IS THE M&A BUBBLE ABOUT TO POP?

Posted on April 20, 2015

(Originally Published on Axial Forum)

The answer may surprise you, but first a bit of background. There have been signs of financial bubbles throughout global markets: US price/earnings multiples are relatively high, the Chinese equity market is on a tear notwithstanding signs of an economic slowdown, M&A valuations remain near record levels and so on. But, that’s not the whole story.

What is a bubble anyway, you might ask? The simple answer is a bubble occurs when the price of an asset class is bid far beyond its real economic value, typically as a result of mass hysteria, delusion, or misinformation. Bubbles tend to last longer than rational investors anticipate, which is why most short sellers don’t wind up billionaires.

You don’t have to look hard to find recent examples of burst bubbles. Oil is down more than 50% from its 2014 peak. Its drop was even sharper in 2008-2009 when it dropped 65% from peak to trough. Gold, the sure fire inflation hedge, is down almost 40% from its 2011 peak and could still be in a downtrend. These were big events reflecting what has been called the end of the commodity super cycle. Yet both the global and U. S. economies continue to grow.

Many claim that the U. S. equity markets are in a bubble. Yet there is little evidence of any large-scale delusion that is typically associated with market highs. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the S&P 500 has only now returned to its peak level reached 15 years ago at the height of the Dot Com boom and the inflation-adjusted NASDAQ remains almost 28% below its 2000 peak.

While excess leverage can potentially cause future pain, I would argue that the current M&A leverage and resulting high valuations are a realistic response to the “new normal” of very low … read the rest

Categories: Economics, Federal Reserve, M&A, Mergers and Acquisitions, Private Equity, Valuation

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A Whiff of Inflation – M&A Valuations Lead the Way

Posted on July 17, 2014

(Originally Published on Axial Forum)

Since the 1970s, many of us have feared the threat of inflation looming just around the corner. Within the past year, economists and central bankers have led us to believe the inflation dragon has been permanently relegated to a dark hole, never to rain fire on the kingdom of men. We’re told that deflation is the real threat and that governments can continually run large deficits without reawakening the dragon. Recently, reality has intervened, however, to remind us that economists and central bankers aren’t infallible. U. S. Core CPI and global consumer prices have taken a sharp turn upward.

While this rate of price increase will have profound implications for business owners if it continues, that’s a story for another day.

Our story here affects these entrepreneurs more directly. Inflation comes as no surprise to those of us in the M&A business. We have watched for some time as the M&A market reheated and deal valuations reached levels not seen since 2007 – the peak of the financial bubble. We now have strong confirmation that this trend is not reserved solely for the megadeals on CNBC.

 

For larger deals that confirmation comes from Pitchbook which reported last week that, for the first half of 2014, average deal valuations reached an all time high of 11.5 times EBITDA.

 

 Median EBITDA Multiples for Buyouts (H1 2014)
For smaller buyouts, the story is the same. Andy Greenberg, CEO of GF DATA®, is in a unique position to understand middle market M&A pricing trends. His company maintains a very comprehensive database of actual transaction values in the sub $250 million marketplace. In our recent interview, Andy shared his perspective confirming our belief that lower middle market M&A purchase multiples have reached historically high levels over the past 12 to 18
read the rest

What Does the Fed’s Prediction of Increasing Growth Mean for Business Owners?

Posted on July 2, 2013

  (Click on Picture to Watch Video)

Last month Chairman Bernanke spoke and the markets reacted by dropping more than 5% in a few days.  Clearly he must have shared some very bad news for business owners.

Actually not!  Coming into the year many observers thought that the federal budget sequester would put the economy at risk of stalling at best and dropping back into recession at worst.  Instead the Fed now foresees annual economic growth at 2-2.5% this year, moving to as much as 3.5% by 2015.  And it’s the private sector that’s carrying the load, not government programs.

Let me say that again.  The Fed now believes that growth is going to accelerate over the next several years.  As a result the economy may not need so much artificial stimulus (QE) going forward.  The economy is no longer digging a hole; we’re back to building a foundation of real economic growth.

What does this mean for the deal business and for private companies considering M&A or corporate finance transactions?  Bottom line: there is going to be much more demand for capital to fund growth.  Unless the banks step up to the plate, which we believe is unlikely, this capital must come from private lenders and equity providers.

