Insights

  • Why Representations and Warranty Insurance Is the Perfect Tool for Bankruptcy Sales
    POSTED 9.29.20 M&A

    I know of a company that was on the verge of being bought for $100M. Then COVID-19 came in, the deal fell through, and now the business, forced to go through bankruptcy, is selling its assets for $20M.

    This will not be a unique case. In the coming weeks and months, expect a growing list of companies looking at bankruptcy as their way out due to the ongoing economic effects from the pandemic.

    Unlike past downturn-related bankruptcy sales, there is a very valuable M&A tool that can be brought into the transaction that greatly benefits both Buyers and Sellers (also known in these cases as debtors):

    Representations and Warranty insurance.
    As Bryan O’Keefe, Gena Usenheimer, and James Sowka, partners at Seyfarth Shaw, put it in their recent article, “How An M&A Tool Can Benefit Bankruptcy Sales”:

    “When properly utilized, reps and warranties insurance can increase the value of the distressed asset while simultaneously providing the asset purchaser with a backstop on the promises made in the purchase agreement.”

    R&W coverage transfers the indemnity risk away from the Seller to a third party – the insurer. And the Buyer simply goes to the insurer with a claim for damages from any breaches post-closing. It’s a win-win for both sides of the transaction.

    In bankruptcy deals covered by R&W insurance, the Seller’s company and/or its assets are more valuable, which gives them more cash to cover their debts. The simple reason why is that an asset backed up by an insurance company is more valuable to a Buyer than an asset that is bought as is. They can sell for more, simply put.

    For Buyers, this coverage gives them protection and peace of mind that if something goes south and there are unknown breaches of the reps and warranties of the Purchase and Sale Agreement, they won’t have to go after the debtor (which doesn’t have funds to cover the damages because of their financial situation) for relief because the insurance company is ready to go.

    This is vastly different than how business is usually done with these 363 sales. In the past, the mode was “as is, where is.”

    It’s kind of the like buying a used car “as is”—it’s up to the purchaser to have a mechanic check out the vehicle to make sure it’s in good running order and there are no hidden issues. When a car warranty is added to the deal, not only does it cover repairs if something breaks down unexpectedly, but the owner can also actually increase the selling price.

    With a 363 sale, the burden of conducting due diligence of the target asset is on the Buyer, and they often have a shortened timeline to conduct it. Things can be overlooked. R&W coverage acts like the car warranty.
    As Bryan, James, and Gena say in their article:

    “Most 363 sales are ‘as is, where is’ – a bankruptcy term of art meaning that the asset purchase agreement has no indemnities and the debtor is not standing behind the usually limited reps and warranties contained in the agreement.”

    “While the bankruptcy court’s 363 sale order wipes out third-party claims against the assets, it does nothing for so-called ‘first party claims’ – that is, the reps and warranties made between the debtor and buyer around the overall state of the assets.”

    R&W coverage is more affordable than ever. It causes no friction or change in dynamics in the deal; in fact, it makes negotiations smoother. And it’s now available for middle market companies. This has meant its widespread adoption in some M&A circles.

    PE firms have been on board with R&W insurance for several years now. And SPACs are warming up to R&W as well. Now it’s time for bankruptcy sales to join in.

    Why haven’t bankruptcy attorneys already been using this unique insurance product? They simply were not familiar with it.

    You should know that insurance companies have departments that specialize in R&W coverage exclusively for 363 sales, which means not only are they experts in the field but also are coming in with aggressive pricing for the policy, which is a relief of companies in trouble, who face higher legal and other fees in general.

    As bankruptcy attorneys realize these and all the other benefits of R&W coverage, watch for its use to increase as the coming wave of bankruptcies crests in the near future.

    To find out how this specialized type of insurance can be a game-changer in your 363 sale or more straightforward deal, contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com for all the details.

  • Intellectual Property in M&A – and How Representations and Warranty Insurance Fits In
    POSTED 9.1.20 M&A

    Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance is a specialized coverage that transfers all the indemnity risk to a third-party – the insurer. If there are any breaches of reps and warranties post-closing, the Buyer simply files a claim and gets paid damages.

    In many cases, it’s a much more affordable alternative to traditional indemnification – the holdback of funds in escrow to pay out any possible damages that come up from breaches. Because they take home more cash at closing, R&W insurance is especially appealing to Sellers.

    Due to the protection it provides, R&W coverage is becoming an increasingly common feature of transactions in just about every industry. And because it’s now available for deal sizes under $20M, it’s been embraced by Buyers and Sellers of lower and middle market companies, including PE firms and strategics.

    Despite its many advantages, R&W insurance went over like a lead balloon in Silicon Valley for many years.

    Why? Early R&W policies would exclude intellectual property. It was considered uninsurable. And because IP is such a central part of deals with tech companies, what would the point be of seeking a policy that didn’t protect for breaches in that area?

    These days, breaches of IP-related reps and warranties, in which the Seller states that there is no litigation or claims related to IP infringement, they are the sole and exclusive owner of the IP, and they have the right to transfer the IP, are insurable.

    This doesn’t have ramifications just for mergers and acquisitions among Silicon Valley tech companies.

    Today, every company is a technology company, not just those that have hardware and software as their central offering.

    Consider McDonald’s. In 2019, the fast-food giant made three key acquisitions of innovative tech companies: Dynamic Yield, which offers personalization and logic technology, Apprente, known for its voice-based conversational technology, and Plexure, which creates mobile apps.

