Insights

  • 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.

  • Moore’s Law Comes to R&W Insurance
    POSTED 3.17.20 M&A

    While attending a recent M&A conference, I was surprised to hear so many of the participants – including PE firms, M&A attorneys, and bankers – still hold the mistaken belief that Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance is too expensive.

    In fact, the floor for R&W coverage has actually come down drastically in the past year to the point that a $5M policy can easily be found and it will cost less than $200K, including underwriting fees and taxes. (This figure doesn’t include broker fees, which the big firms are adding to maintain income levels. More on that below.)

    Why the disconnect? These folks haven’t checked in on R&W insurance for a while, and people assume what was true a couple of years ago is still valid. They tend to get their information and updates from conferences. I was happy to spread the good news while I was there, and I got positive response. These folks did not see value in a policy if the cost was $225K, $350K. But if they could get a policy for under $200K, they were interested.

    This significant drop in costs reminds me of Moore’s law. Quite appropriate considering how many M&A deals are done in the tech space. This maxim holds that every 18 months we can expect the speed and capability of our computers to double, while we pay less.

    There are several reasons why the cost of R&W coverage has dropped:

    • The number of insurers offering R&W insurance has more than doubled.
    • Rates have fallen from the 2.5% to 4% range to the 2% to 2.9% range.
    • Eligibility thresholds have decreased from deals at $75M in transaction value to $10M in transaction value.
    • Falling costs have given rise to more policies being placed.

    I expect this trend to hold steady as the increase in R&W policies written has not yet translated into a corresponding increase in paid losses by Underwriters. Due to the simple fact that more policies are out there, reported losses are up. However, most of these cases fall within the policy retentions, so insurers are not having to write many R&W checks to cover damages. Plus, just because they’re writing smaller deals doesn’t mean Underwriters are getting sloppy and accepting just anything. They expect the same due diligence, making the smaller deals just as safe for them as bigger deals.

    It should be noted that unlike other discounted insurance products, these low-priced R&W policies provide coverage just as comprehensive as the higher priced alternatives (depending on the complexity of the deal and diligence completed, of course). You’re not getting lower quality coverage or added restrictions just because it’s cheaper.

    How Low-Priced R&W Insurance Changes the Game

    A sub-$200K priced R&W policy is good for M&A for the following reasons:

    1. Lower costs make the value proposition on smaller deals more “palatable” – especially for Sellers where $1M or $2M less in escrow makes a material difference. These folks can’t take a $1M to $2M hit if there is a breach. R&W coverage is a lifesaver for them.

    2. Lower priced policies more easily enable Buyers and Sellers to share the costs.

    Many Buyers are saying that Sellers want R&W coverage on the deal but don’t want to pay for it. And Buyers are chagrined by that. But if costs are split and it’s under $100K for each side, it’s more favorable, and both sides benefit from having the policy in place.

    As you know, this specialized insurance makes negotiations smoother, lets the Seller keep more cash at closing, and ensures that the Buyer doesn’t have to take legal action against the Seller if there is a breach, which is awkward if the Seller’s management team is on board with the new entity.

    3. The lower price point makes R&W an affordable tool for add-ons, which are expected to increase as PE firms and Strategics look to enhance the value of their portfolio companies.

    With PE firms in particular, thanks to lower cost policy and premium, they won’t just reserve R&W coverage for deals above $100M in transaction value. This lower price justifies using R&W on deals at $30M, which they are doing more of because it’s a lot easier to spend $30M to $50M than $100M. PE firms will transact two to three times more add-ons per year than one big acquisition.

    I saw this first-hand recently with a policy I provided here in Silicon Valley. The company brought in a $90M add-on to an existing portfolio company. The $5M limit R&W policy cost just $175K (including underwriting fees and taxes).

    Overall, with the lower price for an R&W policy, cost is no longer an objection for either party to consider a policy.

    What’s Ahead

    If R&W continues its stellar performance, expect to see even fewer exclusions and possibly lower retention levels.

    But how much lower can the price go? Not much further if R&W insurance is to be sustainable. If the product gets too cheap insurers will not be able to collect enough in premiums to pay claims.

