Articles

Valuations in Divorce Cases Pose Unique Challenges

Business valuations completed in connection with divorce proceedings can be especially complex. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The South Carolina State Supreme Court weighed in recently on the long-simmering tension between recognized standards of business valuation and the goal of equity in dividing marital assets in divorce proceedings.

The decision In Clark v Clark (Appellate Case No. 2019-000442), addresses the division of marital assets, specifically the valuation of a minority interest in a family business. The Supreme Court reiterated a lower court’s assertion that the applicability of discounts for lack of control (DLOC) and marketability (DLOM) are to be determined on a case-by-case basis, then affirmed one part of that court’s ruling regarding discounts and reversed another.

The Family Business

George and Patricia Clark were married in 1987. During the marriage, Mr. Clark began working for the family business, Pure Country, a manufacturer of custom tapestry blankets and other items. His father founded the business and eventually transferred his 75 percent interest in it to Mr. Clark. A family court determined at the time that the transfer was a gift, and therefore the interest was not marital property. Mr. Clark purchased the remaining 25 percent of the business from his sister. In 2009, he transferred a 25 percent interest to Mrs. Clark. The related stock agreement limited any subsequent sale of that interest to other shareholders, immediate family members or the business.

In 2012, Mr. Clark filed for divorce. Both spouses hired experts to value Mrs. Clark’s interest in the business. The husband’s expert applied a DLOC and a DLOM. In support of the DLOM, she noted that the sale of interests in privately held companies require more time and resources and involve higher transaction costs than do sales of publicly traded interests. She also considered the restrictive language in the stock agreement from the 2009 transfer.

The wife’s expert applied a smaller DLOM, but later argued that the value should not be discounted at all. He did not apply a DLOC.

The family court found the husband’s expert more credible and agreed with her use of discounts. While it did acknowledge the “debate as to whether … discounts should apply in a divorce setting as the business is actually not being sold,” the court recognized that the valuation standard in such cases is fair market value, which assumes a hypothetical transaction between two willing parties. 

Mrs. Clark appealed the decision to the court of appeals, which agreed that a minority shareholder would not have control over the company and therefore upheld the family court’s decision to apply a DLOC, but reduced the size of the discount. The court of appeals rejected the DLOM, noting the husband did not intend to sell the business and relying on a precedent set in Moore v Moore. “To the extent the marketability discount reflected an anticipated sale, Moore deems it a fiction South Carolina law no longer recognizes.” The court found that because the husband did not plan to sell the business, the restriction on transfers of stock was moot. 

The decision compelled both parties to file appeals to the State Supreme Court.

Split Decision

The husband argued that the court of appeals erred in rejecting the DLOM when each party’s expert had applied one. The wife contended that the DLOM should not be considered because a DLOM accounts for the higher transaction costs inherent in a sale of an interest in a private company, and her husband did not intend to sell.

The Supreme Court affirmed the family court’s decision to apply a DLOM and a DLOC and the appeals court’s decision to reduce the DLOC. The decision states that a party’s interest in a closely held company is valued based on its fair market value, which has been well established as “the amount of money which a purchaser willing but not obligated to buy the property would pay an owner willing but not obligated to sell it, taking into account all uses to which the property is adapted and might in reason be applied.”

That said, the court acknowledges the tension between this principle of valuation and “the desire to fairly and justly apportion marital assets.” The court refuses to draw a bright line on the issue, stating that the applicability of such discounts is to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The Supreme Court’s decision was not unanimous. Two of the five justices issued a dissenting opinion rejecting the application of either discount, stating that “under certain facts, faithful adherence to the concept of fair market value must yield to reality.”

The decision, while not directly applicable to New York cases, speaks to the complexities involved in divorce-related valuations and the need for valuation professionals to weigh competing considerations. If you have questions regarding the valuation issues in a divorce or another context, Advent’s professionals are here to help.

Read the Decision

You can read the rather colorful decision here:

https://adventvalue.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Op.-27969-George-W-Clark-v.-Patricia-B-Clark.pdf

Changes in Bankuptcy Law a Lifeline for Struggling Businesses

Recent changes to U.S. Bankruptcy Law may provide additional relief for some struggling businesses. Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused many businesses to temporarily shut down or scale back operations. Slowly, states are allowing businesses to reopen to the public. But it may be too late for some businesses to bounce back. As a result, the number of businesses filing for bankruptcy is expected to skyrocket this summer.

