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.”