The Midwest: A New Technological Frontier

As reported in TechCrunch, the Midwest is no longer just a flyover space for high tech proprietors and investors flying between Silicon Valley and New York city. The Midwest has become a bastion for high tech startups in addition to the regions more traditional manufacturing entrepreneurship. Mark Kvamme, a co-founder of the Midwest’s largest — and most recent — venture investment firm, Drive Capital, recently said that, “In the last five years there have been 52 companies [from the Midwest] that have either gone public or been acquired for north of $1 billion." Recently, Sprint invited a group of 10 mobile-health related startups to its accelerator program based in Kansas City. Earlier in March, the Digital Sandbox KC released information stating that it had raised $7 million in follow-on funding for graduates of its accelerator program. Regardless of previous geographical prejudices, the Midwest is now a must visit for tech investors looking for the next big thing. Kansas City continues to lead by example through amazing entrepreneurship programs like Google's Fiberhood and the Kauffmann Foundation's numerous initiatives. Read the entire story from TechCrunch here.

Larger Players Squeeze Mid Market PE Firms

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, it is a difficult time to be a mid-market private-equity firm. Larger competitors, a seller's market and high valuations are combining to create a difficult atmosphere for smaller firms. “We have been getting blown out of the water on bids. Everything is going to auction, that wasn’t the case 10, even five years ago.” said Stratton Heath, partner at Oak Hill Capital Partners, this past Friday. Traditionally, PE firms could come in and make a bid that was persuasive enough for a company to not need to consider an auction process, but sellers are becoming more and more selective.  This also could lead to buyer's remorse; if you're paying top dollar to win a bidding war for a middle market firm, you'd better be right. Read the entire article here.

Buffett Hints at More Mega Deals, Admits Failures

Warren Buffett's annual letters to Berkshire shareholders are somewhat legendary in the investing world. He leverages quaint anecdotes to simplify an amazing wealth of knowledge about fundamental investing in a way that is easy to consume for the average investor. This year, Buffett covered a variety of topics, but two key points included hinting at additional mega deals and admitting a misstep in the energy sector. As reported in DealBook and stated by Buffett in the letter, in order to keep growing at a consistent pace, Berkshire will need to consistently make large, successful investments. Last year, Berkshire did just that with Heinz and NV Energy. Buffett said in the letter that, “with the Heinz purchase... we created a partnership template that may be used by Berkshire in future acquisitions of size.” This most likely referred to a structure where Mr. Buffett partnered on the massive acquisition with 3G Capital, an investment firm led by Mr. Buffett’s good friend Jorge Paulo Lemann.  Additionally, Berkshire’s energy subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy, bought NV Energy for $5.6 billion last year and most expect acquisitions for MidAmerican to continue. A strong stock market and improving earnings combined to help Berkshire reach record profits of $19.5 billion in 2013, which represents a 32% increase on 2012.  However, all was not rosy for the Omaha Oracle, as he admitted in the letter that Berkshire had taken an $873 million loss on the $2 billion in debt that had been provided to Texas energy company Energy Future Holdings. Mr. Buffett said in the letter that he anticipated the company would go bankrupt this year unless natural gas prices rose contrary to energy market expectations.  In typical Buffett fashion, he acknowledged that he had not consulted his longtime investment partner, Charles T. Munger, before taking on the debt and said in the letter, “Next time I’ll call Charlie." Read the Annual Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders here.

Sequoia Funds Mobile Marketing Automation App Kahuna

After hitting it big with WhatsApp, Sequoia announced $11 million in Series A funding for Kahuna, a startup that helps marketers test and automate their push notifications. Kahuna is only a few months old, launching in the Fall of 2013. Its customers now include Yahoo!, QuizUp (another Sequoia portfolio investment), 1-800 Flowers and more. Deal makers will be keeping a close eye on Sequoia after they hit it big with WhatsApp. Do they have the perfect formula for choosing start up apps?  Probably not.  Although their team is undoubtedly talented, there are too many factors that go into the success or failure of young companies such as Kahuna to make batting 1.000 a reality. However, another Sequoia holding called QuizUp has taken the world of trivia by storm, creating an addictive, simple, 1-on-1 trivia game where people from across the world can battle wits via their mobile device in selected categories that vary from math to video games from the 90s.  It is an incredibly addictive game.. so maybe Sequoia is on to something. Click here to read the original article.