The good news is that there is a great deal of financial market capital available to meet this need.  We just closed a mezzanine financing that gave us a good window into the market’s current appetite.  Over the past few years, major investors have made significant financial commitments to entities designed to fill the void left by banks which have abandoned their commercial lending franchise.  As a result today there are numerous private debt providers seeking opportunities to provide senior, hybrid and mezzanine capital to private companies.  Where equity capital is needed, private equity groups are … read the rest

Living in a Low Growth World

Posted on May 16, 2013

Michael Drury, Chief Economist, McVean Trading and Investments LLC – Reprinted with Author’s Permission

Perhaps the question we are asked most frequently is when things will get back to normal, meaning in most investors’ eyes the way they were before Lehman.  Unfortunately, our answer is “That bird has flown” and we are now dealing with, and will continue to deal with for many years, a very different environment.  The mainstay of that difference is a lack of trust between those that have money to invest and those that want to use it for risky undertakings, and, in particular, a lack of trust in the banking system that used to intermediate between these two groups.  The result is a glut of savings available to “safe” investments driving risk-free yields to very low levels.  However, the central banks, by buying bonds and manipulating long term interest rates lower, are introducing a significant risk of capital loss into even “risk-free” assets.  Investors are both moving and driven out the risk and yield curves, and returns on riskier investments are falling.  The decline in returns at the precise time many investors want to start spending investment income has pushed up prices for proven existing income flows.  Meanwhile, a combination of distrust and a reduced pool of money that will wait long periods before income is produced have generated fewer green-field investments in physical plant and equipment, resulting in a slower potential growth path for the economy.

We are neither monetarist nor Keynesian, but rather institutionalist and a storyteller.  We see the current situation as the culmination of a long path where growing reliance on banks and the central bank to maintain economic growth has run aground.  Both re-establishing trust and balance in the old system or building a new one will take time – likely many years … read the rest

Will a Superabundance of Capital Lead to an M&A Boom?

Posted on February 17, 2013

Authored by John Mason

“Bain & Company, the consultancy, forecasts a ‘superabundance of capital’ between now and 2020. In a recent report it argued that markets would be distorted by surpluses in Asian and Middle Eastern countries and private investment funds.

“It estimates that the world’s financial assets will outbalance its domestic product by ten to one – it will have $900 trillion of financial assets compared with $90 trillion of GDP – by 2020. The result will be a ‘world that is structurally awash in capital’ chasing few opportunities.

“‘Capital superabundance will increase the frequency, intensity, size and longevity of asset bubbles. The propensity for bubbles to form will be magnified as yield-hungry investors race to put capital into assets that show the potential to generate superior returns,’ the report concludes.”

These words from John Gapper appeared over the weekend in the Financial Times of London.

The signs of this possibility, according to Gapper, are two: first, the presence of lots and lots of cash on the balance sheets of corporations, hedge funds, and other financial interests; and second, the apparent movement in the buyout and acquisition market that reflects a growing belief among international investors that the US economy is stabilizing, the eurozone crisis has reached its final stages, and that elsewhere in the world economic recovery continues and capital flows are increasing. Apparently with these events, the desire to take on more risk has risen.

I have written for three years or so about the build up of cash on the balance sheets of corporations. Companies that never had issued long-term debt before took advantage of exceedingly low interest rates to increase their cache of money. The basic reasoning behind this buildup was that these financially sound firms would “make a killing” as the United States economy began to grow faster … read the rest

Dell Deal: A Sign Of The Future?

Posted on February 9, 2013

Authored by John Mason

Things are changing in the financial markets. Financial institutions are starting to make money again in mortgages. Money market funds are “flush with cash.” Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) are staging a comeback.

And, now there is the $24 billion deal by Michael Dell to take his company private. The interpretation of this transaction that I am most interested in is the one being mentioned in almost all the stories coming out in the press: “This is the largest corporate privatization since the financial crisis and the largest tech buyout ever.”

I am not interested so much in whether or not Dell, Inc. (DELL) is eventually saved. What I am interested in is what is happening in finance. It appears as if money is being mobilized again.

Goodness knows, the Federal Reserve has done just about everything it can to push money out into the economy. Comedians have gotten serious about QE1 and QE2 and QE3 … and QEfinity!

It has only been in the past six months or so that there has been any evidence of funds creeping out of the commercial banking system into other parts of the economy. But now, evidence seems to be growing of money flowing into other parts of the economy. This latest transaction, the creation of a large buyout deal, with the growing possibility that others are thinking about more deals, or even mergers and acquisitions, is very encouraging.

Over the past couple of years, myself and others have wondered about all the cash being built up in the coffers of large corporations. It seemed as if these large organizations were piling up cash hoards in preparation for moving in on less well-off institutions and making deals while the getting was good and while interest … read the rest

Evolving Financial Institutions

Posted on November 20, 2012

So much of the world is in transition, why do people want the commercial banking industry to be what it was many years ago? This is just not going to happen.

As I have written many, many times, finance is information! We have seen, over the past fifty years or so how the advancements in information technology have contributed, for better or worse, to the innovations that have taken place in financial institutions and financial instruments.

Given the continuing advancements in the information technology field how can we not expect the financial field to continue to evolve? Check out all that is being done in mobile banking these days. At least in my area of the world I am seeing more and more advertisements about mobile banking and what it does for the customer.

And, this is just the ground level. More and more people you talk with and read about claim that they have only gone into a bank office once or twice in the past two or three years. And, the only reason they went into the bank was to complain about not receiving notifications from the bank that their interest rates were being dropped. If this is not enough, read David Wolman’s book, “The End of Money” (Da Capo Press, 2012).

