An improving global economy should allow plastics mergers and acquisitions activity to stand on firmer ground in 2010.
2009 was a tough year to get anything done, Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC's Will Frame said at the Plastics News Executive Forum, held March 7-10 in Tampa. Those who went to market were penalized. It was like they only went because they had to, and that was a problem.
But in 2010 those conditions have abated, added Frame, managing director with Chicago-based Deloitte. Trailing 12-month earnings are improving. There's more stability, and buyers feel more confident.
Frame was part of an M&A panel at the event, joined by Blaige & Co. LLC executive adviser Randy Barko and Kurt Beyer, Red Diamond Capital Inc. senior vice president.
Barko outlined steady growth of global plastics M&As, which climbed from 359 deals in 2004 to 480 last year, for compounded annual growth of 13 percent.
Between 2002 and 2009, injection molding deals made up the largest portion of plastics transactions with a 20 percent share, according to data gathered by Chicago-based Blaige. Among end markets, packaging led the way with 143.
Other changes tracked by Blaige were a reduction in the number of U.S.-only deals dropping from 50 percent in 2002 to 36 percent in 2009 and an increase in the number of corporate divestments, which climbed from 32 percent in 2006 to 46 percent in 2009.
The amount of deals that involved strategic buyers bounced all over the place between 2002 and 2009, starting at 85 percent, then dropping to 68 percent before closing at 76 percent.
Plastics is still a fragmented industry, and consolidation is driving a lot of activity, said Barko, who wrapped up a 25-year career with injection molding major Nypro Inc. in 2006.
Beyer, whose firm is based in New York, also was optimistic when looking ahead in 2010.
You may not find a better time to buy a business than right now, he said. Large businesses are selling for higher multiples and non-cyclicals are selling at historically high multiples. Even building-materials firms, which have been beaten down by lack of demand, might be a contrarian play.
Frame also offered a bit of contrarian advice when he pointed out that automotive is not a hot market there are no prizes for pointing that out but if you peel back the onion a bit, it may have similar dynamics to medical.
Beyer and Frame also addressed the endless riddle of whether financial buyers from outside the industry or strategic buyers from within the industry are better for plastics firms.
If you want continuity in the name or in the company or if you want flexibility and still want to own part of the business, a financial buyer may be best, Beyer said. But if you want to sell for a maximum price, a strategic buyer may have the edge up.
They don't have to worry about financing as much when considering a purchase price.
Frame agreed with Beyer's assessment, saying that while strategic buyers are interested in organic growth, financial buyers may have a rate of return set so high that capital never gets spent.
Although recent recessionary conditions have made it a bit more difficult to value companies, Frame said he also is optimistic about 2010.
At the start of 2009, the impact of resin [prices] was benign, but there was no visibility on orders, he said. There were educated guesses rather than real knowledge.
But multiples and valuations are only part of the deal, Frame added. You have to look at why they're coming to market.
Some deals in the last few weeks were surprising to me because of their valuations. My caution, week by week, is lessening. Sellers could look at the second half of the year and decide they could do a lot worse.
Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.