Private Equity 101: The Due Diligence Process in Private Equity Buyout Investments

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A guide to the key factors and considerations for a successful private equity deal.

Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

Introduction

Private equity (PE) buyout investments are transactions in which a PE firm acquires a controlling stake in a company, with the intention of improving its performance and selling it at a higher price in the future. PE buyouts can offer attractive returns for investors, but they also involve significant risks and challenges. To mitigate these risks and increase the chances of success, PE firms must conduct a thorough and rigorous due diligence process before making an investment decision.

Due diligence is the process of gathering and analyzing information about a target company, its industry, its market, its competitors, its customers, its suppliers, its financials, its operations, its management, its legal issues, and any other relevant aspects that can affect the value and viability of the investment. The process helps PE firms assess the quality and attractiveness of the target company, identify potential risks and opportunities, determine the appropriate valuation and deal structure, negotiate the terms and conditions of the deal, and plan the post-acquisition strategy and execution.

We will discuss the main components and objectives of the due diligence process in PE buyout investments, focusing on the important factors in the success of a PE investment, the financial analysis required to assess and properly finance the investment, and the more subjective factors that can affect the outcome. We will also provide some best practices and recommendations for conducting effective and efficient due diligence in PE buyouts.

Critical Factors Contributing to the Success of a PE Investment

The success of a PE investment depends on many factors, both internal and external to the target company. Some of these factors are more quantifiable and measurable, while others are more qualitative and intangible. However, all of them have an impact on the value creation and the exit potential of the investment. Based on our experience and research, we have identified the following factors as the most important in the success of a PE investment:

  • Management quality: The quality, experience, and alignment of the management team of the target company is probably the number one factor in determining the performance and growth of the business. PE firms evaluate the management team’s capabilities, track record, vision, commitment, and incentives, and work to establish a strong and trusting relationship with them. PE firms also need to assess the gaps and weaknesses in the management team, and to plan for the recruitment, retention, and development of key talent.
  • Investment cost relative to the potential value: The price paid for the target company is a key determinant of the return on investment. PE firms should conduct a careful valuation analysis, based on the historical and projected financials, the industry and market trends, comparable company valuations, the competitive position, and the growth opportunities of the target company. PE firms also have strength in developing the deal structure, the financing sources and costs, the synergies and efficiencies, and the realistic exit multiples and scenarios, to ensure that the investment cost is justified by the potential value.
  • How unique the business is: The degree of differentiation and uniqueness of the target company’s products, services, business model, technology, brand, and customer relationships are all factors in determining the competitive advantage and the value proposition of the business. PE firms need to evaluate how the target company stands out from its competitors, how it creates and delivers value to its customers, how it protects and enhances its market position, and how it innovates and adapts to changing customer needs and preferences.
  • A clear vision for growth: The ability and potential of the target company to grow its revenues, profits, and market share factor into the value creation and the exit potential of the investment. PE firms need to have a clear and realistic vision for the growth strategy and execution of the target company, based on the market opportunities, the customer segments, the product offerings, the geographic expansion, the organic and inorganic growth initiatives, and the performance improvement measures. Importantly, what could be done differently to enhance value?
  • Clear ways to measure success: The availability and reliability of the data and metrics that measure the performance and progress of the target company is an essential factor for the monitoring and evaluation of the investment. PE firms need to have access to and gain an understanding of key financial and operational indicators, benchmarks and targets, risks and contingencies, and the reporting and feedback mechanisms of the target company, before the investment to ensure that the investment objectives and expectations can be met and communicated.
  • Acquisition opportunities to accelerate growth: The possibility and feasibility of acquiring and integrating other companies or assets that can complement and enhance the target company’s business is a significant factor for the growth acceleration and the value creation of the investment. PE firms should identify and assess the potential acquisition targets, the strategic fit and synergies. The valuation and deal terms, the integration challenges and costs, and the post-acquisition performance and value of a prospective acquisition are all part of the due diligence process.
  • Understanding the roadblocks to growth, and having a plan to overcome them: The awareness and preparedness of the potential challenges and obstacles that can hinder or derail the growth and performance of the target company is a crucial factor in risk mitigation and preserving the value of the investment. PE firms need to understand and anticipate the internal and external factors that can affect the target company’s business, such as market changes, customer churn, competitor actions, regulatory issues, operational inefficiencies, talent shortages, legal disputes, and reputational damage, and have a plan to overcome them. Supply chain disruptions, geopolitical risks, regional conflicts all enter into the calculus.

