The Argos Index® mid-market

3rd quarter 2020

Principal conclusions

  • The Argos Index® climbed back to 10.1x EBITDA, almost as high as it was prior to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • The market was selective, remaining focused on high-quality acquisitions and on the healthcare and technology sectors. Half of the transactions referenced in the Argos Index® were in these two sectors.
  • Transactions at multiples in excess of 20x virtually disappeared.
  • M&A activity recovered somewhat, but in the first nine months of 2020, it was still 13% below that of the year-earlier period.
01

The Argos Index® rose to 10.1x EBITDA

The index returned to its 2019 level. The Covid-19 pandemic seemed to subside during the summer, and the eurozone’s economic recovery was quicker than expected in the third quarter1. In this context, the Argos Index® was buoyed by the recovery in M&A activity, stock markets at record levels and high multiples of 11.8x EBITDA at the top end of the mid-market (equity value of €150-500 million).

The high proportion of transactions in sectors that have been spared by the crisis also explains the index’s return to a high level. Specifically, 50% of referenced transactions took place in the healthcare and technology sectors.

1 The eurozone economy rebounded much more strongly than expected in the third quarter after the pandemic-induced slump in the previous three months – source: www.nasdaq.com

02

Strategic buyers driving multiples higher

Prices paid by strategic buyers were up, at 10.5x EBITDA. Large, listed companies were active in the mid-market and have represented more than 70% of strategic buyers since the beginning of the year. In particular, they have benefited from the rapid rise in equity markets1 and in their own multiples, which rose 9% to 8.5x EBITDA during the third quarter2.

The multiples paid by investment funds were stable at 9.2x EBITDA amid a reinvigorated transaction volume. LBO transactions were up 50% in volume compared with the second quarter. As investment funds still had considerable dry powder, they were able to resume their investment activity.

1 The EuroStoxx® TMI Small index appreciated by 20% between 1 April and 30 September 2020.

2 EV/LTM EBITDA of 8.5x for listed, eurozone mid-market companies (source: smallcaps.infrontanalytics.com)

Graph 2 – Enterprise value / historical EBITDA
Source: Mid-market Argos Index® / Epsilon Research
03

Decline in share of transactions at multiples > 20x EBITDA

The percentage of transactions with multiples in excess of 15x returned to the level reached in the second half of 2019, but the percentage of those with multiples over 20x EBITDA declined sharply.

Graph 3 – Percentage of transactions at multiples > 15x EBITDA Argos IndexTM sample
Source: Mid-market Argos Index® / Epsilon Research
04

The stock market recovery has not been enough to reduce the disparity between listed and unlisted companies

Transactions on unlisted companies continued to benefit from the massive central bank intervention we have seen, as cash continued to pour into the asset class1.

Multiples of unlisted companies remained 2x EBITDA higher than those of listed companies. This difference has been clearly visible for the past two years and was not eliminated by the stock market recovery during the third quarter.

European private equity funds had €795 billion in assets under management in 2019, up 16% from 2018 and up 70% over five years according to Preqin and Amundi’s “2020 Alternative Assets in Europe”.

Graph 4 – Comparison of listed (1) and unlisted mid-market multiples (paid by strategic buyers)
Source: Mid-market Argos Index® / Epsilon Research / InFront Analytics
Graph 5 – Difference between listed and unlisted mid-market multiples (paid by strategic buyers)
Source: Mid-market Argos Index® / Epsilon Research / InFront Analytics
05

M&A activity recovered somewhat, but in the first nine months of 2020, it was still 13% below that of the year-earlier period.

Third-quarter mid-market M&A activity rose 40% in volume and 70% in value compared with the second quarter, in line with the overall M&A market1. This reflected both a catch-up effect and a greater-than-expected resurgence of economic activity in the third quarter2.

But it did not return to its 2019 level. Over the first nine months of 2020, mid-market M&A activity was down 13% in volume and 46% in value terms compared with the same period in 2019.

1 Overall M&A activity up 21% in value in Europe during the third quarter. – Source: Refinitv/ Reuters

2 The eurozone economy rebounded much more strongly than expected in the third quarter after the pandemic-induced slump in the previous three months – source: www.nasdaq.com

Graph 6 – Eurozone mid-market activity (€15-500 million) in volume, by segment
Source: Epsilon Research / Market IQ
06

Germany was the most active eurozone country in terms of SME acquisitions, followed by France and Benelux

Several trends emerge from the differences in mid-market M&A activity among the main eurozone countries:

  • Germany remains the most active market for mid-market M&A activity, with 27% of transactions in Q3 2020.
  • France’s share held steady at 20% of mid-market transactions. Still, there was less activity in this segment in France than in Germany, in large part because SMEs account for a small portion of France’s economy.
  • The share of the eurozone’s southern countries eroded. Italy and the Iberian peninsula represented only 6% and 8%, respectively, of eurozone mid-market transactions in the third quarter.

Unsurprisingly, the mid-cap M&A market recovered more in northern European countries, where the Covid-19 crisis was less disruptive than in southern Europe. It mirrored the divergence in economic performance between eurozone member states.

Graph 7 – Mid-market activity in the principal eurozone countries
Source: Epsilon Research / Market IQ

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