    We’d caution prospective users to be wary of policies coming in under $100K.

    One observation from this drop in premium rates is that the major insurance brokers offering R&W coverage have reacted to this price drop (which they’ve had to go along with to stay competitive) by adding broker fees of as much as $25K. These big firms have big overheads and want to protect their profit margin.

    That’s where a boutique firm like Rubicon Insurance Services shines. In this segment of small market M&A deals, we take a back seat to nobody. We can broker policies more cost effectively and more efficiently because we don’t have the overhead. We won’t charge those broker fees.

    I’m happy to provide you with more information on R&W insurance and provide you with a quote. Please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • The Rise of Smaller M&A Deals in 2020
    POSTED 3.3.20 M&A

    We’re not yet to the end of the first quarter, and we already have a solid idea of where M&A activity is headed in 2020.

    Deloitte put out a report, The State of the Deal: M&A Trends 2020, based on a survey of 1,000 corporate executives and PE firms that looks back at what happened in 2019 and their views and plans for 2020. And the outlook is good for M&A, although there will be some key changes to keep in mind.

    As noted in the report, M&A activity will continue to be very solid this year. Only 4% of those surveyed anticipate a decline in the number of deals. Sixty-three percent forecast an increase in transaction activity. That’s down from 79% last year.

    There will probably not be as big an increase compared to the last seven years, a boom time that has seen more than $10 trillion in domestic deals alone since 2013. But that’s to be expected as this level of growth in transactions is hard to sustain.

    As Russell Thomson, national managing partner of M&A services for Deloitte & Touche LLP put it in the report:

    “We’re fairly long into this M&A boom cycle, so it’s not surprising to see a drop in expectations for larger deals. What we’re seeing in the marketplace is more interest in deals in the sweet spot between $100 million and $500 million. Deals aren’t going away; companies are just being a little more careful about those larger deals.”

    So the boom is tapering off a bit, but it’s still a rising trend due to several factors, including…

    • Ample cash reserves in both corporations and PE firms.
    • The strong stock market that closed 2019 at record highs (which helps equity-funded transactions).
    • A belief that tariffs/trade wars aren’t too much of an issue.
    • A conviction that current interest rates will not have an impact on deals (and, in fact, 45% feel the interest rate environment will actually accelerate deals).

    But this is the biggest change we can expect in 2020:

    Fewer “Megadeals,” More Deals Under $500M

    The number of deals over $500M in transaction value will likely come down and be replaced by deals in the $100M – $500M range… and as low as $20M. This is for a variety of reasons.

    1. More corporate divestitures. Companies are looking to offload assets in this lower range. According to Deloitte, 75% of corporate execs expect to have divestitures this year, due to financing needs, change in strategy, and the need to offload technology that doesn’t fit a new business model.
    2. Returns for larger M&A deals have not been as valuable as expected. Firms just aren’t getting enough bang for their buck. According to the survey, 46% of respondents said that less than half of their transactions in the last two years gave them the ROI they were looking for. So look for them to reduce their risk and pursue smaller acquisitions that offer more impressive returns. Smaller targets, acquired at lower prices, are just a lot more efficient, cash-wise. To hedge and improve ROI, companies are looking for smaller targets. This isn’t at the expense of profitability. In fact, you can have a higher return on a $100M acquisition – 40% to 50% – than on a $1B deal.
    3. Strategic Buyers are also increasingly pursuing smaller deals because they have a greater need to acquire new technology as today’s tech is already obsolete. They need technology that is a better fit going forward to stay competitive. 
    4. Buyers can take advantage of more favorable terms when they go after smaller targets, especially those under $100M. 
    5. PE firms like smaller targets because they are increasingly looking for new acquisitions that they can “bolt on” to existing portfolio companies instead of hoping those portfolio companies grow organically.

    When they add on new acquisitions, the firms can expect to sell those portfolio companies at a much higher multiple than before. This is why they are getting better returns with smaller targets.