    The goal was to incorporate tech from these companies to install more efficient and personalized ordering through mobile devices, self-order kiosks, and drive-thrus at McDonald’s locations.

    When companies like McDonald’s make acquisitions, they want to ensure the IP they’re buying is free of encumbrances that could cost them months or even years down the line, such as code that comes from another source.

    The Best Ways for Buyers to Get Ahold of IP They Need

    During my recent interview with veteran M&A lawyer Louis Lehot, formerly of DLA Piper and founder of his own boutique law firm, L2 Counsel, he highlighted three different ways a Buyer might get access to IP they need:

    • Mergers are the easiest way to sell a company because it does not require all shareholders to agree to sell all their shares. You simply need a majority of outstanding shares of capital stock to approve it. This type of deal also has tax advantages for the Seller.
    • For Buyers who simply want access to technology, they could simply license it. This way, the Buyer doesn’t have to worry at all about any breaches and liabilities. However, they aren’t the only company able to take advantage of this tech. There could be other license holders.
    • However, for Buyers who want to be able to “build on” IP, developing it to further monetize it, an asset acquisition is the way to go. They are able to only secure the part of the company they need and avoid any liabilities the entity might have. They can also “cherry pick” team members from the target business they want to bring on. This also gives them “exclusivity.”

    Typical Breaches of IP Reps

    We don’t know if R&W insurance was used in these acquisitions by McDonald’s. However, in deals like this, where the technology and the intellectual property is so important, it’s a good idea for Buyers because of the many risks that might prevent it from fully making use of the IP it has acquired:

    1. Open source code being used. “Open source code is code that’s already been developed,” explains Louis. “And the condition to using that open source is that if your code contains the open source code, then you have automatically granted a license to everyone in the community.”
    2. A failure to secure consent from third parties (such as former employees or founders) who have a claim to the IP for the deal.
    3. Claims from third parties that the IP infringes on their patents or IP rights. For example, former employees from another company are accused of using tech they brought over from their ex-employer.
    4. A failure to properly register the IP with the government.
    5. Lack of evidence that employees or contractors who helped create the IP gave away their rights to the Seller.
    6. The product or service uses or licenses technology from a third party, and the Seller does not have the right to transfer the IP without consent.
    7. If the tech involves sensitive customer data, and there is no privacy policy with customers that allows the company to transfer and disclose this data.

    A nightmare scenario: A Buyer acquires a cutting-edge startup with the technology it needs to keep up with their competition. However, post-closing it is discovered – when a lawsuit comes their way – that a bit of critical code backing up this IP was actually from another company. The programmer was simply trying to take a shortcut, and nobody noticed.

    1. One of Louis Lehot’s tools for avoiding situations like this is a questionnaire that covers IP issues. It includes questions like:
    2. How did the IP first come to the company? A red flag here, says Louis, is former employment of founders. If they worked previously at a company and then start a new company doing the same thing in the same way – that’s a huge problem.

    Did each founder assign his or her IP to the company? “I’m always shocked to find the number of defective assignments of IP at formation,” says Louis. “And so that’s an easy fix, as long as the founder that contributed that IP is still around. But if you have a co-founder that was really key to the development of the IP, that formation has departed, and you have no leverage to get that person to sign in as assignment later on, that can be sticky.”

    R&W Insurance Protects Buyers and Sellers in Case of IP Issues

    During the interview, Louis also explained that R&W insurance has revolutionized how deals are done in recent years. Not only does it provide protection but also helps create a less potentially contentious relationship between Buyers and Sellers down the road. As he put it:

    “I think it’s in the interest of Buyers and Sellers to externalize the risk of breaches of reps and warranties with insurance. And it really takes the sting out of the friction of an ongoing relationship between a Buyer and the Buyer’s new employees, who are helping the Buyer monetize the IP.”

    “Really, going back to those employees and dinging them for indemnification claims is really the last thing you want to be doing and the easiest way to disincentivize them and demotivate them from doing what they need to do.”

    The addition of IP protection to Representations and Warranty insurance, as well as its recent price drop and availability for deals involving lower and middle market companies, has made it a game-changer in the M&A world. As a broker, I’ve been fortunate to have had years of hands-on experience with R&W coverage. I’m ready to discuss how it might benefit your next deal. You can contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • AI and Machine Learning’s Impact on the M&A Process 
    POSTED 8.18.20 M&A

    Artificial intelligence and machine learning have radically changed the way business is done in countless industries. And the M&A world is no different.

    This cutting-edge technology has the potential to cut the average time to get an M&A deal done by 66% – if not more – within the next five years.

    It’s the biggest advancement going on right now in M&A, with the greatest impact felt in the due diligence process, which will be cut from three months to one month or less when AI and machine learning are used to review and analyze the data in virtual data rooms.

    In this report from Datasite (formerly Merrill Corp.), The New State of M&A 2020 – 2025, M&A practitioners from around the globe were surveyed on this issue.

    48% felt that due diligence could be enhanced by technology the most; so there is clear demand for its implementation.

    35% said that combining that technology with virtual data rooms would help accelerate due diligence the most.

    30% believed that AI and machine learning will have the most transformational impact on M&A in the next five years.

