Q1 2015 Survey Indicates Lower Middle Market Heating Up for Buyers
Main Street Market Shifting to Seller’s Market
Broomall, PA – Business transaction activity increased across all market sectors in the first quarter of 2015, driven by consumer and market confidence and low interest rates, according to the 1st Quarter 2015 Market Pulse Survey published by the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA), M&A Source and the Pepperdine Private Capital Market Project. The quarterly report evaluates market conditions for businesses being sold in Main Street markets (values under $2 million) and lower middle markets (values $2 million to $50 million).
“Confidence is up across the board, and we’re seeing that reflected in both buyers and sellers markets,” said Jeff MacAdam, co-founder and partner at The Bridlebrook Group, a business brokerage firm specializing in the sale of profitable businesses in the lower middle market. “While this is a welcome development, we remain cautious about short-term trends in a volatile recovering economy. Other variables, such as stabilization of valuations, rising interest rates or less aggressive financing options, may temper that enthusiasm over the next 12 months.”
59 percent of brokers characterized the Main Street businesses under $500,000 as a buyer’s market, while larger companies – those valued at $1 million and above – were characterized as being in a seller’s market. The majority of advisors are still pointing to a buyer’s market in the Main Street sector, but the strength of that sentiment has weakened considerably over a year ago. A year ago, 77 percent of advisors indicated the smallest deals (under $500,000) faced a buyer’s market, but today only 59 percent feel that way—a record low since the survey began.
Valuations for Main Street deals stayed roughly the same or had slight increases. 65 percent of Q1 transactions under $499,999 included multiple SDEs of 1.75 to 3.0, while 76 percent of transactions between $500,000 to $999,000 had SDE multiples of 2.0 to 3.00.
“Buyers looking at buying a company in the Main Street market can still maintain an advantage when buying a smaller firm, but the market continues to shift toward a seller’s market,” added Mr. MacAdam. “Buyers are losing their leverage as time passes and business size increases. If you’re doing a $1 million to $2 million deal, you’re moving into a neutral market.”
Business services led the Main Street market, appearing in the number one (or tied for first) spot for the most businesses sold in each sector. Consumer goods and personal services also held leading positions.
The lower middle market continues to present as a strong seller’s market, and the strength of that sentiment has increased significantly over a year ago. In Q1 2014, 64 percent of advisors indicated business owners for the largest deals ($5 million – $50 million) benefited from a seller’s market, and today 86% feel that way—a record high since the survey began.
In the lower middle market, deal multiples grew in both sectors, jumping 0.2 for businesses valued between $2 million to $5 million and 0.4 points for businesses valued between $5 million to $50 million year over year.
“According to a well-respected lender, a good credit cycle only lasts between four to seven years in the U.S. Right now we’re at year five, which means that if historic trends continue, this window will stay open for another two years, tops,” said Scott Bushkie, president, Cornerstone Business Services. “For the baby boomers and other business owners thinking about selling in the next few years, this is definitely the time to have a conversation with an M&A advisor in your market. There may be a significant, and limited, opportunity right now to take advantage of the strong seller’s market.”
Wholesale/distribution, construction, and IT ranked among the leading industries for the lower middle market this sector. Manufacturing and business services also held leading positions.
Other key findings include:
- Expectations and optimism about the future continue to rise. All market sectors showed a growth in new clients, with a mean of 3.2 or better (on a five-point scale) for all deals valued at $500,000 and above for Main Street transactions, a mean of 3.2 for the $2 million to $5 million sector, and a gain of 0.9 point jump in mean to 3.5 in the $5 million to $50 million. Optimism for new client engagements is near its peak since the survey began for all market sectors.
- Retirement ranks as the number one reason to sell across both lower middle market sectors, ranking as 44 percent and 50 percent of in the $2 million-$5 million sector and the $5 million-$50 million sector, respectively. Retirement also ranks as the number one reason to sell across all Main Street sectors. Notably, even though retirement has consistently held the number one spot for several quarters, the trend is still growing. The number of sellers entering the market due to retirement is at the highest levels since the survey started in 2012 for businesses valued up to $1 million.
- The average time to close for Main Street deals rose for every Main Street sector, jumping by as much as two months for businesses in the $500,000-$1 million sector. For lower middle markets, the close to close remained relatively flat, at 7 months in the $2 million-$5 million sector and 11.5 months in the $5 million to $50 million sector.
The Q1 2015 survey was completed by 231 business brokers and M&A advisors, representing 39 states. More than half of the respondents (57 percent) had at least 10 years of experience in the M&A industry. Participating advisors reported closing 143 Main Street market transactions and 20 lower middle market transactions in Q1 2015. The report can be found here: http://bschool.pepperdine.edu/about/people/faculty/appliedresearch/research/pcmsurvey/
About International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) and the M&A Source
Founded in 1983, IBBA is the largest non-profit association specifically formed to meet the needs of people and firms engaged in various aspects of business brokerage, and mergers and acquisitions. The IBBA is a trade association of business brokers providing education, conferences, professional designations and networking opportunities. For more information about IBBA, visit the website at www.ibba.org.
Founded in 1991, the M&A Source promotes professional development of merger and acquisition professionals so that they may better serve their clients’ needs, and maximize public awareness of professional intermediary services available for middle market merger and acquisition transactions. For more information about the M&A Source visit www.masource.org.
About Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management
A leader in cultivating entrepreneurship and digital innovation, The Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University focuses on the real-world application of MBA-level business concepts. The Graziadio School provides student-focused, globally-oriented education through part-time, full-time, and Executive MBA programs at our 5+ Southern California campuses, Northern California campus, as well as through online and hybrid formats. In addition, The Graziadio School offers a variety of Master of Science programs, a Bachelor of Science in Management degree completion program, Presidential and Key Executives MBA and executive education certificate programs. Follow the Graziadio School at http://www.facebook.com/pepperdine.graziadio and https://twitter.com/graziadioschool.
About The Bridlebrook Group
The Bridlebrook Group is one of the Philadelphia area’s leading firms for confidential business sales and mergers & acquisitions for profitable companies. They selectively represent well run companies and their owners who expect the highest degree of professional representation. Founded in 2002, The Bridlebrook Group has helped countless business owners achieve their dream of financial security and independence through the sale of their business. For more information about The Bridlebrook Group visit www.bridlebrookgroup.com. Follow The Bridlebrook group on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bridlebrookgrp.
Jeff MacAdam, CBI
Scott M. Bushkie, IBBA Marketing Chair
Principal, Cornerstone Business Services, Inc.