    What This Means Moving Forward

    Based on this Deloitte survey, it’s clear that M&A activity has slowed a bit but is still going strong, continuing a trend of an unprecedented level of deal-making that started back in 2013.

    Also, on the rise: the use of Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance to transfer indemnity risk away from the Seller to a third party – the insurer. With this coverage now available to sub-$20M deals, look for this insurance to be a part of an increasing number of deals in 2020.

    Whether Buyer or Seller, R&W insurance coverage can offer many benefits including smoother negotiations, more cash at closing, and less risk. But it is important to have a broker with extensive experience with R&W insurance and how it can impact a M&A deal. If you’d like to discuss coverage for your next deal, please contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com.

  • How R&W Insurance Has Changed the M&A Landscape Part 2 
    POSTED 2.18.20 M&A

    In the last few years, there’s been a game-changer slowly but surely transforming the M&A world.

    The use of Representations and Warranty insurance is increasing across the board as Buyers and Sellers, PE firms, VC funds, and strategic buyers all recognize that this coverage makes negotiations less contentious and more cost-effective. Because the indemnity risk is transferred to a third-party, this insurance also gives a sense of security.

    R&W insurance is changing how deals are structured.

    We covered why – and some of the foundational details in the first part of this article, which you should read here first.

    Now, we’re to going to get into the weeds, so to speak. Taking a look at some of the specific ways deal terms are being rethought when R&W coverage is part of the deal.

    Materiality Scrape

    If there is a breach of a Representation or Warranty in a Purchase and Sale Agreement, Sellers seeking to limit their exposure, prefer wording in the agreement that requires breaches to be “material” in order for the Buyer to be able to claim the breach for indemnification purposes. Depending on the deal size, “material” generally being more than $100,000 to $250,000.

    Naturally, a Buyer will want to remove this qualifier by applying a Materiality Scrape (i.e. to literally scrape “material” as a determinant for breaches), giving them the ability to determine a breach and thus reduce their risk.

    If R&W insurance is in place, most Sellers will agree to Materiality Scrapes because the policy coverage will mirror the Materiality Scrapes in the agreement, eliminating risk on both sides of the table. According to SRS Acquiom, 2/3 of deals with R&W include even Double Materiality Scrapes (where Buyers determine both the breach and the calculation of resulting damages).

    Pro-Sandbagging Provisions

    Buyers like having pro-sandbagging language in Purchase and Sale Agreements.

    Say a Buyer is performing their diligence and they find a problem. They see that a Seller’s representation has been breached… but the Seller hasn’t recognized the issue.

    Without R&W coverage, what happens next is…

    The Buyer is under no obligation to tell the Seller what they found. They can go through the deal and then bring up the breach post-closing. That blindsides the Seller, who is left wondering why the Buyer didn’t inform them sooner to avoid having to pay damages. Making a claim against the Seller like this is referred to as “sandbagging.”

    An R&W policy will have a warranty statement – a pro-sandbagging provision – that says the Buyer certifies they have no knowledge of any breaches. If it turns out they do have knowledge and don’t inform the Seller before the deal closes, that breach will be excluded.

    As you can imagine, this is great motivation for the Buyer to be forthcoming if any issues show up in their due diligence efforts. They will tell the Seller as soon as possible because otherwise they won’t get the benefit of the insurance later.

    This also enables the parties to address “known” issues before closing rather than the having a future “surprise” sprung on an unsuspecting Seller.

    Disappearing Escrows

    Before R&W Insurance emerged, the prevailing belief of Buyers was that large escrow accounts provided both security and a more “honest” Seller. As R&W began replacing escrows, Buyers and their advisors argued that having cash on hand was safer than hoping an insurance company would pay claims.

    After a successful period where R&W policies have incurred and promptly paid claims, confidence in R&W has only increased, while escrow amounts have decreased. So much so, that according to SRS Acquiom, the average escrow amount has fallen from 10% of transaction value on uninsured deals to 1% of transaction value on insured deals.