    Faster due diligence means more deals getting done because this element is the most important success factor in M&A and also the most time consuming – the Datasite report notes that 66% of those surveyed felt due diligence was the most time-intensive part of an M&A deal.

    AI and machine learning will make due diligence more secure, more complete, faster, and more cost-effective.

    And contrary to popular belief, technology will enhance the process, not replace the people.

    Software can’t replace deal-makers or those guiding investment and acquisition strategy. We will always need people to negotiate prices and terms, and we will always rely on experience and expertise. And, not even due diligence can be automated completely.

    How It Works

    During the typical due diligence process, there are hundreds and thousands of pages of disclosures, financial statements, contracts, and other data about the target company. It’s all electronic these days, placed in various “folders.”

    It’s organized. But trying to locate a specific piece of information among all those documents is very difficult and time consuming, requiring Buyers to read through pages and pages to get the data they need. Hence the usual delays to the process.

    When you upload the documents to a virtual data room and have AI and machine learning software scan all of them, you now have a very effective search tool to help you pinpoint, accurately and quickly, the specific document you need to get the answers you’re looking for.

    Importantly, machine learning and AI can also search documents, identifying important sections and highlighting potential risks based on parameters set by the person conducting the diligence, helping them better assess the opportunity.

    It’s an appealing picture. And it must be why 65% of those surveyed by Datasite said that “new technologies should enable greater analytical capability in the due diligence process.”

    Barriers to Adoption

    As with any change in the way things are done, you might expect some resistance to the widespread adoption of using AI and machine learning to essentially create a searchable virtual data room. In fact, only 26% of M&A practitioners surveyed for the Datasite report believe this technology will help accelerate due diligence.

    Some of their concerns? The financial constraints and data security and privacy issues.

    But, I think that the benefits sell themselves, and more people will come around as the technology progresses and costs come down. Savvy Buyers and Sellers know that the quicker the due diligence process is over… the quicker the deal gets done.

    According to the Datasite report, 56% of those in M&A believe due diligence time will be cut to a month or less in five years’ time – so there is clearly confidence this technology will progress to where it needs to be for widespread adoption by then.

    And besides, with the pandemic, everybody has become more comfortable with technology like Zoom… and that will translate to being more open to tech like AI and machine learning.

    It’s like when years ago, the idea of the paperless office started floating around. It was slow going at first. But once there were effective digital scanning and storage solutions, like cloud storage, and the costs came down, the paperless office became a reality.

    Or, think about virtual data rooms themselves. Twenty years ago they didn’t exist. Today, you can’t do a deal without one.

    Another example: Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance.

    For years, many felt it was only for big deals or too cost prohibitive. But as more insurers have started offering this product and more Buyers and Sellers are insisting on this coverage, the price has come down. Plus, deal sizes of under $20 million are now routinely accepted.

    Implementing AI and machine learning into the due diligence process for your next deal may not be feasible yet. But you can still enjoy the protection of R&W insurance coverage.

    As a broker with years of hands-on experience with this unique product, I’m standing by to answer your questions. You can contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • The Importance of Data Security in M&A – and How Insurance Fits In
    POSTED 7.28.20 M&A

    The nature of risk in M&A deals has changed, and it’s made specialized insurance coverage more important than ever.

    Data security is now, more than ever, one of the biggest concerns for those involved in M&A. And for good reason. It’s creating more risk in deals, especially those involving tech companies.

    These days, businesses need to be aware of how the businesses they acquire collect data, secure data, and use data. There are several factors at play here.

    Increased data privacy regulations in the European Union, known as GDPR, as well as the California Privacy Act (with similar policies sure to be put in place in other jurisdictions across the country), can put Buyers at severe risk, particularly when they acquire companies with less than effective data security.

    And Buyers are taking notice.

    In fact, according to Deloitte’s annual The State of the Deal: M&A Trends 2020, 70% of respondents (from Strategic Buyers and PE firms) stated that protection of data in a company they were acquiring was more of a concern than it was a year ago.

    Andy Wilson, a partner in the M&A Services division of Deloitte & Touche, put it nicely:

    “Data privacy can be a diligence issue. A target company may bring a cybersecurity weakness into the organization, or a transaction that involves layoffs or other workforce changes may create data security risks.

    At the same time, data protection and management can be an integration issue, with a newly combined organization perhaps reaching into new geographies where regulations differ for the handling of data.”

    Regulations Today Call for Strong Penalties

    GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was instituted in 2018 in the European Union and outlines strict guidelines for the collection, organization, storage, use, and destruction of personal data. Fines for violations, based on annual revenue, can run into the millions. For example, Marriott International in the U.K. was fined £99 million in July 2019 for a data breach of 339 million guest records.

    Investigators believe the incident goes back to 2016, when Marriott acquired Starwood hotels group. The group had its systems compromised in 2014, but it was only discovered in 2018. Regulators faulted Marriott for not conducting proper due diligence prior to the acquisition or doing enough to secure its systems.

    Elizabeth Denham, with the Information Commissioner’s Office, which administers these regulations, said this about the case:

    “The GDPR makes it clear that organizations must be accountable for the personal data they hold. This can include carrying out proper due diligence when making a corporate acquisition and putting in place proper accountability measures to assess not only what personal data has been acquired, but also how it is protected.

    Personal data has a real value so organizations have a legal duty to ensure its security, just like they would do with any other asset. If that doesn’t happen, we will not hesitate to take strong action when necessary to protect the rights of the public.”

