held liable for the full tax obligation on the divestiture. Meanwhile, your shareholders could be taxed as if they had received a dividend. _______________________________________________________________

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Keys to Negotiating a Successful M&A Deal

Keys to Negotiating a Successful M&A Deal  Whether you’re buying or selling a business, a few guidelines can help you negotiate a deal more effectively and improve your chances for an advantageous outcome. While you’re probably already familiar with basic negotiation strategies, most parties to an M&A transaction can use a refresher course when it comes to what may be the biggest deal of their lives.

Know Yourself

Good negotiators start by knowing themselves. Before you enter into sale negotiations, take time to identify your goals and your tactics for achieving them. If you’re buying, what’s your “reservation price”-the most you’re willing to pay? Would you be able to walk away from the deal if the seller refuses to budge on price?

If you’re selling, similar questions apply:

  • What’s the lowest offer you’ll accept?
  • Are you in a hurry to sell?
  • What conditions will you require as part of the sale?

For example, the retention of certain employees may be a priority. Also be prepared to speak confidently about your business’ strengths and address any perceived weaknesses. Since the buyer’s negotiating leverage emphasizes your weaknesses, you need to be aware of them and ready to provide a solution that mitigates an adverse effect on the buyer’s offering price.

Know the Other Party

Knowing the other side is as important as understanding your own priorities. This knowledge allows you to map out the negotiation ahead of time. As a buyer, you should have a thorough understanding of the business-gained through extensive due diligence.

If you’re a seller, it’s essential to know that your buyer can afford to purchase the business and, if the deal will be seller-financed, how well the company will be run while the note is being paid off. It’s also helpful to learn if your buyer has looked at many other businesses. Buyers who know they have other options if your deal falls through will probably drive a harder bargain.

Gathering knowledge involves more than research; you also need to be a good listener.

If you’re talkative by nature, make an effort to speak less and listen more when meeting with the other party. The better you understand them, the greater chance you have of anticipating their moves and preparing counter offers.

Build a Relationship

There are plenty of opportunities for differences of opinion in any business transaction, and a business sale is no different. Establishing a cordial relationship can go a long way toward reducing misunderstandings or unintended offenses. Social occasions such as dinner or a golf outing can break the ice. Expressing interest in the other party’s opinion and a sense of humor also can help build a good working relationship.

Going back on your word, exaggerating points or misrepresenting facts in an attempt to strengthen your position, on the other hand, can damage goodwill. Finally, don’t try to box the other party into an untenable position-it’s a tactic that’s likely to misfire.

Flexible is Vital

Selling a business is a complicated process, of which price is only one component. When entering the negotiation stage, keep in mind other items that are subject to bargaining:

  • Down payment amount;
  • Interest rate on a seller loan;
  • Collateral;
  • Seller warranties;
  • Earn-out provisions;
  • Non-compete agreements.

Also consider the structure of the deal-whether the company’s stock is being acquired, or just its assets. In general, sellers prefer a stock sale and buyers prefer an asset transaction, which provides better cash flow after the deal.

Good negotiators take advantage of the multifaceted nature of the process by remaining flexible throughout. This may mean compromising on some elements to get the ones that are most important to you, such as those related to financing terms, the closing date, employee retention or seller warranties.

With so many moving parts to consider, flexibility can get you past obstacles. If you’re hung up on a tough issue-say, the price of a particular asset-try putting it aside temporarily, moving to less controversial points such as the price of other assets, and then circling back later.

Selling a Family Business Isn’t Business as Usual

selling family businessFamily businesses may resemble their non-family counterparts in most ways, but there’s one crucial difference. Whenever close relatives work together, deep emotions invariably become involved – emotions that can further complicate the already difficult decision whether to sell a family enterprise.

If you’re thinking about selling a family business, don’t overlook what your emotions are telling you about the potential sale. In some instances, of course, you’re better off listening to your head. But in this case, it’s just as important to consider what your heart is telling you too.

Why You Might Sell

Your decision to sell a family business may start with financial need. Maybe you’re looking ahead to retirement and want to feel more secure. Or maybe you see stiff challenges ahead for your company, with fewer growth prospects available or increased competition looming.