    Catch-All Reps

    There are certain Buyer-friendly “catch-all” reps out there, officially known as 10b-5 representations, or full-disclosure representations. Among all the other specific representations in a Purchase and Sale Agreement, this catch-all states that the Seller doesn’t know of any potential breaches or other issues. Therefore, any future unexpected event could potentially trigger these reps, greatly exposing Sellers.

    These open-ended reps can’t be underwritten, so they are routinely excluded by R&W policies.

    In response to the insurers’ position, Buyers and Sellers have agreed to remove these 10b-5 reps entirely so the corresponding exclusion is eliminated. SRS Acquiom reports that some 90% of deals with R&W no longer contain 10b-5 reps as compared with 62% in uninsured deals.

    Non-Reliance Provisions

    In a recent report on M&A trends from SRS Acquiom, the company noted that they are seeing more non-reliance provisions, which are very Seller-favorable, in Purchase and Sale Agreements.

    With this provision, the Seller is telling the Buyer that the Buyer cannot rely on information provided by the Seller, like a tax report or financial statements. The Buyer must perform their own diligence and use those findings to make any determinations.

    This protects the Seller if the Buyer claims that they were provided inaccurate financial statements or similar diligence reports. This shifts risk in the direction of the Buyer. But if R&W insurance is in place, the Buyer is not worried because the coverage would cover and pay the claim for any breach.

    Deductibles

    In the event of loss, there are deductibles due before a claim is paid. In the past, there was a tipping basket. For example, if there was a deductible of $500,000, the Buyer had to eat the first $250,000. However, the minute it goes over $500,000, the Seller is responsible for the entire deductible.

    With R&W coverage in place, the two sides are now agreeing to split the deductible 50/50, simplifying the deductible issue.

    On a side note, it’s amazing how many claims of breaches are reported at least one year post-closing. Most policies have a deductible dropdown. If after one year there have been no claims, the deductible goes from 1% of transaction value to ½%.

    Next Steps

    It’s clear that Representations and Warranty insurance is taking the M&A world by storm. I see it becoming standard in the next few years. You can get ahead of the curve by learning about this specialized type of insurance and how it could change the terms of your next M&A deal – whether Buyer or Seller. Just contact me, Patrick Stroth, at pstroth@rubiconins.com for all the details.

  • How R&W Insurance Has Changed the M&A Landscape Part 1 
    POSTED 2.4.20 M&A

    Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance is not just here to stay, but growing – not to mention changing the way deals are structured.

    More than a dozen insurance companies now offer this specialized product that transfers the indemnity risk away from the deal parties over to a third party – the insurer. And while only the big deals were eligible before, Underwriters will now take on deal sizes as low as $15M, which opens up a new world for Buyers and Sellers in those mid- to small-market companies. Plus, policies are cheaper than ever before.

    Strategic buyers, VCs, and PE funds are all talking R&W coverage. Sellers are insisting on it because it reduces their escrow obligations and indemnity risk, and Buyers find having this insurance in place makes it easy to move forward.

    All Signs Point to More R&W in Deals

    This widespread adoption of R&W insurance has had a tremendous influence in the M&A world, not just smoothing out negotiations and getting deals done faster but also altering very specific and often contentious deal terms when it comes to the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

    All this provides a critical mass that will bring R&W insurance to the forefront, with wider awareness and adoption in the coming year almost a given, even as it changes deeply ingrained accepted practices.

    First, a little context and background.

    You know there is a sea change going on when even the most resistant “old guard” companies change the way they do business.

    For years, SRS Acquiom was the go-to provider in M&A deals for holding escrows and other financial guarantees. It’s no wonder that for a long time they actively discouraged Buyers and Sellers from using R&W insurance. They maintained that having cash in escrow was safe and more advantageous than spending money on insurance.

    But they weren’t able to hold back the R&W tide, and now they’ve set up a brokerage within the company to sell… R&W coverage. So, they’re finally catching on. It’s a can’t beat ‘em, so let’s join ‘em type of thing.

    The major change resulting from the wider spread introduction of R&W insurance is how it’s disrupted the balance of “power” in the M&A world.