Two recent changes to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code may provide greater relief for small businesses that seek to use the bankruptcy process to reorganize their finances and continue operating. The Small Business Reorganization Act (SMRA) increases access to Chapter 11 for small businesses. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act raises the debt threshold that qualifies for this protection. Here’s what small business owners should know.  

SMRA Basics

Effective on February 19, 2020, the SMRA creates a new subchapter (Subchapter V) of the Bankruptcy Code. To be eligible for relief under Subchapter V, a debtor, whether an entity or an individual, must have total debt not exceeding $2,725,625 (subject to adjustment every three years). The SMRA contains provisions for the following key improvements:

Streamlined reorganizations: The new law will facilitate small business reorganizations by eliminating certain procedural requirements and reducing costs. Significantly, no one except the business debtor will be able to propose a plan of reorganization. Plus, the debtor won’t be required to obtain approval or solicit votes for plan confirmation. Absent a court order, there will be no unsecured creditor committees under the new law. The new law also will require the court to hold a status conference within 60 days of the petition filing, giving the debtor 90 days to file its plan.

New value rule: The law will repeal the requirement that equity holders of the small business debtor must provide “new value” to retain their equity interest without fully paying off creditors. Instead, the plan must be nondiscriminatory and “fair and equitable.” In addition, similar to Chapter 13, the debtor’s entire projected disposable income must be applied to payments or the value of property to be distributed can’t amount to less than the debtor’s projected disposable income.

Trustee appointments: A standing trustee will be appointed to serve as the trustee for the bankruptcy estate. The revised version of Chapter 11 allows the trustee to preside over the reorganization and monitor its progress.

Administrative expense claims: Currently, a debtor must pay, on the effective date of the plan, any administrative expense claims, including claims incurred by the debtor for goods and services after a petition has been filed. Under the new law, a small business debtor is permitted to stretch payment of administrative expense claims over the term of the plan, giving this class of debtors a distinct advantage.

Residential mortgages: The new law eliminates the prohibition against a small business debtor modifying his or her residential mortgages. The debtor has more leeway if the underlying loan wasn’t used to acquire the residence and was used primarily for the debtor’s small business. Otherwise, secured lenders will continue to have the same protections as in other Chapter 11 cases.

Discharges: The new law provides that the court must grant the debtor a discharge after completing payments within the first three years of the plan or a longer period of up to five years established by the judge. The discharge relieves the debtor of personal liability for all debts under the plan except for amounts due after the last payment date and certain nondischargeable debts.

CARES Act Provision

In addition to the improvements under the SMRA, Congress decided to temporarily increase the debt ceiling for eligibility to $7,500,000 from $2,725,625 for new Subchapter V cases filed between March 28, 2020, and March 27, 2021. Thereafter, the debt limit will revert to $2,725,625.This change will make more small businesses eligible for Chapter 11 in the midst of the novel coronavirus crisis. However, the CARES Act permanently eliminates the eligibility to file for Subchapter V relief for any affiliate of a public company.

We Can Help

Businesses contemplating bankruptcy often benefit from the input of an experienced business valuation expert. Specialists with experience in accounting, valuation and mergers and acquisitions can help assess the severity of the financial crisis, determine whether liquidation or reorganization makes sense, and provide financial insight on everything from selling assets to shareholder disputes. Contact one of Advent’s business valuation professionals to facilitate the bankruptcy process and, if possible, get your business back on track.

© 2020, Powered by Thomson Reuters Checkpoint 

Considering a Business Acquisition?

You wouldn’t perform a surgery on yourself. The same holds true when buying a business. Unless you’re well-versed in performing a comprehensive financial analysis of a business, it doesn’t make sense to buy one without using a due diligence and valuation specialist. A due diligence report:

  • Verifies the accuracy of the seller’s information.
  • Outlines a detailed understanding of the business.
  • Contains vital information that can be used for negotiating the transaction, obtaining financing, establishing the tax and accounting basis of the assets, and integrating the acquired entity into the buyer’s business.

Most of all, due diligence identifies possible deal-breakers. A seller may “prepare” a business for sale, making it look better than it really is, in order to obtain a higher price. A professional due diligence review guards against the overstatement of assets and understatement of liabilities. It also provides an analysis of historic earnings and the likelihood that forecasted operations can be met.