    As you can see, they’re taking it seriously, targeting businesses of every size in every industry. These days, every company has sensitive customer data. It’s not just tech or financial industries like banks or credit card companies that have to worry. Any business that touches the internet is vulnerable.

    Plus, not only can you run afoul of regulators due to a privacy breach or data leak, but you can also introduce vulnerabilities to your own secure system by blending it with the newly acquired company’s system.

    How to Protect Yourself

    1. There are solutions, or at least things you can do to mitigate potential problems.
    2. Enhanced due diligence.
    3. A laser focus on post-acquisition integration of systems to make sure they and each company’s security practices line up. This goes from the IT side all the way down to prohibiting employees from putting their password on a Post-it on their computer monitor.

    Purchase the right Cyber insurance.

    Cyber Liability coverage is a must-have for virtually every M&A deal in today’s climate, due not only to regulatory penalties but also the financial damages from a data security breach. There are measures to take to protect data, of course, on the tech systems side. But hackers are ever more sophisticated and can get around even the most sophisticated protections.

    The need for Cyber Liability coverage may sound obvious, but be aware that not all Cyber policies are alike. Avoid the cheaper versions that only cover data breaches. The top policies now offer coverage for malware attacks (which happen 5x more often than loss of data), electronic theft and ransomware attacks – all of which can seriously damage a company’s value if left unprotected. The difference in cost for a more comprehensive Cyber policy is negligible.

    Due to the heightened exposures businesses face from cyber-related losses, most R&W policies will require a Cyber Liability policy be in place for the target company, and will impose exclusions for Cyber-related losses if no such coverage is in place.

    In the case of both Cyber Liability and R&W coverage being in place, here’s how it works:

    In the event of a breach, the insurance companies will let the Cyber Liability claim be paid first and then the R&W policy will cover any damages not covered. Keep in mind, the deductible on a Cyber policy is a fraction of a R&W policy retention, so Cyber provides a cost-effective first line of defense.

    It’s comprehensive protection that’s very necessary today.

    As a broker with extensive experience with both Cyber Liability and R&W insurance, I’d be happy to discuss coverage for your next M&A deal.

    Please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • Let’s Talk Exclusions 
    POSTED 7.21.20 M&A

    When it comes to insurance – in any realm – most people aren’t as concerned about what the policy covers as much as what is excluded.

    That’s the number one factor in whether or not they get the policy.

    Why would something be excluded?

    There are three principal reasons:

    1. Something is flat out uninsurable. An example of this would be a moral hazard, which is a situation in which one party engages in risky behavior because they know it is protected… and the other party (in this case, the insurance company) will pay the price. You can’t intentionally misbehave to trigger a policy and get paid – that would be like suing yourself. If you could, there’d be no incentive to be on good behavior.

    2. Underwriters want more information on a specific point before they are willing to insure an exposure in the Purchase-Sale Agreement, so they put in an exclusion until they are satisfied with the extra information provided. Once they have that information, they’ll make a value judgement about whether or not to remove the exclusion and what, if any, additional premium charge is applicable. For example, if the standard policy costs $120K, the Underwriter might say we will remove a particular exclusion… for another $30K.

    3. An exclusion might be included because the exposure is simply better covered on a separate policy. Environmental Liability is routinely excluded in R&W policies because the risk is best insured by a broader (and less expensive) Pollution Liability policy.

    All that being said, here are some of the most common exclusions we see today.

    (Disclaimer: This is subject to any specific terms in a deal, due diligence performed or not performed, and each particular Underwriter – whose opinion can vary.)

    

Top 10 Representations and Warranty Insurance Policy Exclusions

    1. Actual Knowledge

    This is when you want to buy a policy, but during diligence you discover the financials aren’t accurate… and you buy the policy anyway. In this case, any damages related to issues you knew about won’t be covered. If you notice anything unusual about a target, which would trigger a breach, you can’t suppress it until after closing. If you do, this is known as “sand bagging” and is excluded.

    2. Interim Breaches Between Signing and Closing

    If there are any breaches between the time of signing the deal and closing it – and the parties knew about it – it’s not covered. For smaller deals, signing and closing are usually on the same day, so there’s no problem. But for bigger deals with regulatory or funding issues (like the bank offering financing won’t sign off until signing) to sort out, this comes into play. For example, when Amazon bought Whole Foods, they had to wait six months for regulators to okay the deal as far as potential anti-trust issues.

    3. Full Disclosure Representations and Rule 10b-5

    These are catch-all Reps that go way beyond standard Reps and Warranties. They are excluded– because you can’t cover everything out there, especially something with unknown potential financial impact. As a result of this “universal exclusion” the 10b-5 reps are being removed from agreements.

    4. Purchase Price Working Capital Adjustments

    Sellers have complete control in calculating and providing sufficient cash in the company’s accounts to cover operating expenses for a period post-closing. Since it’s in the Seller’s interest to have as little cash left behind as possible, a moral hazard exists. R&W Insurers therefore exclude any failure by the Seller to accurately estimate and adequately fund the company’s accounts. If, for some reason, the Buyer discovers they’ve been “shortchanged” after closing, the Buyer has to go after the Seller directly.

    5. Fines and Penalties

    Any misbehavior that results in government action may be excluded where deemed uninsurable by law (i.e. punitive damages in CA are uninsurable).