    The Buyer Power Ratio

    SRS Acquiom has a metric – the Buyer Power Ratio (BPR) – that they use to gauge the negotiating strength of Buyer and Seller. It’s a simple calculation: Buyer Market Cap / Target Purchase Price = Buyer Power Ratio. For example, if a Buyer’s Market Cap is 25 times the value of the target company, then the Buyer would have a BPR of 25. The higher the BPR, the greater the leverage for the Buyer in terms of size.

    Basically, the larger the Buyer is compared to the Seller, the more power and leverage they have to get favorable deal terms. For example, companies such as Apple, being a thousand times larger than any potential acquisition target (thus a BRP in excess of 1,000), will always have the complete upper hand. In deals where Buyer and Seller are similarly sized… the less leverage and the more negotiation will take place.

    R&W insurance has introduced a wrinkle here. When the Buyer Power Ratio is low, Buyers are now increasingly using R&W as a way to make themselves more attractive to Sellers while decreasing their risk.

    For example, it’s harder for the Buyer to exercise their walk rights once the Letter of Intent is signed and the target company is off the market. At this point, the two sides are joined at the hip.

    If the Buyer tries to walk away, the target feels like they’re damaged goods and will have a hard time attracting another potential acquirer. If the Buyer wants to abandon the deal at this stage, they face a severe financial penalty. It’s like canceling a wedding at the last minute and not getting your deposit from the caterer or hotel ballroom back.

    However, this puts Buyers in a tough spot if they spot something during due diligence in the run up to closing the deal. They want to walk away but is the issue worth the penalty? That’s where R&W insurance comes in.

    The Buyer can shift this risk to the insurer. By hedging the risk, they can feel comfortable moving forward with the deal.

    Overall, the mindset of Buyer and Seller going into deals when they have an R&W policy in place is:

    What steps can we take to shift risk to the insurance company? And, how can we make sure the insurance company will accept risk?

    Now, we see two parties angling to have terms that they consider a risk to be covered by insurance.

    In part 2 of this article, we’ll drill down into some of the specific deal terms that are changing with the introduction of R&W insurance and how it will impact a M&A deal going forward, including elements like the double materiality scrape, non-reliance clauses, and more.

    For now, if you have any questions about Representations and Warranty insurance and how it could change the dynamics of your next M&A deal – whether Buyer or Seller – you can contact me, Patrick Stroth at pstroth@rubiconins.com or (415) 806-2356.

  • This Could Change Everything in M&A
    POSTED 1.21.20 M&A

    There is a potential game changer in the M&A world, especially for Strategic Acquirers, and Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance is an integral part. And with this coverage available for transaction sizes of $20M (or even lower) the impact will be widespread.

    Tech powerhouse Atlassian, which offers software solutions for workplace collaboration, coding, and more, does a lot of acquisitions. It’s a multi-billion-dollar company, and it buys dozens of smaller companies to expand its services into new areas.

    So far, pretty standard.

    Most large companies use that leverage to “bully” the smaller business into accepting whatever terms of the deal they put on the table.

    But Atlassian has shaken things up… to put it mildly. 

    As Tom Kennedy, the company’s chief legal officer, and Chris Hecht, head of corporate development, put it in a statement announcing this bold move:

    “The M&A process is broken. It’s outdated, inefficient, and combative. Which is why we’re publishing the Atlassian Term Sheet to fix it.”

    Why the New Atlassian Term Sheet Is a Game-Changer

    The traditional way to go about M&A deals is to conduct negotiations in which one side wins and the other loses. The larger company will always win.

    Commandant #1 in the traditional M&A world is, “Those with leverage tend to use it.”

    But…

    You win the deal at the sake of losing trust from the those on the Seller’s side. It makes everybody uncomfortable. And it’s counterproductive.

    When bringing in a target company, you want them to be your next rock stars that will help you capitalize fully on your new investment. If you’ve beaten them into submission and they have to show up at the office on Monday, it can be quite difficult to really put your heart into your work.