One crucial, but often overlooked, part of due diligence involves the tax consequences of the proposed transaction. Depending on the operating structure of the acquiring company and the target (for example, a C corporation, S corporation or partnership), it may be better to receive assets versus stock. Keep in mind that a badly structured sale can result in a tax disaster.

Contact Advent Valuation Advisors to learn how due diligence can keep a sale from resulting in costly errors.

© 2020, Powered by Thomson Reuters Checkpoint

Understanding the Terms of Engagement

When you need to know how much your business is worth, one of the first questions to ask is, how much work – and how much expense – will it take to get the job done?

In many circumstances, a comprehensive valuation is required or preferred. Sometimes, however, a relatively straightforward, and less costly, calculation of value may be sufficient. The purpose of the valuation will often dictate the scope of work that is appropriate.

Both the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) have defined the scope of various assignments used to value a business, business ownership interest, security or intangible asset. In its Business Valuation Standards, The American Society of Appraisers (ASA) defines three types of engagements:

  • An appraisal engagement is the most comprehensive. It considers all relevant information as of the appraisal date and results in the expression of an unambiguous opinion of value, which is supported by all procedures the appraiser deems relevant.
  • A limited appraisal engagement is based on consideration of limited relevant information and limited procedures deemed necessary by the appraiser. It results in an estimate of value.
  • In a calculation engagement, the appraiser and the client may agree on the procedure or procedures to be performed. The appraiser collects limited information, performs limited procedures and provides an approximate indication of value.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants defines two types of engagements:

  • In a valuation engagement, the valuation analyst applies the approaches he or she deems appropriate. The result is a conclusion of value.
  • In a calculation engagement, the analyst and the client agree ahead of time on the procedures the analyst will perform, and these procedures are generally more limited than in a valuation engagement. The result is a calculation of value.

A full appraisal or valuation engagement will generally result in the production of a comprehensive report that describes in detail the procedures performed, while a calculation may result in an estimate, with limited additional information provided to the client. In any of the engagements described above, the resulting value may be a single amount or a range.

So, how does a business owner determine which type of engagement is appropriate?

The right tool for the job

There are times when a calculation may be sufficient. For instance, a small business owner who receives an offer to sell his or her business may simply want to gauge the fairness of that offer. According to the AICPA’s Statements on Standards, a calculation engagement also may be acceptable when acting as a neutral party in a dispute. For a matter involving the IRS or the Tax Court, a full valuation resulting in an opinion/conclusion of value is generally preferred.

The use of calculations in court matters has become a contentious matter. In a piece in the November 2019 issue of Business Valuation Update, Michael Paschall, an accredited senior appraiser and attorney, criticizes a phenomenon he terms “calculation creep,” the increased use of calculation engagements in litigation settings.

He claims the “incomplete and potentially biased aspects of calculation engagements represent a dumbing down of the valuation process and profession,” and calls on the governing bodies in business valuation to bar calculations for litigation, ESOPs, IRS purposes “or any other context where a reliable opinion of value is needed or third-party reliance is present.”

In Hanley v. Hanley, a case decided in June 2019 in New York State Supreme Court in Albany, the court rejected a value calculation produced by an accountant retained by one of the parties. The decision cites several concerns, including questions about the independence of the valuation professional and the lack of documentation in the valuation report, which did not describe the limited procedures or approaches used in the calculation.

At the end of the day, any valuation is only as credible as the professional who renders it. The judgment of the valuation professional is a key ingredient in every phase of the assignment, from determining the appropriate scope to selecting the best methods, reconciling the results of different procedures and, ultimately, deriving the indicated value.

Advent’s valuation professionals can walk you through the process and help you determine what type of engagement will best meet your goals.

Recession, Election Fears Weigh on Values

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Business brokers say fear of a recession and uncertainty over the upcoming presidential election may be driving down business valuations, according to the third-quarter edition of Market Pulse, the quarterly survey of business brokers conducted by the International Business Brokers Association and M&A Source.

Fifty-three percent of business brokers surveyed cited the prospect of a recession as the biggest concern affecting U.S. business valuations, followed by the presidential election and the trade war with China.