But, who is going to even keep their money in a typical commercial bank? I don’t. I work with an institution that satisfies my banking needs and ties all my financial relationships together so that I can move seamlessly from one asset class to another almost instantaneously.

How about my mortgage? (Yes, I have one!) The commercial bank I know set me up with their affiliated mortgage that immediately sold the mortgage to Wells Fargo (WFC), which now just services the loan because it is owned by Fannie … read the rest

Why is 20 % of the American Workforce Unemployed?

Posted on September 25, 2012

Originally Published at Global Economic Intersection under the title Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?

Written by , Capital Matters

Republicans are heartless monsters who have no compassion for the victims of a financial crash they caused by manipulating Wall Street.”

Democrats are committed to destroy the American system by redistributing the hard-earned products and services of America’s businesses to shiftless moochers.”

duel-chipmunks-360x361

Wow, are we making progress in the current political debate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow up:

Cyclical or Structural?

For economists the discussion revolves around a more civil discourse on whether the current high level of unemployment results from a severe cyclical downturn or from a structural change in the American economy. The Federal Reserve has forcefully adopted the cyclical downturn mantra, committing $500 billion per year to the assumption that, with more financial stimulus, the jobs will come back.

Buffalo Springfield’s insight from the 1960s is still valid:

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

A Big Bet With Millions of Human Poker Chips

We are in the process of making an enormous bet with the American economy. The risks are not trivial: inflation, deflation, financial and social collapse are just a few. Yet what if this bet is being made based upon a misunderstanding of the problem with which we are faced.

Steven Hansen recently produced a rather depressing chart showing that, despite a period of steady economic recovery, civilian employment in relation to population flatlined beginning in late 2009, after a very sharp drop from 63% to 58% during the financial crisis.

employment-population-ratio-2007-2012

The Robot read the rest

August 2012 – The Future of Small Business Financing

Posted on August 23, 2012

Everyone loves small business.

At least that’s what the politicians want you to believe.

The reality is different. Small business is under attack from every quarter. Government policies favor large banks and large multinational businesses. Credit is tight and the banks favor the larger borrowers. Increased regulations stifle innovation and protect large incumbents that can afford teams of lawyers and lobbyists.

What’s the little guy to do? Waiting for the politicians to change the system is wishful thinking. Smart business people find ways to prosper in every environment.


And the current environment is not great for small firms. The Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer survey has recently confirmed what we have suspected for some time: banks have been more generous in easing underwriting requirements for larger companies than they have been for smaller companies. Paynet, which maintains data on 17 million small business loans, reports that lending conditions for small firms have deteriorated in recent months after two years of bounce back from the 2009 bottom.  For additional details go to the full article on Capital Matters.


Financial Market Risk
And there’s a risk that things could get a lot worse for businesses that don’t tie down their financing soon.  We just published an article on Seeking Alpha that has received a great deal of attention with more than 14,400 page views so far. Our thesis is that the Fed’s zero interest rate policy has led to a situation where longer term treasury bonds are trading at yield levels that provide a spread to inflation far below the historical norms. Markets eventually return to their mean and often overshoot it so there is growing risk in the longer term debt market. Our concern is two-fold. First, that individual investors need to be aware of the potential impact of this return to the mean … read the rest

QE Anyone?

Posted on August 10, 2012

If anyone doubts we are moving to more monetary accommodation, take a look at the excerpt below from last night’s U.S. Financial Data release from the St. Louis Fed. The lower right hand corner reflects the most recent trends.

In June, we posted an article indicating a seeming correlation between the trend in direction and magnitude of U.S. M2 growth and U.S. economic activity. The decline in the M2 growth rate has now turned, and is headed up again, as you can see below, but the turn is not as dramatic as the growth in the Monetary Base.

We’ve previously stated our concern that the U.S. could be heading into a period of rapidly increasing inflation, similar to that experienced in the early 1970s that led to many years of stagflation, only ending with Mr. Volcker’s monetary castor oil. We’ve got all the ingredients, including this summer’s rapid runup in commodity prices. The past twelve month the GDP price deflator has dropped from 2.4% to 1.9% on an annual basis, averaging a bit above the Fed’s 2% target. 2-3% is in the range where the 1970’s inflation began to take off. Yet, we’re in a period where many, if not most, observers have been talking recession and increased likelihood of deflation. Real inflation will come as a black swan for many, with significant implications for both fixed income and equity markets.

Could the current round of easing be the spark that finally ignites the inflationary flame? There are lots of reasons to suspect that’s possible. Calculated Risk just supported a growing belief that housing may finally be bottoming. Declining home prices have been a primary force that’s kept inflation in check for the past few years. Add to that a renewed commodity spiral, annual wage inflation in China hitting 13-15% and evidence that the read the rest

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