    6. Deduction of Tax Benefits from Recovery Amount

    If you have losses and related expenses after closing, that breach often nets you a tax break. If the insurance company pays the claim for your damages, they’ll deduct the amount of the tax break accordingly.

    7. Wage and Hours Laws Violations

    Misclassification of employees versus independent contractors is common, especially in the tech sector in places like California. With contractors, companies don’t offer benefits or pay employment taxes. But often the line between contractors and actual employees is blurred and companies can be sued. With that much exposure, insurers won’t cover it, without extensive information and at a higher premium.

    8. Major Environmental Issues

    Say you buy a company that owns a building which had a major fire or chemical spill in its past. These are hazards that a R&W policy won’t pick up because it should be covered by a 
Pollution Liability policy you can buy elsewhere.

    9. Forward-Looking Reps

    With R&W coverage, you’re insuring Reps of what you know up until the close. Any projections or forward-looking statements are simply uninsurable. For example, if you’re projecting $14M in revenue in the quarter following the acquisition, up from $10M in the quarter before the deal, the insurance company can’t protect that estimate. Projected revenue or growth is not covered.

    10. Consequential/Multiplied Damages

    In the past, R&W insurers considered consequential damages/multiplied damages uninsurable; however, competition and favorable claims experience has changed this position. Today, insurers are willing to either cover these broader damages outright (mirroring the Purchase -Sale Agreement) or will agree to remove any specific exclusion language (be “silent”) on consequential/multiplied damages if the Purchase-Sale Agreement concurrently omits “consequential/multiplied damages” in its definition of “damages”.

    A savvy Buyer will insist on consequential damages being included in the Agreement. It’s therefore essential for R&W Brokers to address this point with all Insurers to ensure proper coverage is either provided or limitations disclosed to the prospective policyholder.

    Next Steps

    As you can see, R&W insurance is not a catch-all that will pay claims on any sort of issue post-closing. What’s covered is narrowly defined by necessity. It’s also essential to note that exclusions can be flexible where Underwriters are provided the right information. This highlights the importance of Engaging an experienced R&W Broker to negotiate with Underwriters on a Buyer’s behalf.
    Still, when you consider all that these policies do cover and the other benefits, including transferring the indemnification risk to a third party, speedier negotiations, and more, it’s well worth pursuing this coverage for most M&A deals – for both Buyers and Sellers.

    It would be my pleasure to discuss potential exclusions and other coverage details with you. Please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • COVID-19 Is Not a Black Swan – and Here’s Why
    POSTED 6.23.20 M&A

    You’ve no doubt heard of the best-selling book from author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

    In it, Taleb denotes “black swan” events as those that are unexpected or unpredictable. Examples include the 9/11 terrorist attacks, World War I, the rise of the internet, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

    However, despite the worldwide, devastating impact on society, economies, entire industries, healthcare infrastructure, and more, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a black swan.

    Taleb himself says so, noting that many experts, including Bill Gates, who has closely studied and funded epidemic research, have long said a global pandemic like this happening was a matter of when, not if. Taleb says this is actually a “white swan.”

    This is not a black swan, despite the tumultuous times we’ve had in the face of this crisis, including economic downturns, widespread unemployment, travel bans, and more. We won’t go into the details here as to how this might have been prevented or who holds the blame, if anyone.

    We’re concerned with the results and what happens moving forward.

    As far as COVID-19, as countries see decreasing cases and are exiting government-mandated lockdowns, we can now see we are at the beginning of the end.

    Economic activity is set to return, as people go back to work and those businesses that survived, large and small, start up again.

    As I wrote previously, expect M&A activity to resume, but in a different form due to impacts of this crisis. We’ll see:

    • A shift to a Buyer-friendly market
    • Dropping prices of target companies due to declining valuations

    This strong M&A market is also a result of previously existing conditions, such as:

    • The amount of dry powder to inspire continued deal-making
    • Financing costs that continue to be low

    This is a recipe for PE firms to come in and find low-cost but high-quality gems to invest in and turn a profit, in many cases, faster than pre-COVID-19. Private Equity has the capital, resources, and expertise to take on the challenge of many struggling companies out there right now.

    This is not to say that the economy will not experience a downturn due to the pandemic. Its impact will be felt in many sectors for a long time, including companies, investors, and consumers.

    But there is opportunity. And this is very different than the 2008 Crash, at which time M&A activity slowed considerably for the most part.

    As Sander Zagzebski, partner with Greenspoon Marder LLP, put it in a recent article for C-Suite Quarterly:

    “Shrewd dealmakers will sense opportunities by purchasing discounted debt and providing debtor-in-possession financing packages. Smaller debtors may seek to take advantage of the new Subchapter V Small Business Debtor Reorganization provisions, which as drafted provide a more streamlined process for debtors with less than $2.725M in debt. As part of the recently passed CARES Act, that limit was increased to $7.5M for the next year.”

    Sander likens this opportunity to that which a select few savvy investors took advantage of in the 2008 crisis.

    “While capital market and traditional M&A transactions slowed significantly during the financial crisis, distressed investors became presented with numerous attractive options. Howard Marks and Bruce Karsh at Oaktree Capital were later lauded by The New York Times for their timely $6B bet on corporate debt during the height of the financial crisis, as was Leonard Green & Partners for its timely $425M minority investment in Whole Foods.”