“Small business owners are worried that a recession is coming, and trade issues are causing volatility. All that nervous energy means buyers are dialing back a bit – particularly on the smaller market deals.” said Craig Everett, PhD. Everett is director of the Pepperdine Capital Markets Project at the Pepperdine Graziado Business School, which compiled the survey results.

The national survey is intended to capture market conditions for businesses sold for less than $50 million. It divides that market into three classes of main street businesses with values of $2 million or less, and two lower middle-market ones in the $2 million to $50 million range.

The survey found that businesses selling for $5 million to $50 million garnered a 9 percent premium over asking price during the third quarter, while the smallest main street businesses, those worth less than $500,000, sold for just 85 percent of asking price, the lowest percentage in four years.

Scott Bushkie, managing partner of Cornerstone Business Services, told Market Pulse that falling business confidence has slowed the activity of the individual buyers who account for most main street business acquisitions.

“Confidence always gets shaky as we enter an election season,” said Bushkie, whose firm has an office in Iowa, where the first caucus of the 2020 presidential campaign will be held February 3. “There’s this general escalation of reports pointing out economic weaknesses and policy flaws, and people sometimes internalize that negativity. I think we may be feeling that even earlier than normal this time around.”

Seller financing

Market Pulse found that sellers provided roughly 10 percent of the buyer’s financing in deals that closed during the third quarter. Earn-outs and retained equity were less common.

“Lenders always like to see sellers keep some skin in the game,” said Justin Sandridge of Murphy Business Sales-Baltimore East. “When sellers aren’t willing to finance any of the purchase price, that sends warning signals to buyers and lenders alike. Refusing to provide seller financing is like holding up a giant ‘no confidence’ sign, and it’s likely to scare other parties away from the deal.”

Market Pulse’s third-quarter survey of 236 business brokers and M&A advisors was conducted from October 1-15. The respondents reported completing 210 transactions during the third quarter.

Price Multiples Decline During Third Quarter

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

Small business sales during the third quarter of 2019 yielded EBITDA multiples about 26 percent lower than a year before, according to the latest edition of DealStats Value Index. It’s one of several developments noted in the report that point to an emerging buyer’s market.

The median EBITDA multiple – the ratio of selling price to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – slid to 3.7 for transactions completed in the third quarter, down from 4.0 during the preceding quarter and the peak of 5.0 reached during the third quarter of 2018. The EBITDA multiple during the third-quarter of 2018 was the highest quarterly mark since at least 2013.

DealStats is a database of private-company transactions maintained by Business Valuation Resources. The database is used by business appraisers when applying the market approach to valuation. Multiples such as sale price-to-EBITDA can be derived from transactions involving similar businesses and used to estimate the value of a company, subject to adjustments for unique characteristics of the business being valued.

Over the longer term, DealStats notes that EBITDA multiples have generally trended downward since 2017, falling to a six-year low in 2019.

It’s important to bear in mind that DealStats data only reflects transactions reported to the service, and the data is subject to revision as additional sales are reported. For instance, the median EBITDA multiple for the April-June quarter was initially reported as 4.2. That was revised to 4.0 in the latest report. The spike to 5.0 during the third quarter of 2018 was previously reported as 4.4 and 4.5.

The delays in reporting may limit the value of information regarding trends gleaned from the quarter-to-quarter gyrations of multiples.

EBITDA margins decline

Businesses sold in 2019 have tended to be less profitable than those sold in recent years, according to the DealStats data. The median EBITDA margin (measured as a percentage of revenue) was just below 11 percent during the third quarter, up slightly from the second quarter, but down from 12 percent in the first three months of the year. EBITDA margins have generally trended lower since 2013.

A long time to sell

Businesses are taking longer to sell, according to DealStats. The median number of days for private businesses to sell was 221 for deals closed during the first half of 2019. That marked the fifth straight half-year period (dating back to the first half of 2017) where the median exceeded 200. From 2013 to 2016, the median never topped 200 days.

Revenue multiple falls

DealStats reports that the median sale price-to-revenue multiple this year is 0.45, down from 0.49 in 2018 and the lowest multiple in at least a decade. Businesses in the finance/insurance sector garnered the highest multiple, at 1.75, followed by information at 1.70 and professional, scientific and technical services at 0.89.