    One of the biggest points of contention (and cause for resentment): Why is it standard to have escrows that are 20% to 30% of transaction value? Breaches are typically tiny. Big escrows are unnecessary. Atlassian is saying they will give their targets a choice: either provide a 5% escrow for 15 months or pay for a Buy-Side representations and warranties policy and provide a 1% escrow (this insurance would cover the other 4%). That represents a seismic shift from what well-leveraged Buyers usually do.

    After going through plenty of deals where that happened, Atlassian decided to make a radical change and be transparent during the whole M&A process, from the beginning.

    With the Atlassian Term Sheet, they’ve shown potential Sellers exactly where they stand on:

    • Closing Date
    • Due Diligence
    • Deal Documents
    • Holdback
    • Proposed Purchase Price
    • Outstanding Equity Awards and Other Equity Rights
    • Employment Offer Letters and Non-Competes
    • Employee Retention Pool
    • Indemnification
    • Escrow
    • Insurance
    • Transaction Expenses

    These terms are non-negotiable. A Seller can take it or leave it. And, in many cases, they should take it because if you read through the term sheet, you’ll see that Atlassian – the Buyer – actually assumes a lot more risk according to this term sheet than in a similar, standard M&A deal.

    This Seller-friendly stance horrifies M&A attorneys. But Atlassian is fine with it because they know there is not much risk in these deals. There are actually very few breaches in deals post-closing, especially with IP. And if there is a breach, it’s small in the vast majority of cases.

    Atlassian is not rolling over. Everything is still contingent on extensive, rigorous diligence.

    How R&W Coverage Fits In

    R&W Insurance is an instrumental part of this document. The glue that holds it together, in a way. And, the term sheet outlines that the Seller will pay for R&W insurance and D&O Tail insurance.

    For R&W coverage, the term sheet states that the Seller will pay for it, including any fees, premiums, taxes, or commissions, for a policy limit of 4% of the Purchase Price. It’s quite affordable, costing less than ½ of 1% of the transaction value.

    One of the reasons Atlassian can feel comfortable offering these terms is that if there is a breach, the R&W insurance kicks in. It transfers all the indemnity risk to the insurer. If there are any breaches post-closing, they file a claim and get damages – no need to go after the Seller.

    Ever since I first saw R&W insurance back in 2014, I’ve had the opinion that as M&A progresses, this specialized type of coverage will become as standard as title insurance for buying a home. Because of the speed and frequency of M&A deals – which is only increasing – things have to become standardized.

    And things are heading that way. PE firms and VCs, as well as Strategic Buyers, are being drawn to this insurance more than ever. There are about 20 insurers offering this coverage today, up significantly from a handful just a few years ago. And there are policies even available for deals under $20M, which is a development in just the last year or so.

    There is no good reason not to get this coverage, in most cases.

    How Will This Term Sheet Impact M&A in 2020 and Beyond?

    I think this is going to soon expand beyond Atlassian.

    This could be a potential signal for other Strategic Buyers out there. They know they had better streamline the process. Why are they reinventing the wheel for every deal and grinding the Seller into submission? That attitude is as productive as old school football coaches who wouldn’t let you drink water to toughen you up.

    Think of it this way. Forty-niners coach Bill Walsh established a policy of no-contact practice mid-season on. There wasn’t any need. And unlike other teams, his players weren’t beat up for pivotal games late in the year.

    The NFL is a copycat league, and other teams soon followed Walsh’s tactic. Corporate America is full of copycats, too. So I think you’ll see them follow suit when they see that the term sheet has made Atlassian very attractive in potential Sellers’ eyes.

    With everything, there is a hard way… and a smart way. The Atlassian Term Sheet is the smart way. This is a more efficient and cheaper way to get deals done.

    They have an eye on the end result: integrating the acquired company. This company wants peace, love, and happiness in their M&A deals going forward, and they’re not having to take on very much risk to get it.

    Be sure to check out the Atlassian Term Sheet in-depth. Then I’d invite you to speak with me, Patrick Stroth, about how Representations and Warranty insurance is a key part of this new way of thinking… and how it can protect you in your next deal. You can reach me at pstroth@rubiconins.com or (415) 806-2356.