Mega-deals plummet amid slowdown in European buyout industry
Europe’s private equity industry experienced a slowdown in the first six months of 2023, according to provisional half-yearly data from CMBOR, the Centre for Private Equity and MBO Research based at Nottingham University Business School and supported by Equistone Partners Europe.
The 276 buyouts completed in H1 2023 represented the lowest volume for a half-year outside of the early Covid lockdown period since H1 2013. Meanwhile, the cumulative value of these deals (€33.2bn) and average deal value (€120.4mn) were the lowest half-year totals since H2 2016.
The long-term trend towards an ever-greater proportion of mega-deals (buyouts valued at €1bn+) across Europe has gone dramatically into reverse as large-cap sponsors struggle to find debt financing amid a higher-interest-rate, risk-off environment. Across Europe, the volume of mega-deals almost halved year-on-year to 10 buyouts with an aggregate value of €21.3bn, while the UK saw just two >£1bn deals complete during the period.
Small-cap (<€50m) and mid-market (€50m to €500m) deals, while also seeing falls in both volume and value (to 188 deals worth €2.1bn and 76 deals worth €8.8bn, respectively), proved somewhat more robust comparatively, with the share of aggregate European buyout value for which mid-market transactions accounted almost doubling year-on-year to 26%. CMBOR’s researchers explained this as a consequence in large part of smaller buyouts’ lesser reliance on higher-leverage debt financing and a greater focus on long-term value creation prospects.
"Although the record-breaking numbers we saw post-pandemic may seem like a distant memory, there are reasons for cautious optimism”, said Professor Kevin Amess, Director of CMBOR at Nottingham University Business School. “The dip in volumes experienced within the small-cap and mid-market segments has been much more subdued, which is good news for the industry given the former segment’s role as a crucial incubator for growing businesses and the mid-market’s contribution to value creation via buy-and-build activity. As highly disruptive macro forces gradually abate, we can expect buyout activity to stage a strong recovery fuelled by record levels of dry powder."
The UK market was once again the busiest by volume and came in second in terms of value, with 59 buyouts totalling €5.0bn. Germany represented the largest market by value with €5.6bn from 39 deals, while France, with 42 buyouts worth €4.7bn, ranked second for volume and third in terms of value.
Uncertainty around valuations curtails PE sale processes
Outside of more heavily debt-financed large-cap deals, the slowdown in deal activity, and particularly in secondary buyout volumes, was attributed primarily to a lack of supply as opposed to lack of demand. PE firms are holding out for valuations to eventually pick up again and are opting to not bring assets to market until proceeds can be maximised.
This hesitancy to bring assets to market is particularly apparent in tech and healthcare, two sectors which were major beneficiaries of pandemic-era tailwinds. Both have witnessed significant falls in volume year-on-year (34.7% and 51.3% respectively), a trend driven by PE sponsors exposed to these sectors being unsure around values in the wake of last year’s correction in public-market valuations. Manufacturing, historically Europe’s most active sector up until 2020, has (perhaps briefly) reclaimed its crown, with 72 deals worth a cumulative €7.9bn.
Positive signs for Europe's fundraising markets
The discrepancy in values between exits (€46.4bn) and buyouts (€33.2bn) signals a net outflow of capital, via distributions to PE funds’ Limited Partners, which should go some way to reinvigorating what has been up until now a congested fundraising environment. In a market where a significant number of GPs are raising capital simultaneously, these exits should generate the cash proceeds required to partially alleviate LP liquidity constraints caused by the ‘denominator effect’.
The data compiled by CMBOR summarises trends in buyouts across Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Turkey and the UK). Data cut-off date: the data is for deals completed by 13 June 2023.
CMBOR defines buyouts as over 50% of shares changing ownership with management or private equity, or both having a controlling stake upon deal completion. Equity funding must primarily be from private equity funds and the bought-out company must have its own financing structure, e.g., MBO/MBI.
Full details are in the 29 June 2023 press release from Equistone.
Posted on Wednesday 19th July 2023