The highest EBITDA multiple was noted in the information sector, at 11.1, followed by mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction, at 8.5. The lowest multiple was 2.6 for the accommodation and food service industry.

Business valuation professionals use transactions such as those collected by DealStats to derive a business’s market value. If you have questions about how comparable sales influence the value of your business, or how much your business is worth, please contact us.

Buy-Sell Agreements: What You Should Know

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For many of our clients, their investment in their business is the most significant financial asset they own. Many are baby boomers (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) who have reached or are approaching the transition from working to retirement. As that transition occurs, their small or medium-sized businesses will be sold or otherwise passed on to the next generation of owners.

It is often during these times of transition that the importance of buy-sell agreements becomes evident. Buy-sell agreements spell out the terms for transferring an interest in a business upon the death or departure of an owner. The time to create such an agreement is not during a transition, but rather at the start, when all of the owners are involved and an orderly transition can be planned. In our role as appraisers, we have seen many clients who either don’t have a buy-sell agreement or whose agreement simply doesn’t work as the shareholders expected.

As a shareholder, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do you have a buy-sell agreement?
  2. Do you know what your buy-sell agreement says?
  3. How is your buy-sell agreement funded?

Even in companies that have agreements in place, we often find that they are not current, have a price determination that isn’t fair or workable for all parties, or lack funding arrangements for events that trigger a transfer. These situations can result in protracted litigation or even the demise of the business. If you have a buy-sell agreement, it may be time to review it.
The four most common ways that business owners exit their privately held businesses are a sale to a third-party, gifting ownership interests to family members, selling to employees and liquidating. Buy-sell agreements can provide guidance in all of these situations. Read your agreement to see if the language delivers the results you desire in each situation. 

A review of your agreement should focus on three key areas: triggering events, pricing and funding.

Triggering Events

The agreement should define the transfer process for triggering events such as shareholder retirement, termination of employment, death, disability, sale, divorce and bankruptcy.

Pricing

Transaction prices in buy-sell agreements are usually defined by a fixed price, a pricing formula or an appraisal.

Fixed prices are easy to understand and easy to set initially, but may be difficult to reset as time passes and interests diverge. The provisions are rarely updated, and inequities are likely to result.

Formula-based pricing provides a mechanism to update the value based on various metrics in the business. However, a formula selected at a point in time rarely provide reasonable and realistic valuations over time. Changes in companies, industries and the local and global economies may impact the true value of an enterprise relative to any set formula. And formulas may be subject to multiple interpretations.

If appraisals are used, all parties will understand the valuation process from the start, and they’ll know what to expect when a triggering event occurs. Appraisers can incorporate key business drivers and risks into the determined value. Periodic appraisals provide a mechanism for keeping a buy-sell agreement up to date, so that all parties know the current value of the business and their interests. An updated valuation provides valuable information for business and personal financial planning, as well.

We recommend clients consider appraisals of their businesses. Though this comes at an additional expense, owners should make the small investment to understand what their business is worth with an annual or periodic valuation. They will potentially save much more in litigation or exit costs later.

Funding

The buy-sell agreement should spell out how transactions will be funded in situations where the company buys shares back from shareholders. Management’s plan should spell out several key points:

  • Who will buy the shares? Other shareholders, the company or a combination?
  • Should the company hold life insurance to fund share purchases if an owner dies?
  • What are the terms of the transaction (down payment, interest rate, security)?
  • Are there any restrictions on share payments under the company’s loan agreements?

We have seen a variety of other deficiencies in buy-sell agreements. Some lack the signatures of current shareholders. Others have not been updated for several years. In others, the level of value is not identified.

As you can see, there are a number of issues which, if handled poorly, could result in your buy-sell agreement creating as many problems as it solves. Used properly, the buy-sell agreement is a great tool to provide guidance for all kinds of triggering events that affect shareholders. We encourage you to discuss these matters with shareholders and your attorney. If you are in need of a current appraisal, please call us.  

Tax Court OKs Tax-Affecting of Pass-Through Income

Photo courtesy of New York Public Library

The Tax Court recently issued a ruling that addresses the tax-affecting of pass-through entity earnings in valuing a portion of the entity. The case, Estate of Aaron Jones v. Commissioner, involved valuing interests in pass-through entities engaged in the lumber industry for the purpose of determining gift tax.