    “Overshadowed in the media by high-profile, pre-crisis bets on the overheated real estate market by the investors profiled in Michael Lewis’ 2010 book The Big Short and others, these blood-in-the-streets bets at the bottom of the market later proved to be enormously profitable.”

    There are similar prospective valuable deals out there now… for those that can recognize them.

    As Sander writes:

    “Many investors are starting to view the world today as Karsh viewed it in 2008 and are seeking those unique buying opportunities.”

    Still, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding deal-making, as future impacts of the ongoing pandemic are unknown. Watch for Representations and Warranty (R&W) Insurance, which had already been enjoying a renaissance amongst lower middle market deals, to be a strong presence in deals going forward.

    To discuss R&W coverage with a broker with hands-on experience with this product, I invite you to contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • Impact on R&W Policies From COVID-19 
    POSTED 6.16.20 Insurance, M&A

    The COVID-19 pandemic has changed trade, commerce, and business in so many ways already… with more changes to come. The world of M&A has reacted as well. But as I noted in my previous piece, No Significant Drop in M&A Activity During This Recession, we won’t see the slowdown happening.

    Instead, we’ll see a shift to a Buyer-friendly market. Also, watch for PE firms with plenty of cash to look for opportunities – and bargains… struggling companies they can turnaround.

    The pandemic will impact a key part of M&A activity: the due diligence process and the use of Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance to cover breaches of reps in the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

    Just as with any insurance product, COVID-19 must be addressed with R&W policies. And expect pandemic-related questions from Underwriters in the due diligence process.

    Not every company, of course, has been affected by COVID-19 in the same way. For example, a software company that already had a largely remote workforce is in much better shape than a retailer forced to close brick-and-mortar locations.

    But overall, insurers are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on operations of any acquisition target. This is how I expect it to impact R&W coverage moving forward:

    1. Expect all R&W policies to have some form of COVID-19-related exclusions.

    As a worldwide pandemic affecting billions, nobody can claim that COVID-19 is an “unknown” prior to a deal being signed. And R&W policies only cover breaches that were unknown, “historical,” or related to issues that were not disclosed by the Seller.

    The impact of the virus on the workforce, including layoffs and supply chain disruptions will be the focus on enhanced due diligence in particular, and not considered breaches. Claims related to a drop in revenue are right out the window. These will be excluded, but perhaps covered in another M&A related policy, such as business interruption insurance.

    That being said, you can limit exclusions for specific things related to the pandemic, not just anything COVID-19 – that exclusion would be too broad. Despite its seriousness, the pandemic can’t touch every rep. So expect very careful language.

    Since R&W policies are largely written for each individual transaction, a broker has the ability to identify the right Underwriters and products and make the exclusionary language in a policy as favorable/narrow as possible for the policyholder.

    Take the Fraud Exclusion for example. Fraud is absolutely excluded in virtually every insurance policy because it’s a moral hazard. However, savvy Brokers and Underwriters can create wording in a policy to provide legal defense of a policyholder accused of fraud until the alleged fraudulent behavior is proven. If there is no proof of fraud, the exclusion cannot be triggered, therefore, a policyholder benefits from the protection provided by the policy. Depending on the rep in question and the amount of diligence shown to Underwriters, a Broker can negotiate wording that can lessen the scope of a COVID-19 related exclusion.

    2. A close watch on lengthy interim periods.

    With some M&A transactions, there can be a long period between signing the Purchase and Sale Agreement and actually closing the deal, especially with large and complex deals. For example, it took months for Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods to win regulatory approval and close.

    Imagine if a deal like this had been done recently, and COVID-19 swooped in during that interim period. Remember, to be considered a breach, the issue must be unknown and/or result from failure to disclose a harmful issue by the Seller.

    But a change in the overall economic environment or the industry such as this pandemic, can’t be considered an “unknown” and therefore would not be covered.

    Thankfully, this is not much of an issue with lower middle market companies because interim periods between signing and closing are rare, and if there is an interim, it is likely measured in days, not months.

    3. Pricing and retention levels.

    One last thing to watch out for. For now, R&W coverage pricing and deductibles haven’t changed. They should be increasing as more claims are coming in in this time of crisis.

    The previous trend had been for consistently falling prices and its use in ever-smaller deal sizes – down to $15 million, which was one of the factors in its growing use by middle market companies. It’s something to watch out for.

    To discuss the impact of COVID-19 on R&W and other M&A-related insurance, I invite you to contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • Moving Forward in M&A After COVID-19
    POSTED 6.9.20 M&A

    Many people are concerned about the state of M&A when we get on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandable. But as I pointed out in my previous article, “No Significant Drop in M&A Activity During This Recession,” I don’t believe M&A activity will be going south, post-crisis due to:

    • A shift to a Buyer-friendly market
    • Dropping prices of target companies due to declining valuations
    • The amount of dry powder for PE firms is still there, waiting to be deployed
    • Financing costs that continue to be low

    Now, a new report from Deloitte has shed some new light on the situation and reconfirmed my insights.

    In “Opportunities for Private Equity Post-COVID-19” they discuss how in these uncertain times and ongoing economic crisis, the organizations ideally positioned to help out the economy and business, and even countries get back on their feet, are PE firms.

    Why?

    They have plenty of cash, and they are willing to go the Island of Misfit Toys, so to speak, and find gems to invest in. They have the patience to get in at a low cost and turn a company around.

