Purchase prices are commonly based on a multiple of a company's annual earnings, and 2021 featured deals averaging sale prices of 11.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, which is a common gauge of a company's health.
That compares with 9.7 times EBITDA in 2020 and 15.4 times in 2019, a significant increase from 2018's nine times multiple.
"There's still a lot of activity going on in the M&A environment and the multiples are going to creep up," he said.
Burns, who is known on the conference circuit for his entertaining and often blunt assessments, also told the audience to focus a critical eye on companies and their environmental efforts.
"He's very outspoken. He's quite blunt. He doesn't sugarcoat much," said John Maddox, president and organizer of the conference.
"As far as sustainability and circularity, are we really being realistic about our sustainability goals? Is it not just that easy to sign up to the Ellen MacArthur roundtable and then pick a very conservative, squishy objective date. It's like an artificial achievement, quite frankly. I know people don't want to hear that, but there's a lot of goals out there that are never going to be met. And we ought to be thinking about them," Maddox said.
He estimates total global packaging sales will reach $1.2 trillion by 2026 for an average annual growth rate of 4.9 percent between 2021 and 2026. That compares to growth rates of 0.7 percent between 2019 and 2021, a period of time impacted by COVID-19, and 2.7 percent annually between 2016 and 2021. Global packaging sales were $845 billion in 2016 and reached an estimated $968 billion last year, steady with 2020 numbers, Burns told the conference audience.
The 2016 global packaging market consisted of 34 percent paper, 24 percent flexible, 19 percent rigid plastics, 12 percent metal, 5 percent glass and 6 percent other materials. Those numbers, according to 2021 estimates, changed to 33 percent paperboard, 25 percent flexible, 21 percent rigid plastic, 12 percent metal, 4 percent glass and 5 percent other.
Burns also estimated that 44 percent of the 2021 global packaging sales were in Asia, 23 percent in North America and 18 percent in Western Europe. Eastern Europe accounted for 6 percent, South and Central America 3 percent and other locations 6 percent. "Asia continues to gobble up market share," he said.