You might also look to sell a family business if you’re concerned that no one in the next generation has stepped up as an obvious management successor.

In addition, the stress of working together can be too much for some families to handle comfortably. Family strife is always unpleasant, but when family members who work together don’t get along and the tensions spill into the workplace, it can make for a destructive personal and professional environment.

Why You Might Not

Selling a family business can feel like selling a part of your family. If you sell, your decision will have a significant impact on the lives of people you care about – relatives, employees, and, especially if the business is in a close-knit community, local residents.

Your decision to sell may be especially stressful if you’re thinking of selling a business handed down to you over many years. You may wonder about what your forebears would do in your shoes.

With such factors to consider, you may decide to refuse an otherwise attractive offer and keep your business going – a decision that will allow you to maintain your independence, and pass on to future generations the same opportunities that you received.

Yet before you turn down an attractive offer, make sure you discuss your expectations with the members of the next generation. If your chosen successors aren’t interested or able to manage the business, you may be setting the stage for serious family conflict.

No Easy Answers

Sometimes, selling your business may be the best solution for everyone involved, providing you and your family with the assets you need to pursue your next dreams.

But because the decision to sell can be highly emotional, make sure you are comfortable with the idea of selling. Just because the numbers may add up doesn’t mean you’ll be happy when you no longer have the business that has been an important part of your family

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5 Common Valuation Myths

business valuation

Business valuation is a complex discipline. Much of its lingo, logic and underlying mathematics can be incomprehensible to those outside the profession, giving rise to many misconceptions. So let’s set the record straight concerning five common valuation myths.

 

1. Net income and net free cash flow are synonymous.

Net income is an artificial accounting concept that is separate from cash flow. Net income includes a deduction for depreciation expense, which many small businesses base on accelerated tax schedules rather than assets’ useful lives. And net income excludes debt service, financing proceeds, owner distributions, capital expenditures and changes in working capital. Accordingly, net income is a poor substitute for net free cash flow.

For example, consider a fictitious business with obsolete fixed assets. Its equipment is in dire need of repair and replacement, because the owner pays himself excessive distributions in lieu of making regular capital improvements. On the surface, the company may appear more profitable than its competitors because its assets have been fully depreciated and current net income includes no depreciation expense.

Substituting net income for net free cash flow may overvalue this hypothetical business. Net income disregards the company’s need to update equipment and the shareholder’s reluctance to reinvest in future operations, whereas net free cash flow accounts for capital expenditures and working capital requirements. In sum, free cash flow is more inclusive and more relevant to value because it represents the amount of cash available to investors in excess of the current operating needs of a business-the essence of value.

2. Unprofitable companies aren’t worth much.

Historic profits are relevant in business valuation only to the extent that they may help predict future cash flow. For example, startups and high-tech ventures may incur losses until they are up and running. Despite being unprofitable, these businesses often possess value because of their potential to generate future cash flow. Hard assets and internally generated intangibles such as patents and proprietary software also contribute value.

Profit also may be artificially suppressed for tax reasons. For example, some professional service firms intentionally minimize net income for tax purposes through partner bonuses. Cash businesses, such as car washes or restaurants, may underreport cash receipts to evade taxes. Values for these companies are often higher than their reported income would otherwise indicate.

3. If its competitor sold for 1.5 times revenues two years ago, a business should sell similarly today.

Although comparable transactions may seem to provide objective, convenient valuation evidence, a lone transaction doesn’t provide a representative sample. A competitor’s sale might include buyer-specific synergies or unique terms, such as an earnout or employment contract for the seller. Consider, too, the reliability of the informant. Like fish stories, transaction details often become exaggerated.

Take, for example, public companies in the funeral industry. In the late 1990s, they aggressively acquire small funeral homes, driving industry pricing multiples to record highs. Although these roll-ups intended to introduce economies of scale and professional management, the strategy failed and forced many acquirers into bankruptcy or reorganization. Today the industry has largely recovered, and pricing multiples have returned to more realistic levels.

4. Tax status has no impact on value.

In several landmark cases-including Gross v. Commissioner, Wall v. Commissioner, Heck v. Commissioner and Adams v. Commissioner – the Tax Court accepted IRS arguments that S corporations (and other pass-through entities) are worth more than otherwise identical C corporations because of their numerous tax benefits.

