Thursday, 22 November 2012

Mergers and Acquisitions: Valuation Matters

Investors in a company that are aiming to take over another one must determine whether the purchase will be beneficial to them. In order to do so, they must ask themselves how much the company being acquired is really worth.

Naturally, both sides of an M&A deal will have different ideas about the worth of a target company: its seller will tend to value the company at as high of a price as possible, while the buyer will try to get the lowest price that he can.

There are, however, many legitimate ways to value companies. The most common method is to look at comparable companies in an industry, but deal makers employ a variety of other methods and tools when assessing a target company. Here are just a few of them:
Comparative Ratios - The following are two examples of the many comparative metrics on which acquiring companies may base their offers:
Price-Earnings Ratio (P/E Ratio) - With the use of this ratio, an acquiring company makes an offer that is a multiple of the earnings of the target company. Looking at the P/E for all the stocks within the same industry group will give the acquiring company good guidance for what the target's P/E multiple should be.
Enterprise-Value-to-Sales Ratio (EV/Sales) - With this ratio, the acquiring company makes an offer as a multiple of the revenues, again, while being aware of the price-to-sales ratio of other companies in the industry.
Replacement Cost - In a few cases, acquisitions are based on the cost of replacing the target company. For simplicity's sake, suppose the value of a company is simply the sum of all its equipment and staffing costs. The acquiring company can literally order the target to sell at that price, or it will create a competitor for the same cost. Naturally, it takes a long time to assemble good management, acquire property and get the right equipment. This method of establishing a price certainly wouldn't make much sense in a service industry where the key assets - people and ideas - are hard to value and develop.
Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) - A key valuation tool in M&A, discounted cash flow analysis determines a company's current value according to its estimated future cash flows. Forecasted free cash flows (net income + depreciation/amortization - capital expenditures - change in working capital) are discounted to a present value using the company's weighted average costs of capital (WACC). Admittedly, DCF is tricky to get right, but few tools can rival this valuation method.

Synergy: The Premium for Potential Success
For the most part, acquiring companies nearly always pay a substantial premium on the stock market value of the companies they buy. The justification for doing so nearly always boils down to the notion of synergy; a merger benefits shareholders when a company's post-merger share price increases by the value of potential synergy.

Let's face it, it would be highly unlikely for rational owners to sell if they would benefit more by not selling. That means buyers will need to pay a premium if they hope to acquire the company, regardless of what pre-merger valuation tells them. For sellers, that premium represents their company's future prospects. For buyers, the premium represents part of the post-merger synergy they expect can be achieved. The following equation offers a good way to think about synergy and how to determine whether a deal makes sense. The equation solves for the minimum required synergy:

In other words, the success of a merger is measured by whether the value of the buyer is enhanced by the action. However, the practical constraints of mergers often prevent the expected benefits from being fully achieved. Alas, the synergy promised by deal makers might just fall short.

What to Look For
It's hard for investors to know when a deal is worthwhile. The burden of proof should fall on the acquiring company. To find mergers that have a chance of success, investors should start by looking for some of these simple criteria:
A reasonable purchase price - A premium of, say, 10% above the market price seems within the bounds of level-headedness. A premium of 50%, on the other hand, requires synergy of stellar proportions for the deal to make sense. Stay away from companies that participate in such contests.
Cash transactions - Companies that pay in cash tend to be more careful when calculating bids and valuations come closer to target. When stock is used as the currency for acquisition, discipline can go by the wayside.
Sensible appetite – An acquiring company should be targeting a company that is smaller and in businesses that the acquiring company knows intimately. Synergy is hard to create from companies in disparate business areas. Sadly, companies have a bad habit of biting off more than they can chew in mergers.
Mergers are awfully hard to get right, so investors should look for acquiring companies with a healthy grasp of reality.

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Mergers and Acquisitions: Doing The Deal

Start with an Offer
When the CEO and top managers of a company decide that they want to do a merger or acquisition, they start with a tender offer. The process typically begins with the acquiring company carefully and discreetly buying up shares in the target company, or building a position. Once the acquiring company starts to purchase shares in the open market, it is restricted to buying 5% of the total outstanding shares before it must file with the SEC. In the filing, the company must formally declare how many shares it owns and whether it intends to buy the company or keep the shares purely as an investment.

Working with financial advisors and investment bankers, the acquiring company will arrive at an overall price that it's willing to pay for its target in cash, shares or both. The tender offer is then frequently advertised in the business press, stating the offer price and the deadline by which the shareholders in the target company must accept (or reject) it.

The Target's Response
Once the tender offer has been made, the target company can do one of several things:
Accept the Terms of the Offer - If the target firm's top managers and shareholders are happy with the terms of the transaction, they will go ahead with the deal.
Attempt to Negotiate - The tender offer price may not be high enough for the target company's shareholders to accept, or the specific terms of the deal may not be attractive. In a merger, there may be much at stake for the management of the target - their jobs, in particular. If they're not satisfied with the terms laid out in the tender offer, the target's management may try to work out more agreeable terms that let them keep their jobs or, even better, send them off with a nice, big compensation package.

Not surprisingly, highly sought-after target companies that are the object of several bidders will have greater latitude for negotiation. Furthermore, managers have more negotiating power if they can show that they are crucial to the merger's future success.
Execute a Poison Pill or Some Other Hostile Takeover Defense – A poison pill scheme can be triggered by a target company when a hostile suitor acquires a predetermined percentage of company stock. To execute its defense, the target company grants all shareholders - except the acquiring company - options to buy additional stock at a dramatic discount. This dilutes the acquiring company's share and intercepts its control of the company.
Find a White Knight - As an alternative, the target company's management may seek out a friendlier potential acquiring company, or white knight. If a white knight is found, it will offer an equal or higher price for the shares than the hostile bidder.
Mergers and acquisitions can face scrutiny from regulatory bodies. For example, if the two biggest long-distance companies in the U.S., AT&T and Sprint, wanted to merge, the deal would require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC would probably regard a merger of the two giants as the creation of a monopoly or, at the very least, a threat to competition in the industry.

Closing the Deal
Finally, once the target company agrees to the tender offer and regulatory requirements are met, the merger deal will be executed by means of some transaction. In a merger in which one company buys another, the acquiring company will pay for the target company's shares with cash, stock or both.

A cash-for-stock transaction is fairly straightforward: target company shareholders receive a cash payment for each share purchased. This transaction is treated as a taxable sale of the shares of the target company.

If the transaction is made with stock instead of cash, then it's not taxable. There is simply an exchange of share certificates. The desire to steer clear of the tax man explains why so many M&A deals are carried out as stock-for-stock transactions.

When a company is purchased with stock, new shares from the acquiring company's stock are issued directly to the target company's shareholders, or the new shares are sent to a broker who manages them for target company shareholders. The shareholders of the target company are only taxed when they sell their new shares.

When the deal is closed, investors usually receive a new stock in their portfolios - the acquiring company's expanded stock. Sometimes investors will get new stock identifying a new corporate entity that is created by the M&A deal.

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