In valuing the taxpayer’s interest in the companies, the taxpayer’s valuation expert tax-affected projected earnings by 38 percent, because the valuation in question was as of 2009. He then applied a 22 percent premium for holding pass-through entity tax status because of the benefit of avoiding the dividend tax.

The IRS argued that there should be no tax imputed because (a) there is no tax at the entity level, (b) there is no evidence that the entity would become a taxable C corporation, and (c) tax-affecting abandons the arm’s-length formulation of fair market value, “in the absence of a showing that two unrelated parties dealing at arm’s length would tax-affect” the interest’s earnings “because it inappropriately favors a hypothetical buyer over the hypothetical seller.”

The estate’s expert argued that a tax rate of zero would overstate the value of the interest, because the partners are taxed at their ordinary rates on partnership income whether or not the company distributes any cash, and a hypothetical buyer would take this into consideration. He also argued that the hypothetical buyer and seller would take into account the benefit of avoiding dividend taxes.

Interestingly, the court noted that while the IRS “objects vociferously” to the estate expert’s tax-affecting of income, the IRS’ experts were silent on the matter. “They do not offer any defense of respondent’s proposed zero tax rate. Thus, we do not have a fight between valuation experts but a fight between lawyers.”

An emerging path

Taxpayers – and the valuation community – have been fighting the IRS over this issue for years, starting with Gross v. Commissioner in 1999 (TCM 1999-254), which rejected the use of tax-affecting when valuing pass-through entities. Courts have generally sided with the IRS in opposing the tax-affecting of pass-through entities in subsequent cases such as Estate of Gallagher v. Commissioner in 2011 (TCM 2011-148).

Jones is the second notable decision this year in which a court has supported the use of tax-affecting in valuing pass-through entities in cases where additional adjustments were made to address the economic benefits of such entities. The other case, Kress v. United States, was decided in March by the District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (16-C-795). There, as in Jones, the court’s decision relied heavily on the taxpayer’s expert.

In Jones, the court went back to the Gross case, quoting from Gross that “the principal benefit that shareholders expect from an S corporation election is a reduction in the total tax burden imposed on the enterprise. The owners expect to save money, and we see no reason why that savings ought to be ignored as a matter of course in valuing the S corporation.”

The court also referenced Gallagher and Estate of Giustina v Commissioner (TCM 2011-141), stating that all three cases did not question the efficacy of taking into account the pass-through tax status, but rather how to do so.

The court credited the estate’s expert for recognizing both the immediate tax burden posed by a pass-through entity’s income, and the benefit of avoiding the dividend tax. The “tax-affecting may not be exact, but it is more complete and more convincing than respondent’s zero tax rate.”

The case is Estate of Aaron Jones v. Commissioner, TCM 2019-101, Docket No. 27952-13, filed August 19, 2019. See pages 36-42 for pertinent details.

The decision is available here:

Tariffs Take Toll on M&A Activity

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Business brokers say the U.S.’s ongoing tariff battles are taking a bite out of business transactions.

Concerns over the impact of tariffs have compelled some small-business owners to lower their asking prices, while others have chosen not to put their businesses on the market at all, according to the second-quarter edition of Market Pulse, the quarterly survey of business brokers conducted by the International Business Brokers Association and M&A Source.

During the second quarter, 32 percent of lower middle market advisors and 22 percent of “Main Street” advisors reported that one or more of their sellers had been affected by tariff issues, according to Market Pulse. Main Street businesses are defined as those with values of $2 million or less, and lower middle-market ones as those worth $2 million to $50 million.

The brokers reported that some of the affected buyers had reduced their asking prices because of tariff-related concerns, while others decided not to sell as a result of recent changes in trade policy with China, Mexico and Canada, according to the report. Brokers say the timing couldn’t be worse for business owners looking to cash out during what has been a strong seller’s market.

“What’s tragic is that M&A conditions are otherwise extremely strong for sellers right now. However, there is a substantial minority of small business owners affected by tariff issues who can’t take full advantage of this market to exit their business,” Laura Maver Ward, managing partner of Kingsbridge Capital Partners, told Market Pulse. “Many business owners would rather lower their purchase price – reducing their retirement resources and their reward for years of hard work – rather than take a chance on missing their window to sell their company.”