The most notable advantage to electing Subchapter S status is exclusion from corporate-level income taxes, including corporate-level capital gains tax after a statutory holding period. And S corporation shareholders may receive tax-free distributions as long as their equity basis in the company remains positive.

When valuing S corporations, valuators must decide on a case-by-case basis whether to apply after-tax discount rates and pricing multiples to either tax-affected or pretax earnings. Factors to consider when making this complicated decision include the valuation’s purpose, relevant case law, the company’s distribution history and whether the business interest possesses elements of control.

5. Business value matters only when it’s time to buy or sell.

This is perhaps the biggest valuation myth of all. In truth, virtually every business could benefit from a regular valuation study. From an operational perspective, many business owners have no idea what their asset is worth. An informal valuation can teach management what drives value and ways to increase short- and long-term cash flow. Furthermore, a valuator can shed light on economic conditions and industry trends. This knowledge can improve operating efficiency and, ultimately, increase sales proceeds when the time comes.

Understanding business value is also an important part of contingency planning for key person life insurance, buy-sell agreements and succession plans.

One universal truth

If you’re confused about business valuation, you’re not alone-its ins and outs are frequently misunderstood. An experienced valuation professional can help clear up any myths and ensure your company is accurately appraised.

Creative Deal Structuring

CREATIVE DEAL STRUCTURING: EARNOUT AGREEMENTS

Acquisition talks are proceeding smoothly. Then the subject of price comes up. The buyer thinks the seller’s asking price is based on overly optimistic financial projections. The seller believes the buyer’s valuation of his company is far too low. Is the deal dead? Not necessarily. An earnout agreement can help resolve the dispute when a buyer and seller disagree about the seller’s business prospects. They are especially useful when dealing with the unknown — when the target is young and unproven, or it is emerging from a difficult financial situation. In short, earnouts offer a way for the parties to bridge expectation gaps.

business dealUnderstand the benefits

In an earnout, a buyer makes a partial, upfront payment to the seller. With the payment comes a promise to pay the rest of an agreed-on amount if the target meets certain pre-established goals. Meeting these goals generally results in a higher price for the seller, while falling short of the goals may result in a lower price. A well-designed earnout carries advantages for both parties. For instance, the buyer can initiate a transaction with a relatively modest amount of cash. It also can avoid the risk of paying too much for a company unable to deliver on overly optimistic financial projections. Finally, an earnout can help make the transaction more valuable by significantly motivating the seller to achieve its promised results. The seller, meanwhile, can use an earnout to help negotiate a better asking price. An earnout can be particularly helpful when the seller believes that the company’s future results are likely to be much better than its current ones.

Structure the agreement solidly

Whether an earnout succeeds can depend on how well it’s structured. An ill-considered and vague agreement can turn a dispute over valuation into a dispute about the agreement itself. A common problem is drafting an earnout that covers an inadequate period. When this happens, the seller may try to quickly boost its earnings, even at the expense of the company’s long-term financial health. By expanding the earnout period, the buyer can collect more data to evaluate the target’s financial performance. Many experts say an earnout should reflect at least a year’s worth of results and perhaps as much as three years’ worth. Keep in mind, however, that the seller’s business becomes increasingly influenced by the buyer’s management — setting the stage for finger-pointing if the seller fails to meet the earnout’s terms. The earnout also should include the right measures of financial success. Gross sales figures provide one popular measure because they’re more difficult to manipulate than net sales. Net earnings, though a good long-term measure, are subject to many variables and can be misleading over a short period.

Achieve consensus quickly

Even the best-structured earnout needs occasional monitoring. A good way to keep the agreement on track and minimize the potential for later disputes is to include a provision for periodic audits. Audits help reassure the buyer that the target is using appropriate accounting methods and operating its business professionally. A poorly conceived earnout will fail to achieve a consensus between buyer and seller, who may interpret the same facts in vastly different ways. Thus, earnouts often include a dispute-resolution mechanism, such as arbitration, which can be a less expensive alternative to litigation.