Merge or Die: Are Mergers the New Growth Catalyst in a Sluggish Economy?

As 2014 begins to take shape, many in the M&A industry are worried about a repeat of 2013, when conditions seemed ripe for deal making but those deals failed to execute.  Other than several mega deals, 2013 was largely disappointing. For context, world wide M&A was $4.27 trillion in 2007 on more than 40,000 transactions. Only a year later, 2008, we saw that amount fall to $1.9 trillion. Reuters estimates that private equity firms ended 2013 with $1.074 trillion in dry powder. Bain Capital has postulated that there is $300 trillion in capital laying dormant around the world that could be used for M&A. Capital is also still cheap, as interest rates remain relatively low. So, with all of these things pointing towards more deals being executed, when will it begin? In a recent article from Institutional Investor, Robert Teitelman postulates that there could be a "new normal" in terms of how companies grow. In a low growth global environment, he says, acquisitions are one of the only ways to increase the size of your business. US GDP was a healthy 3.2% in Q4 2013 after being 4.1% in Q3, but other parts of the world are not showing that same growth. Most expected M&A activity to be back to pre-crisis levels by now, considering the health of the overall stock market and US economy. However, it has only rebounded to mid 2000s levels. Chris Ruggeri is a principal in Deloitte’s financial advisory unit and leading manager of the firm’s M&A practice. She summed up the lack of deals by saying, “We’ve been sort of stuck. Confidence fuels growth. And growth fuels M&A. To get growth, you need confidence. It’s not there.”  Let's hope the confidence returns and deal makers start pulling the trigger, or 2014 could be a repeat of 2013.

KPMG: Deal Activity in 2014 Expected to Improve

KPMG recently released the results of a survey given to over 1,000 deal makers with regards to 2014 M&A prospects. In short, deal activity is expected to improve in 2014. However, 2013 was also heralded by many as the year that would see M&A really take off and it didn't quite come to fruition.  Several mega-deals notwithstanding, 2013 fell short of expectations. So what makes 2014 different?   According to the survey, deal makers felt relatively positive about the environment and 63% of respondents said they planned to be acquirers in 2014. Most of this optimism was the result of large cash reserves, favorable/available credit terms, improving equity markets and improved overall confidence. However, as one investment banker put it, deals should most likely increase "because next year can't possibly be as bad as this year." This is where the questions really start. Many of the economic drivers present at the beginning of 2014 were also present in 2013. Private equity has piles of dry powder, corporate balance sheets are stocked with cash and money is cheap to borrow. However, all of these factors were also present in 2013. Instead of an increase in overall activity, we saw an increase in PE exits. So why would activity suddenly increase? According to the results below, most respondents expected targets to "become available." From our experience in the market, there are plenty of motivated buyers, but quality companies wanting to sell have been scarce. If this situation changes in 2014, the activity will most likely be very high. Some companies that we've spoken to have been anxious to eclipse pre-recession levels before having a liquidity event. Others are optimistic about the market in general, and want to leverage their growth opportunities utilizing cheap borrowed capital. The latter of those reasons won't change in 2014, but if some companies reach their targeted EBITDA numbers, sales could increase.   Click here to read the full report from KPMG. Hopefully, the conclusions drawn from their survey will come to fruition and 2014 will be a "solid" year.

Pitchbook PE Deal Multiples Show Deal Multiples for Small Deals Falling

November 14, 2013 09:47 by Clayton Reeves in Capital Markets, Financing, M&A, Private Equity  //  Tags: , , , , , ,   //   Comments (0)
As reported by Pitchbook, PE transaction multiples were reasonably steady in Q3 2013. However, deal size showed significant changes. For example, median enterprise value (EV) for small deals (EBITDA<$25 million) fell from 5.0x in Q2 to 2.5x in Q3. On the flip side, EV/EBITDA multiples rose to 10.7x for transactions of $250 million or more, while revenue multiples fell to 1.7x, the lowest in over two years. So, what does this mean for the market? It means PE firms (and the market in general) continue to pay for profitability over pure sales. Market participants definitely want revenue growth, but they also want healthy margins and solid business models. Since companies with both are rare, PE firms continue to pay a premium on larger transactions. There is generally still no rush towards companies that show revenues, but lack profits, unless the growth story is compelling (i.e., Twitter).  Key statistics from 3Q 2013 explored in this report include: Median EBITDA multiple:6.81x Median debt percentage: 50% Average time to close a deal: 13 weeks Read the full report here.