    PE firms are unlike other investors in that right now, they have the capital, resources, and occupational experience to turn struggling companies into high flyers. That’s simply what PE firms do in good times… and have a unique advantage in these bad times to keep working their magic.

    A lot has been said in the poplar press about how PE firms swoop in on broken down companies then turn around and sell them for 10 times more. The perception is that they pulled a fast one or took advantage.

    I think this misconception goes back to the movie Pretty Woman and other depictions in pop culture. In that movie, Richard Gere plays an investment banker who buys companies and sells them off in parts after loading them with debt… in the process ruining peoples’ lives.

    What PE Brings to the Table

    Contrary to popular opinion, that’s NOT what PE’s do. They’re closer to house-flippers. They’re turnaround specialists. They do the good work of creating value where there was none before.

    In this crisis, I believe PE firms will be the heroes and instrumental to a broader economic turnaround. They do good work, and it’s needed now more than ever. And nobody else is going to do it, with Strategic Buyers biding their time and holding on to their cash.

    Companies struggling right now, and there are a lot of them, should not expect a government bailout. Most companies, even if they secure some of those funds, will not get what they need to move forward.

    Another issue is that employees are getting laid off and collecting more in unemployment and other benefits… and that employers are concerned they won’t be able to get their experienced people back.

    These are certainly uncertain times, and I think the attitude you should have moving forward is one espoused by Warren Buffett:

    “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

    We can also base this assumption of the rise in M&A activity tied to PE firms by looking to the past, specifically to the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008.

    Back then, PE firms, along with other investors, sat on the sidelines. There were many opportunities that were not taken advantage of.

    They’ve learned their lesson, and this time they will be aggressive in going after the low hanging fruit. PE firms are generally well ahead of public opinion on these sorts of things. The smart money gets in early, which, in this case, gives them a nice window in the next two years to get some great deals.
    Lower middle market companies, those most at risk and vulnerable in this downturn, in particular will see lots of activity. These smaller businesses are easiest to make a quick investment in, without many other suitors.

    The Role of M&A Insurance

    For investors buying distressed assets, Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance becomes more important than ever. This coverage makes deals clear, smoother, and more affordable.

    For Sellers, not having the burden of a large escrow is a key benefit when they need cash to do other things.

    For Buyers, R&W insurance is a “back stop” for risk. If they are buying assets, they won’t get a remedy otherwise if there is an issue post-closing and the escrow is not enough to cover the loss. With R&W coverage you get certainty of collection if there is a breach.

    The great news is that R&W policies are now at the most favorable pricing they’ve ever been, and deal sizes as low as $15 million are eligible.

    If you’d like to discuss coverage, pricing, or market conditions, please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • No Significant Drop in M&A Activity During This Recession 
    POSTED 4.28.20 M&A

    We are entering into a serious recession due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic. The economy has taken a big hit, and it’s not over yet. But I see opportunity out there, especially in the M&A world.

    Let’s put this in context first. Think back to the last recession – The Great Recession of 2008/2009.

    There were lots of opportunities for businesses back then too, but there was no money. This time around, thanks to conditions prior to the downturn, there is plenty of dry powder available, not to mention very favorable lending terms.

    Will there be opportunities to invest and acquire? We expect and hope, but we’ll see for sure soon enough.

    Pace of Deals Now Versus What’s to Come

    It’s true that currently the pace of deals has fallen off a cliff. Deals are not simply being delayed… but actually cancelled. That’s bad, of course, and it has people worried. But conditions are already shifting.

    We’re moving from a Seller-friendly market to a Buyer-friendly market. Like everything else in the near term, prices will be coming down.

    As a Seller, you may have had a potential deal in the works. But, due to recent events, the Buyer is reluctant to move forward. Understandable, given it’s a time of uncertainty. And, many Buyers are reevaluating and focusing on other priorities. On the upside, if the price comes down low enough, Sellers in a bind will have other suitors. It’s a Buyer-friendly market, after all.

    Why PE Firms Are Sitting Pretty

    In this environment, PE firms have the advantage. PE firms may have been more aggressive price-wise in the recent past, while Strategic Buyers were spending more freely. Now the tables have turned. Strategics will be less aggressive while looking at takeover targets because in the near term they’re trying to protect as much cash as possible.

    This opens the door for PE firms and other financial Buyers to make lower offers and pick up those targets themselves (and then sell them later for a premium).

    This is all set against a backdrop of declining valuations.

    Some of these target companies have had recent valuations of seven to 10 times EBITDA. Just a short time ago, they were valued at 10 to 15 times EBITDA. A company with $10M EBITDA was being targeted at $100M to $150M. Now that the price tag has dropped below $100M, there are a lot more interested Buyers. That’s one of the reasons this looming recession is still a good environment for M&A. And, as I mentioned, it’s a Buyer-friendly market… especially for financial Buyers.

    A Foundation for Continued M&A Activity

    Despite this pause in our economy, let’s look at the underlying forces that support robust M&A activity:

    There is a lot of dry powder among buyers, specifically financial buyers.

    Sellers were demanding record high valuations – and getting what they wanted. Those valuations will be coming down because we are seeing fewer Buyers. This gives remaining Buyers more leverage.

    Financing costs continue to be low.

    The dynamic of aging owners and founders that want to exit.

    Continued digital transformation and tech disruption in every industry. Companies have to upgrade their tech at some point with regards to IT security, cloud computing, and more. Those lifecycles and disruptions will continue.

