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

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

A Swan Blacker Than The Darkest Night

Posted on August 18, 2012

Interest Rates Rise at 2652% Annualized Rate! That’s probably a headline you will not see in the Wall Street Journal and it’s certainly a bit over the top, but those are the facts. From July 18 to August 17, the interest rate on the two-year Treasury jumped from .22% to .29%. That’s a 32% one month increase and works out to an annual jump of 2652% if you compound the increase monthly. Just to be fair the ten-year rate “only” rose from 1.52% to 1.81% or about 19% over the same period. With the magic of compound interest that generates a far more benign 713% annualized rate rise.

If you haven’t already done the math, those growth rates would take you to a 43.8% annual interest rate on the two year a year from now and a 12.9% interest rate on the ten year at that point. Of course that is not going to happen. Most likely we’ve just seen a random fluctuation in an overbought market. The Fed has promised to keep interest rates low for an extended period after all.

We’ve been saying for some time that the seeds have been planted for a move into a period of stagflation comparable to what we saw from the mid-1960’s and the 1970’s. That move, which transformed the benign inflation of the 1950’s to a raging inferno by the end of the period, eventually took Treasury rates for the 10 year to unheard of levels of 15% by the end of the 1970’s. This resulted in a collapse of the bond market and the eventual failure of entire savings and loan industry in the United States in the 1980s.

The United States and most of the developed world have benefited tremendously over the past 30 years from a steady drop in long-term bond rates.… 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

Are We Measuring the Wrong Money Supply … Again?

Posted on June 12, 2012

Back in 2008 we wrote that the U. S. was facing a serious credit squeeze in part because we had failed to take into account some important structural changes in the credit markets: i.e. the rapid growth and subsequent collapse of the Shadow Banking system. Since then the Fed and the Treasury have spent enormous resources addressing the impact of that collapse through the purchase of assets from financial institutions, the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie and numerous other actions to prop up the housing market in hopes of repairing shrunken balance sheets throughout the economy.

We may be suffering from a different, but equally portentous, issue today arising from another misreading of what the term money really means. In response to our recent article on Fed tightening since the fall of 2011, John Lounsbury, Managing Editor of econintersect.com, made a very astute observation:

You do not mention it in your article but is it possible that the Fed has not been taking a sufficiently global view and has insufficiently reacted to a recessing Europe and a rapidly slowing Asia? India just dropped to a GDP growth rate below anything seen during the Great Financial Crisis. The manufacturing numbers in China have been flirting with contraction for several months. If the Fed reacts to these factors after they have gained a solid foothold, doesn’t that likely increase the magnitude of the yo-yo swings?

The U.S. dollar is without question the world’s reserve currency and the current problems of the Euro have only served to cement that position. Given the global demand for $100 bills, in many parts of the globe the dollar is not only the reserve currency, but the defacto physical currency as well. Yet we continue to look at money as a national, or in the case of the Euro, regional … read the rest

January Video Newsletter

Posted on January 26, 2012

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Is 2012 More Like 1972 Than 1992?

Posted on January 23, 2012

Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton are quick to remind us that twenty years ago they lifted America from the depths of recession, initiating an unprecedented period of prosperity, jobs growth and balanced budgets. Sounds nice, but what if the America of today bears a closer relationship to 1972 than 1992?

In January 1972 America was a bit over a year past the recession of 1969-1970. We had spent much of the prior decade mired in increasingly unpopular wars that had placed a huge drain on the nation’s financial resources and we were headed toward a messy exit from our Asian adventure. The Democratic Party was so ideologically divided that it was preparing to nominate George McGovern as its presidential candidate and thus give a resounding second term victory to Richard Nixon. After hitting an all time high of just under 1000 in 1968, the Dow Jones Industrials had experienced a sharp drop during 1969-1970 recession, but had since rallied back to near its highs and was poised to continue to rise into the election season.

Source: Capital IQ

On the monetary front the U. S. had been engaged in a period of what we would now call quantitative easing, funding debts incurred in the Vietnam War through the printing of new money. M2 had grown 12% in 1971 and was poised to grow another 12% in 1972. As a result the U. S. was running a then unheard of balance of payments deficit and had been forced off the gold standard in August of 1971.

Subsequent events certainly did not turn out well for the U. S. While inflation remained comparatively mild in 1972 at 3.7% for the year, the rate of price growth jumped to 6% by the end of 1973 and 11% in 1974. The ensuing recession of 1973-1975 was comparable in … read the rest

Is QE3 Already Underway?

Posted on January 17, 2012

Much ink is being spilled on when/if the Fed will move to the next iteration of its quantitative easing program. That’s the wrong question. The Fed and the world’s other major monetary authorities have effectively been captured by national treasuries running historically high budgetary deficits and their chief function has become the funding of governmental expenditures that cannot or will not be funded through taxes. Continued pressure to monetize the debt is a foregone conclusion so long as the deficits continue at their current levels.

A year ago we explored Chairman Bernanke’s position that “QE II (the purchase of long term Treasury Bonds by the Federal Reserve) is not inflationary and has not created an explosion of the money supply.”

How could it be the case that rapid monetary expansion could be accomplished without an inflationary impact? Keynes, though much maligned and misused, provided a clear explanation for this one with his description of a “liquidity trap”. In normal credit environments new reserves added to the banking system are magically multiple through the working of fractional banking, creating a significant multiplier effect on business activity throughout the economy.

In a liquidity trap this no longer works; reserves just sit at the banks and the money multiplier sinks. That’s where we are today as recently outlined by Paul McCulley, Chairman of the Society of Fellows of the Global Interdependence Center and former PIMCO trader, in a recent CNBC interview. As a result the Fed has been able to create in excess of $1.5 Trillion of excess bank reserves since the 2008 crash

(Click to enlarge)

Looked at globally, the trend is even more dramatic.

(Click to enlarge)

Source: Zero Hedge

The size of the combined Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of Japan balance sheets has grown from a historical norm of … read the rest

Just What is Quantitative Easing About Anyway?

Posted on January 1, 2011

Quantitative Easing 2


It has become quite fashionable for commentators and blaring TV ads to assume that the United States is rapidly printing money, which will inevitably lead to hyperinflation and a debasement of the dollar as a global currency.  All you have to do is look at the increasingly volatile (some might say speculative) chart of gold prices over the last decade and particularly over the past several years to see that many investors have bet with their bank accounts that this will be the case.



I will admit to an inclination to being as susceptible as the next person to the suspicion that the western world is in for some significant inflation looking forward.  Yet this belief must be based, not on demonstrable proof, but on an innate faith that politicians will invariably do the wrong thing, given the choice.  In a December 5 interview on 60 Minutes, Chairman Bernanke of the Federal Reserve, conducted in my opinion the most candid discussion ever to slip from the lips of a Fed Chairman.  He made a very forceful case that, far from inflating the currency, the Fed is fighting a very real risk that the U. S. could fall into a serious deflation.  Without equivocation Bernanke indicated that QE II (the purchase of long term Treasury Bonds by the Federal Reserve) is not inflationary and has not created an explosion of the money supply.  He went on to say that, were inflation to rear its ugly head, the Fed could raise interest rates “in fifteen minutes” if necessary.

So what are the facts for Mr. Bernanke’s case?  First, the Money Supply as measured by M2 (currency plus bank demand and time deposits excluding large CDs) is not growing very fast



After a brief period of rapid growth … read the rest

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