When covering the M&A 2018 outlook, Mergermarket turned to industry leaders — including Auctus Group’s Muhammad Azfar — for insights on the first-half of the year and Midwest trends.
Midwest serving up tech-infused, on-trend deals
by Jeff Sheban in Chicago
December 21, 2017
The Midwest’s bread-and-butter sectors of industrials and consumer – especially tech-enabled and “better-for-you” offerings – will continue to whet the appetite of strategic and financial buyers in 1H18, dealmakers say.
Overall sentiment in the region remains upbeat heading into a new year, with long-promised federal tax reform a reality, the economy steadily rising and loads of cash waiting to be deployed.
“M&A activity in the second half of 2017 has been strong and will continue to be strong in the first half,” said Steven M. Dresner, president of the Chicago-based investment bank Dresner Partners. “There is still more money than deals, and with the tax law changes prices are going to continue to go up.”
The industrials sector, perennially the region’s leader in terms of deal volume and value, continues to be transformed by – what else – technology.
“The future lies with companies that are developing highly engineered products and introducing new technology because that adds value” said Steven Rosen, co-CEO of the Cleveland, Ohio-based private equity firm Resilience Capital Partners.
“In our portfolio we’ve applied for 20-plus patents for highly-engineered defensible products” in areas including robotics and automation, he said. Smaller enterprises must either differentiate through technology or find themselves “pushed out of the market,” he added.
The region’s blockbuster deal of the year, United Technologies’ [NYSE:UTX] pending USD 30bn acquisition of Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Rockwell Collins [NYSE:COL], will combine two companies in the technology-heavy aerospace and defense sector.
Tech-enabled companies in a variety of sectors including manufacturing, third-party logistics and healthcare will command some of the highest multiples in the region going forward, said Muhammad Azfar, managing partner and CEO of the Chicago-based investment bank Auctus Group.
“Technology acquisition is such a big driver of M&A,” he said. “Anybody in a tech-enabled industry or segment is in a higher-multiple area.”
Meanwhile, companies delivering the perceived “better-for-you” food, snacks and drinks that consumers and investors crave are also in demand. One of the larger transactions in the region saw Michigan-based Kellogg [NYSE:K] acquire Illinois-based Chicago Bar Company, producer of protein snacks RXBAR, for USD 600m.
“Larger companies are continuing to try and compete with small, innovative brands that they can’t create organically,” said Andrew Dickow, director at the Birmingham, Michigan-based investment bank Greenwich Capital Group.
Dickow said he expects to see large consumer goods companies step up their divestment of non-core or slow-growth brands to free up capital to invest in brands and companies that have products and services that address changing consumer tastes and habits.
Though not quite in the healthy category, Arby’s owner Roark Capital’s proposed acquisition of Minnesota-based Buffalo Wild Wings for USD 2.9bn is a reminder that PE firms are sitting on buckets of cash and are willing and able to compete with strategics in the current low-interest rate environment, the sources said.
Strategic vs. Financial Buyers
Competition between strategic and financial buyers, both groups heavily armed with cash, will be as fierce as ever in the Midwest, dealmakers said. The scales might tip one way or another based on borrowing costs, they agreed.
“If there is any risk to the current slow, steady pace of growth it will come from the credit markets, and that risk is on everyone’s mind,” Rosen said.
Rising interest rates could actually be a good thing for strategic buyers, so long as stock valuations do not fall accordingly, Azfar noted.
“Most financial sponsors still use high leverage, so the cost of debt is huge,” he said. “A half-a-point rise in interest rates could shock the financial system, and if that happened you might see strategic buyers finding assets more affordable” because they can use cash and stock for M&A with less need to borrow, he said.
Article was written by Mergermarket, the leading provider of forward-looking M&A intelligence and data to M&A professionals and corporates around the world. www.mergermarket.com