A Coronavirus upside? Could there really be one?
It’s a little early to tell but anecdotal evidence is starting to appear that there may be.
As with most industries, ours saw a sudden downshift in early March with the business environment worsening as April dawned.
Deals that were in the pipeline were put on hold as buyers waited to see what kind of economic damage would be caused by governments around the world shuttering vast swaths of their economies.
Financing sources became more hesitant as values were suddenly less certain.
And business owners – even those that had been considering selling – were reluctant to bring their business to market, unsure of whether the business they spent years building would now be valued at a level that would enable them to retire.
The market changed so abruptly we, like most people, saw inquiries fall off a cliff.
But the market didn’t just disappear in a puff of smoke.
Some industries – travel and food services; restaurants most notably – where hit very hard and many of those businesses may be unable to recover. But many businesses in other industries were able to cut back operations to a survivability mode and others, particularly online businesses, actually grew.
So, what has changed to warrant use of the word “upside” next to the word “coronavirus”?
A Little Covid Background
In the United States alone, the government-mandated shutdowns have cost more than 36 million people their jobs. Millions more around the world are now dependent of government assistance to meet their basic needs. “Dependency” is a very distasteful word – let alone situation – to a large number of people who just want to live their lives, provide for their families and be left alone by their government.
But many of these people, fearful of not only the possibility of their job vanishing but also the vulnerability of the future they’ve been working toward, are looking for a way to secure their future livelihood. And they’re coming to the conclusion that owning their own business may be the best way to do this.
The Potential Coronavirus Upside
Traffic to our website is up. The number of people reading these posts is up. Inquiries regarding our listings are up. Questions regarding financing the purchase of a business are up.
Admittedly, all this is little more than anecdotal evidence and even if this portends a trend, we’re only at the very beginning of it. Time will tell if it will actually play out.
But we’re not the only ones seeing this trend.
Colleagues of ours around the world – Sydney, London, Toronto, Berlin – are experiencing the same upward movement in activity – some brokers are referring to it as a “spike”. Every time a country’s unemployment number ticks up, traffic inquiring about business opportunities pops.
In some places, because business owners have been reluctant to bring their business to market, business brokers don’t have enough listings to satisfy the demand.
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Businesses related to information technology, food services, distribution or anything with a future in technology that was non-retail are in demand.
The caveat is that we’re seeing this trend primarily – but not exclusively – in the Main Street market – businesses with transaction values of up to maybe $2 million or $2.5 million. Larger business – those with valuations for $10 million to $25 million, the Middle Market – are a heavier financial lift for many of those who have been laid off. But that doesn’t mean there has been no pop in buying interest for those larger firms.
Private equity firms (PEGs) and family offices, took no more than a mild breather in their search for quality lower-Middle Market businesses. There may have been two or three weeks when inquiries from PEGs were light but we’re now back to getting two or three every day.
What About Financing?
A reasonable question at this point is, “Is there any money out there to buy?”
In an April post about the virus, I discussed the availability of capital for business acquisitions. In that post, I mentioned that a great deal of the capital buyers use comes from the buyer’s investment accounts.
At the time of that post, markets around the world had sold off heavily; the Dow had lost nearly a third of its value in the previous eight weeks. But since then, markets in most areas of the world have rebounded handsomely. In fact, as I write this, the Dow has regained 75% of what it lost and is now less than 8% off its all time high of 29,551.
This explains, at least in part, the uptick in PEG interest.
The Bottom Line
The term “coronavirus upside” would have been unimaginable about two months ago but today it does not seem so far-fetched. This is in no way meant to diminish the societal impact of the virus but only to illustrate the resiliency of humanity and the animal spirits of entrepreneurs.
If you’re a business broker advising clients, this is an important trend to be aware of and understand. Buyers are out there. Capital is available. And as economies recover, valuations will recover.
It may not be easy and it may not be quick but the trend is definitely in our favor.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback on this topic – or any topic related to business – I want to hear from you. Put them in the Comments box below. Start the conversation and I’ll get back to you with answers or my own comments. If I get enough on one topic, I’ll address them in a future post or podcast.
I’ll be back with you again next Monday. In the meantime, I hope you have a safe and profitable week!