Currently, there are several avenues to finance mergers and acquisitions. One method, known as "roll-up" or "consolidator" financing, has recently emerged as a vehicle for consolidating smaller firms. Banks are finding ways to garner some of the returns as well as some of the risk that would normally go to venture capitalists. This article looks at the roll-up's risks and rewards.
In recent years, roll-up financing has become a multi-billion dollar business. Since 1994, more than 100 roll-ups reportedly have gone public, including 50 in 1997. Roll-up formations in 1998 exceeded those in 1997, primarily because of the continuation of a strong bull market during most of the year. The IPO of U.S. Delivery Systems, Inc. in 1994 is considered by many as the start of the roll-up process. Others attribute its beginning to the 1970s, when entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga (one time owner of the prior World Champion Florida Marlins baseball team and Blockbuster Video) combined several small companies in the highly fragmented waste management business to form Waste Management Inc.
Bank Debt Associated with an IPO
The strategy of nearly all roll-ups is to grow aggressively through acquisitions. Most of the growth is financed through the issuance of an IPO and then from secondary equity offerings. However, the new firm may also be able to grow by using financial leverage. A successful IPO often allows a company to obtain debt financing. Bank credit facilities and debt offerings are favorites when market conditions are favorable.
Bank credit facilities are customarily seen as either short-term lines of credit, usually for one year and used for working capital, or term loans, greater than one year and used to finance capital equipment. If deal size warrants, bank lines may be underwritten by a syndicated group of financial institutions. Syndication of the debt allows the pooling of risks, assures better distribution, and generally allows for large financing amounts. It is not uncommon to have a syndicate group both underwrite the new equity and issue debt. The risk comes to those firms that hold their portion of the debt or equity in their pipeline in anticipation of higher prices later. For several of these underwriters it is possible to allocate a portion of their final holdings to their secondary trading portfolios in order to enhance returns derived from these transactions. Market conditions for these new issues can turn negative very quickly and the window of opportunity for favorable prices frequently is short.
Frequently, proceeds from debt offerings then are used to reduce bank borrowings. Management of these roll-up firms must decide the amount of financial leverage to undertake to optimize shareholder returns. …