The Market Pulse report echoes findings of a survey conducted early this year by the National Federation of Independent Business. In that survey, 37 percent of small business owners reported negative impacts of U.S. trade policy changes with Mexico, Canada and China. 

Manufacturers hit hard

Several brokers cited in the Market Pulse report said that manufacturing clients have been among those hardest hit by tariffs. While the pace of manufacturing deals has been hampered, activity in the construction/engineering sector has heated up, driven in part by private-equity interest, according to the report.

Market Pulse reported that overall market sentiment fell during the second quarter across all five value ranges tracked in the survey, when compared to confidence levels a year before. That said, 66 percent or more of advisors still see a seller’s markets in each of the three value ranges between $1 million and $50 million. Sentiment in the two value ranges below $1 million are at or below 50 percent.

“It’s still a strong marketplace with more buyers than sellers, and companies, for the most part, are doing well,” Randy Bring of Transworld Business Advisors told Market Pulse. “But tariff issues are popping up, and talk of a recession in the next 12 to 18 months is scaring some buyers away.”

Market Pulse is compiled by the Pepper­dine Private Capital Markets Project at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. To learn more, go to Pepperdine’s Market Pulse page:

bschool.pepperdine.edu/institutes-centers/centers/applied-research/research/pcmsurvey/market-pulse-reports-overlay.htm

Bumpy Ride for Business Values

Continued Volatility Seen in Latest Edition of Value Index

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Price volatility continued in the small-business transaction market during the second quarter of 2019, according to the latest edition of DealStats Value Index.

The median EBITDA multiple – the ratio of selling price to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – jumped to 4.2 for transactions completed in the second quarter, up from a median of 3.4 during the first three months of the year. That increase continued a trend of large quarterly swings that began during the second quarter of 2017.

DealStats is a database of private-company transactions maintained by Business Valuation Resources. The database is used by business appraisers when applying the market approach to valuation. Multiples such as sale price-to-EBITDA can be derived from transactions involving similar businesses and used to estimate the value of a company, subject to adjustments for unique characteristics of the company being valued.

Companies that sold during the second quarter were generally less profitable than those sold in the first quarter, according to Value Index. EBITDA represented 11 percent of revenue for second-quarter transactions, down from 15 percent for the first quarter of the year.

In short, transactions reported to DealStats for the second quarter featured companies that were less profitable (as measured by EBITDA) than those sold in the previous quarter, but they sold at higher multiples to the reduced earnings.

Not all sectors are created equal

What’s driving the increase in volatility? DealStats doesn’t offer any theories. One contributing factor could be a shift in the types of businesses sold from one quarter to the next. For instance, much has been written in recent years about consolidation in healthcare. Businesses in healthcare and social assistance sold at a median of 6.3 times EBITDA during the second quarter, among the highest multiples tracked by DealStats. Retailers, in contrast, sold for a median multiple of 3.8. A spate of medical practice mergers could drive up the overall multiple for a quarter. A run of retail acquisitions could drive it down.

The industries boasting the highest median EBITDA multiples during the second quarter were information at 11.1, and mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction services at 8.3. The lowest EBITDA multiples were reported for transactions in accommodation and food services at 2.6, and other services at 3.0.

Size premium

The smallest of small businesses tend to enjoy the largest profit margins, but they garner the lowest multiples of that profit when they sell. The Value Index tracks this dynamic by dividing transactions into four groups based on net sales (less than $1 million, $1 million-$5 million, $5 million-$10 million and greater than $10 million).

Of those groups, businesses with less than $1 million in net sales have produced the highest net profit margins in each year since 2010, while businesses with sales of more than $10 million have generated the lowest margins in each year except 2011. This isn’t surprising, since the smallest businesses typically have limited overhead, and many are sole proprietorships with little payroll expense.

When small businesses are sold, however, the largest among them generate the highest price multiples. In 2018, the median ratio of selling price to EBITDA for businesses with sales greater than $10 million was a shade over 12, according to the Value Index. For those with sales of less than $1 million, the median was less than 4.

As we’ve noted before, larger businesses typically face less risk because they have more diversified products, vendors and customers. There’s an inverse relationship between risk and value. Larger businesses are rewarded with higher multiples in part because they are less risky.

Click below to read Advent’s recent article about size premiums in business valuation:

To learn more about Advent Valuation Advisors, email info@adventvaluecom.