    These market conditions are out there, no matter what… despite COVID-19.

    That’s why I think that once we have falling metrics regarding the spread and impact of the coronavirus and a stable stock market for three weeks, we’ll be right back in business, and M&A activity resuscitated. Spring has come.

    Another factor to consider is that there are a lot of distressed businesses out there in industries like transportation, restaurants, hotels, retail, etc. There are a lot of capital raises out there now – funds set up to go after good – but currently distressed – acquisition targets.

    How R&W Insurance Fits In

    Under these current conditions, I see Representations and Warranty insurance as being a very favorable benefit because it factors into a few areas:

    If a Buyer has more leverage in a deal, they will impose broader Reps and Warranties and other conditions. If a R&W policy is covering the deal, the Seller doesn’t really need to worry about more Buyer-favorable terms because it’ll be insured anyways. (A caveat: Underwriters are still conducting normal due diligence in these cases. They are not lowering the bar or loosening eligibility standards.)

    Cash is still king. Getting R&W insurance means Sellers get more cash at closing and don’t have to worry about money being tied up in escrow for a year when they have to satisfy creditors or wish to invest elsewhere.

    In distressed acquisitions, M&A Buyers need R&W coverage because often they don’t buy whole companies, just the assets. And the Seller may not have a choice. Having R&W is kind of like having protection for those assets if the Buyer has done diligence, but they are later compromised unexpectedly.

    Without R&W coverage, the Buyer has no recourse to go after the Seller because they already took the funds to pay creditors. R&W insurance is the backup. Whatever dollar amount it cost for the policy… it’s more than worth it in those cases.

    The longer a deal sits and doesn’t get closed, the greater the chance it will fall through completely. R&W insurance will accelerate negotiations all the way to closing.

    Next Steps

    It remains to be seen for sure, how this pandemic will impact the economy as a whole, and M&A activity in particular. But I feel confident that we’re shifting to a Buyer-friendly market and smart Buyers will take advantage of this opportunity.

    In that case, it’s more important than ever to get Representations and Warranty insurance to cover deals for the protection of both Buyer and Seller.

    If you’d like to discuss coverage, please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • The Future of Cross-Border Acquisitions
    POSTED 4.14.20 M&A

    Since last year, trade tension between the U.S. and China, as well as other countries, has been at a high-level. After the signing of the so-called Phase 1 trade deal with China earlier this year, that feeling has slackened somewhat, although the full, final deal is still being negotiated.

    As part of this deal, China has agreed to buy more American agricultural goods, as well as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and other manufactured goods. Yet U.S. companies are still looking for alternate supply chains and manufacturing hubs. For example, Apple has been seriously looking at moving at least some operations to South Korea.

    This is not the only impact.

    Many companies are signaling that ongoing global trade disputes like this one – and the uncertainty they bring – will continue to influence their M&A strategy going forward. (The impact of the coronavirus pandemic remains to be seen.)

    In a survey conducted by Deloitte and highlighted in their The State of the Deal: M&A Trends 2020 report, 40% of respondents (which include Strategic Buyers, as well as PE firms) said trade disputes would not change their M&A strategy. But it’s important to note that 30% of those surveyed said they would focus more on domestic deals instead of going overseas for acquisitions.

    PE investors in particular are worried that tariffs will have a significant and harmful effect. 70% of those surveyed in the Deloitte report said that “tariff negotiations are having a negative impact on their portfolio companies’ cash flow.” The same percentage felt tariff troubles were harming portfolio companies’ operations, too. That’s compared to 55% and 58%, respectively, in 2018.

    This decline in M&A deals abroad is not new and not tied to the coronavirus impact on the economy. As I wrote in March 2019:

    “Cross-border activity decreased in 2018, hitting the lowest level in four years, continuing a trend that started in 2017. There were only 2,192 cross-border transactions worth $655.6 billion in 2018, compared to 2,983 in 2015. There are a few factors at play here:

    • Global trade tension
    • Tariffs
    • Anti-Trump rhetoric
    • A push for anti-globalization by the U.S. government, as well as other countries, i.e. protectionism
    • Brexit, which has caused European companies to be cautious to spend on acquisitions
    • Potential recession in Germany and France (based on economic indicators)

    All of these factors are still at play.

    As we reported earlier this year, M&A activity is expected to hold strong in 2020. But U.S. companies and PE firms will be looking at domestic acquisitions more than cross-border deals. This was true before the coronavirus and now is even more so as the pandemic spreads across the globe. You can’t ignore the impact from interruptions to manufacturing, trade, and economic activity from interruptions like this.

    This negative impact also creates even more uncertainty surrounding emerging markets, where U.S. companies are increasingly hesitant to invest.

    The other problem is that already emerging markets were already more risky investments than they had been in the past, with companies earning less and less returns.

    There is a caveat here.

    Look for increased M&A activity where U.S. companies invest in European Union acquisitions, excluding Germany and France. It will be Italy and Spain instead, because they have smaller companies, i.e. small targets. European companies are being adversely affected by Brexit and that will make them ideal value opportunities for U.S. acquirers.

    With smaller deals happening domestically and internationally, insurers have responded by offering Representations and Warranty insurance for those under $15M to $20M in transaction value.

    For more information on this specialized type of insurance with a host benefits for Buyers and Sellers, you can contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.