Distressed M&A: a golden year yet to come?

Time to read: 4 min

There were hardly even a few businesses worldwide not affected by the corona pandemic. As lockdown measures were expanding from March 2020, dozens of visitor-dependent (including retail, public transportation, HoReCa, leisure, entertainment & sport) companies’ value dropped astonishingly. This immediately resulted in numerous RFPs coming in and out NPL funds and distress investors being ready as never to pluck those companies ripe enough.

Well, at least that is how the things should have been.

A general picture of M&A demand remains with no great changes. According to the recent DataSite EMEA report first 2021 quarter shown 40 % deal value increase and 14 percent deal volume growth. Some sceptic experts already highlighted that Q1 references are insufficient – as Q1 2020 was painted in an unseen uncertainty and hard-model governmental interference whilst Q1 2021 came in much more predictable conditions with vaccination campaigns being successful and more lockdowns lightened.

The 2020 picture for the distressed part of the global (and particularly EMEA) part of M&A market is quite the same. With hundreds of companies still receiving governmental support and financial institutions still having a wide liquidity, the 2020 data from Bloomberg reports show no Big Bang in distress deals (either arising from pre-pack agreements between debtors and creditors or from formal insolvency processes), at least if compared with 2007-8 recession years.

Nevertheless Bloomberg themselves recognize that 2021 market might become red-hot. Whether this prognosis will materialize soon – here are four basic tips to hold in mind when thinking on insolvency-sed distress M&A deal on either – buyer or seller side:

  1. asset or going-concern purchase. A key business decision is understanding of whether a target business is viable enough and fits in the buyer’s existing\planned portfolio to be bought as a going-concern company. Should there be no certainty – a rule of thumb with almost always be to stick with the asset deal being more secured and the target itself much easier to allocate.
    On the other hand, for a manufacturing target license and related IP rights holding might constitute a large part of the business’ value – without which the desired asset appears to be a no-hand pot.
  1. watch for exclusivity – as asset-based distressed purchase might lack one because of the procedural obligation of going through bidding process.
  2. beware of easy ways. With so-called reverse vesting orders and free-and-clean sales an SP process might look very comfortable for a buyer eager to obtaining the target clean of any burdens (liens, mortgages, tax liabilities). Might look – but rarely be such within FSU and a part of CEE countries where a big chance of facing clawback action exists, especially with a huge state (tax\duty) interest at stake.
  3. do post-deal homework. When purchasing a going concern company it is for the newly-appointed management to be concerned the most: in a number of jurisdictions they might be boomeranged with management-liability claims resulting from previous management\shareholders cadence.
  4. have an insurance company over the seller’s back. In case any post-closing tails appear, this will give a substantial level of calmness for both sides relying on the insurance to cover a part of the purchase price or post-deal liabilities.

With the post-pandemic distress M&A yet to come and investors being ready as never, these rules will certainly be of use. As S&P 500 non-financials, in late 2020 corporate balance sheets reflected more than $2 trillion of cash – guess if there are funds for making your deal as well? Just remember: there is no one-size-fits-all approach in doing the distress deal and there always is a place for bespoke solutions given by true professionals.

Anton Molchanov
  • Agriculture
  • Corporate
  • Credit collection
  • Financing and securities
  • Insolvency

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