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Mergers & acquisitions continuing a hot streak in closures business
October, 10th 2014

Mergers and acquisitions in the plastics industry continue at a torrid pace, extending a years-long run that’s been fueled to a large degree by private equity money and strong credit markets.

But how long will this trend continue? That’s anybody’s guess, according to one group of financial experts on the subject who spoke recently at the Plastics Caps & Closures 2014 conference organized by Plastics News.

“It’s an exceptionally robust market right now,” said Graham Schindler, a managing director at investment bank Houlihan Lokey and head of the firm’s plastics and packaging practice. “Overall, the level of activity is exceptionally strong. It’s really supported by robust credit markets, a decent economic environment so a company’s financial performance seems to be trending in the right direction. And it’s been that way for a while.”

Valuations are high for companies as there more buyers than sellers in the market these days.

And that’s keeping company valuations, based on a multiple of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization or EBITDA, higher than typical.

“There’s easily a turn to two turns in terms of EBITDA multiple premium in the marketplace in terms of valuation because of that level of activity,” Schindler said.

As managing director of investment banking at Mesirow Financial, Rick Weil also sees the strong M&A market being fueled by private equity money, not just in plastics and packaging, but across the “spectrum of companies.”

“It’s really been pretty remarkable. They are absolutely taking part in our industry. The private equity community has been a really critical part of the M&A environment and what we’re seeing right now,” he said at the conference in Rosemont.

“Five, six years ago, there were probably 8,000 private equity-owned companies. Today, that number is 13,000, so it’s really growing in prominence,” Weil said.
John Hart, a managing director at investment bank P&M Corporate Finance and head of the firm’s plastics and packaging group, knows that the strong M&A market will end at some point.

“We’re in the fifth year of a robust M&A market, some years are less than others. But it has been trending up. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it’s gotten better. One of the things that we see, at least in plastics and packaging, is there’s still not enough sellers to meet the demand on the buyer front,” he said.

“And I think that has also helped drive the marketplace up,” he said. “Eventually it’s going to balance out. M&A goes in cycles.”

“That’s a hard one,” Schindler said.

“It depends on the health of the credit markets,” he said. “There’s certainly no sign in the credit markets today to point to any kind of weakness. So does that last for six months or two years? Who knows?

“There’s certainly nothing symptomatic in the market today other than things seem really robust, and so it’s not like things are going to get better. They can only get worse. So the question is how do they stay in that band where you get a reasonable amount of activity and valuations are strong?” Schindler said.

With robust pricing on deals these days, the men said prices can only eventually drop.

“As long as the economy continues to improve and grow, it’s going to be there,” Weil said about strong pricing.

Many deals, he said, are “really priced to perfection” and require that the acquired operations perform in the coming years to support that investment, he said.

“There’s a lot of activity at high prices, at high valuations and it’s just a matter of can the companies perform to support that. It’s anybody’s guess,” Weil said. “I would image in an election year and leading up to the next term I would imagine that a lot will be done to try to maintain the strength of the economy.”

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