Increasing Seed Valuations Making Series A Rounds Difficult

October 18, 2013 08:55 by Clayton Reeves in Capital Markets, Economy, Financing, M&A, Private Equity, Venture Capital  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)
As reported by Pitchbook, seed valuations have increased 62.5% from 2009 through the first three quarters of 2013 for a cumulative annual growth rate of 13.8%. Meanwhile, Series A valuations are increasing, but at a slower rate, from $6.8 million in 2009 to $8.9 million. This 30.8% growth represents an annualized rate of 10.3%. Inflated seed-stage valuations may be having an effect on a startup's ability to raise funding in the Series A round, as seed investors want to see appreciation in their investment, while Series A investors believe the seed valuation was too high. Source: Pitchbook As seed-stage investments increase, companies are finding it more difficult to raise Series A financing.  This is at least partly due to a shift in VC investment philosophy, which has seen the share of seed-stage investments grow as a proportion of total VC investments over the last three years.  VC firms are trying to pick out winners earlier, and get them for a reasonable price.  The competitive bidding, however, is causing those valuations to increase.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several years, and if the Series A crunch will continue. Read the entire article here.

A Busy Week in M&A!

As reported by Daily Finance, deal-makers have wrapped up three multi-billion dollar acquisitions so far this week as the markets get a late start thanks to Labor Day. This week has proven to be a busy one in terms of billion+ acquisitions, as three have been wrapped up already. Microsoft, Verizon and lesser known Jarden (consumer products) all completed deals with price tags over the billion dollar mark. Microsoft agreed to purchase Nokia's cellphone business for $7.2 billion in a move that has been anticipated by many. Controlling the business allows MSFT to make a more unified and coordinated challenge to Apple, Google and Samsung in the mobile market. This will allow the company to leverage their Windows platform, which has already gained more traction in mobile than many expected (although the desktop version has left much to be desired). Additionally relevant, and perhaps less obvious, is what impact the move will have on Microsoft's executive team moving forward. MSFT has "acquired" Nokia's CEO, Stephen Elop in the deal; Elop is a proven leader and will automatically be the top contender to succeed Steve Ballmer. Verizon's deal was more of a self purchase, as it completed the purchase of 45 percent of Verizon Wireless held by British Telecom giant Vodaphone. At a price of $130 billion, the cost was steep. However, this gives Verizon Communications full control of the company and its 100 million subscribers. Finally, in a deal that smells incredible, Jarden purchased privately held scent seller Yankee Candle, best known for its candles. That deal is valued at almost $1.8 billion. What does this mean for the wider market? It is difficult to tell. September is usually a bad month for stock markets, which could make M&A deal makers skittish. However, mega-deals of this nature are a good sign that activity in the second half may pick up as predicted. Read the entire article here.

Women Venture Capitalists: Taking a Bigger Piece of the Pie

Women's positions, or lack thereof, in powerful financial roles is often a contentious topic. However, in terms of venture capital, it seems that there is a trend towards more involvement from the fairer sex. According to Pitchbook, companies with at least one female founder have been increasing their share of venture rounds every year for the last 10 years. This trend is material; 10 years ago, women-founded companies represented a meager 4% of all venture deals in the United States, but in 2013 we have seen that number rise to 13%. Source: PItchbook Men continue to dominate the arena, but the trend is positive. Women own 28.2% of all businesses in the US, according to The Center for Women’s Business Research. So, the venture percentage is still not as high as it should be, in order to be proportionate to gender based ownership. However, in certain sectors, women are dominant. Through the first half of 2013, women-founded companies comprised 40% of venture deals in the retail space and 33% in the consumer services space.  Both of these figures represent high water marks for the space. Hopefully these figures will continue to increase, as diversity is always a catalyst for innovation and new perspectives. Read the entire article here.

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