Financial Analysis Required to Fund the Investment

A major component of the due diligence process in PE buyout investments is the financial analysis required to fund the investment. This analysis involves the examination and verification of the historical and projected financial statements, the valuation and deal structure, the financing sources and costs, and the sensitivity and scenario analysis of the target company. The five main objectives and steps of the financial analysis are as follows:

  1. Examine and verify the historical financial statements: The first step of the financial analysis is to examine and verify the historical financial statements of the target company, including the income statement, the balance sheet, the cash flow statement, and the notes and disclosures. The purpose of this step is to assess the historical performance, profitability, liquidity, solvency, and growth of the target company, to identify any accounting issues, adjustments, or anomalies, and to establish a baseline for the projected financial statements.
  2. Examine and verify the projected financial statements: The second step of the financial analysis is to examine and verify the projected financial statements of the target company, including the income statement, the balance sheet, the cash flow statement, and the assumptions and drivers. The purpose of this step is to assess different possible scenarios for the future performance, profitability, liquidity, solvency, and growth of the target company. To assess the impact of different factors that could challenge the company, and opportunities to improve its performance, and to determine the expected cash flows and returns of the investment. Stress testing is usually helpful at this stage.
  3. Conduct a valuation analysis: The third step of the financial analysis is to conduct a valuation analysis of the target company, using various methods and approaches, such as the discounted cash flow (DCF) method, the comparable company analysis, the comparable transaction analysis, and the market multiples analysis. The purpose of this step is to estimate the fair market value of the target company, to compare it with the offer price and the industry averages, and to determine the appropriate valuation multiple and deal structure.
  4. Identify and secure the financing sources and costs: The fourth step of the financial analysis is to identify and secure the financing sources and costs for the investment, including the equity contribution from the PE firm and its investors, and the debt financing from lenders. The purpose of this step is to optimize the capital structure and the leverage of the target company, to negotiate the terms and conditions of the financing, and to manage the cost of capital. The financing model should incorporate learnings from the stress testing.
  5. Perform a sensitivity and scenario analysis: The fifth and final step of the financial analysis is to perform a sensitivity and scenario analysis of the target company, using various inputs and assumptions, such as the revenue growth rate, the operating margin, the working capital, the capital expenditures, the discount rate, the exit multiple, and the exit year. The purpose of this step is to understand the impact of various factors on the earnings, cash flows, and returns of the target company, to test the robustness and resilience of the investment, and to evaluate the upside and downside potential of the investment.

Subjective Factors that Can Affect the Outcome

In addition to the financial analysis, the due diligence process in PE buyout investments also involves the consideration of more subjective factors that can affect the outcome of the investment. These factors are more qualitative and intangible, and they require more judgment and intuition from the PE firm. Some of these factors are as follows:

  • What gaps are there in the management bench strength? The management team of the target company is one of the most important assets and resources of the business, and it can make or break the investment. Therefore, the PE firm needs to identify and address any gaps or weaknesses in the management bench strength, such as the lack of skills, experience, diversity, or succession planning. The PE firm should also evaluate the alignment and incentives of the management team, and ensure that they share the same vision and goals as the PE firm. Having the right people in the right roles will help ensure the success of the investment.
  • What rapid changes are possible in an emergency? The target company may face unexpected or unforeseen events or situations that can threaten or disrupt its business, such as a pandemic, a natural disaster, a cyberattack, a regulatory change, a customer loss, or a competitor move. Therefore, the PE firm needs to assess the ability and readiness of the target company to respond and adapt to such rapid changes in an emergency, such as implementing contingency plans, reallocating resources, diversifying revenue streams, or leveraging technology.
  • What are the biggest threats to the industry? The target company operates in a dynamic and competitive industry, and it may face various threats or challenges that can affect its market position and value proposition, such as technological disruption, market saturation, a customer shift, regulatory pressure, or a social trend. The PE firm should understand and anticipate the biggest threats to the industry, and evaluate how the target company is prepared and positioned to cope and compete with them.
  • What are the biggest threats to the company? The target company may have its own internal or external vulnerabilities or risks that can affect its performance and growth, such as a product defect, a quality issue, a legal dispute, reputational damage, talent turnover, or financial distress. The PE firm should identify and mitigate the biggest threats to the company, and evaluate how the target company is managing and resolving them. Taking risks is part of the business; managing risk is the key to success.
  • How well is the company set up to manage those threats? The target company may have different capabilities and resources to manage and overcome the threats and challenges that it faces, such as a strong culture, a loyal customer base, a differentiated product, a scalable technology, robust governance, or a flexible capital structure. The PE firm must assess how well the target company is set up to manage those threats, and to determine how the PE firm can support and enhance those capabilities and resources.

Conclusion

The due diligence process in PE buyout investments is a complex and comprehensive process that involves the analysis and evaluation of various factors and aspects of the target company, its industry, its market, and its potential value and risks. The due diligence process helps PE firms make informed and confident investment decisions, negotiate and structure attractive and fair deals, and plan and execute successful post-acquisition strategies. The due diligence process also helps PE firms create and capture value for their investors, their portfolio companies, and their stakeholders.

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Kensington Capital Partners Limited
Kensington Capital Partners Limited

We're a leading Canadian alternative asset manager with $2.8 billion in assets under management in #PrivateEquity #HedgeFund #VC | www.kcpl.ca