This article is authored by Ephraim Stulberg for MDD Forensic Accountants.
Mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) can be a double-edged sword. When done right, M&A can allow acquirers to scale their businesses and create value through synergies. When done poorly, M&A can result in drastic overpayments for assets that are not nearly as valuable as believed and for economies of scale that are very difficult to achieve.
One of the main risks in M&A is information asymmetry: simply put, the vendor knows much more about its business than the acquirer. While the acquirer is able to perform due diligence, time pressures to close the deal mean that this process can sometimes be imperfect; issues are sometimes missed. This is where Representations and Warranties (R&W) insurance can come into play. This brief article provides a brief overview of R&W insurance, and discusses some of the issues we have encountered as forensic accountants and business valuators in quantifying losses under this type of insurance coverage.
What is R&W Insurance?
R&W insurance provides indemnity for “losses” related to overpayment by the acquirer resulting from breaches of representations and warranties as set out in the purchase agreement for the acquisition.
These types of policies are becoming increasingly popular. One global broker recently reported a 30% increase in deals written in 2018 compared with the prior year. The average policy limit was equal to 15% of the total enterprise value of the deal (e.g. a deal for $100M would have a policy limit of $15M); while deductibles were generally set at 1% of enterprise value. The same publication also reported that premiums have been declining over the past two years, as more insurers enter this market. Another publication by a leading insurer in the space mentions that the frequency of claims has been roughly one claim for every five transactions.
Two types of mistakes
Based on our experience quantifying losses under R&W coverage, there are two main types of misrepresentations: one-time misrepresentations and long-term misrepresentations.
These types of misrepresentations generally relate to the balance sheet. M&A transactions typically will set a target level of “net working capital”, based on an overall understanding of the subject company. If issues with this calculation are discovered following the closing, the economic loss to the purchaser is generally equal to the amount of the misstatement.
Quantifying these types of issues involves first obtaining a detailed understanding of the components of the purchase price and ensuring that the alleged misrepresentations are not already factored into the price. For example, if the claim is that a large amount of inventory had to be written off following closing, one would need to make sure that the inventory balance included in the closing statements did not already consider a provision for obsolete inventory.
Long-term misrepresentations will tend to involve the income statement. For instance, in one case we were recently involved in, the seller had represented to the purchaser that it was not subject to a particular type of property tax. This turned out to be incorrect, and as a result the purchaser was liable to pay this additional, unexpected amount every year for the foreseeable future. In that case, the loss to the purchaser is equal to the present value of the ongoing annual tax liabilities.
How does one value these sorts of long-term misrepresentations? One shorthand approach might be to simply apply the acquisition multiplier to the value of the annual misstatement. For instance, if the deal multiplier was 10 times the seller’s trailing EBITDA, and the value of a misrepresentation (such as the unreported property tax issue) is $1M per year, then one might reasonably conclude that the value of the misstatement is $10M.
This approach can be appropriate in some cases, but sometimes it can lead to incorrect results, when the cash flows associated with the misrepresentation in question have different characteristics (term, riskiness or growth forecast) than the acquired business as a whole. Consider the following example:
- The business being sold has two divisions, Rapid Robotics and Flat Pancakes. After-tax cash flows last year were $10M ($5M for each division), and the business recently sold for $200M, or 20 times after-tax cash flows.
- It was discovered that due to regulatory changes in the pancake market (which were known to the seller prior to the deal), Flat Pancakes will need to eliminate a particular product line that accounted for $1M in after-tax cash flows. The purchaser advances a claim for $20M, equal to the annual value of the misrepresentation of $1M times the acquisition multiplier of 20 times.
- The problem with this approach is the 20x multiplier may actually consist of a multiple of 30 times cash flows for the Rapid Robotics division, and only 10 times cash flows for the Flat Pancakes division. The higher multiplier for Rapid Robotics would represent the value attributed by the purchaser to the anticipated growth in that division.
- This means that the value of the $1M misrepresentation in the slow-growth Flat Pancakes division is only $10M, not $20M.
In order to perform a proper analysis of these longer-term misrepresentations, it is therefore generally very beneficial to obtain a copy of the valuation model used by the acquirer in the transaction in order to understand how the transaction multiplier was arrived at and to reverse engineer the impact of the particular misrepresentation on business value.
This article has only scratched the surface of the types of issues that, in our experience, can arise from post-acquisition M&A disputes. As M&A insurance becomes, in the words of one insurer, “the new normal”, we will no doubt have the opportunity to revisit this topic in future articles.