Monday, August 6, 2007

Credit Crunch May Freeze M&A

The global credit squeeze that has shaken debt and equity markets during the past few weeks may cool the feverish pace of industry M&A. Banks are left holding debt of about $400 billion in uncompleted management and leveraged buyouts worldwide, according to estimates compiled by Baring Asset Management (London). Several big chemical deals are in that pipeline, including Sabic-GE Plastics, Basell-Lyondell, Hexion-Huntsman, and Carlyle-PQ Corp. Industry deals with committed financing are likely to proceed, say M&A advisers that CW contacted earlier this month. However, the relationship between buyers and their lenders could become tense if banks are stuck with debt they cannot sell on the bond market. That will curtail further lending until banks are able to clear the backlog. Most bankers expect a recovery by early 2008, citing an overall strong economy. “This is a different situation than what has happened in the past,” says Richard Whitney, managing director/chemicals at Credit Suisse (New York). Lenders have clamped down despite low default rates and relatively strong earnings and valuations, Whitney says. “Credit supply and demand is out of balance right now. It is not just in chemicals. It is on a global scale. There are so many large transactions that need financing.” Borrowing costs will rise as lenders demand higher risk premiums, analysts say.
“We think this is more of a correction or pause,” says Ron Kahn, head of the debt private placements group at Lincoln International (Chicago). “If you go back to the last serious credit crunch, back in 2001, it was driven by defaults and bad credits.” But the drivers are different now as defaults are low and earnings strong. “This has nothing to do with the fundamentals. It’s purely a liquidity issue,” Kahn says. Deals already in process are progressing, says Chris Cerimele, senior v.p. at Lincoln International. However, sale processes that were planned or just starting are likely to be delayed until after Labor Day, as buyers and sellers wait for the situation to stabilize. Banks are likely to tighten lending terms going forward, analysts say.
“M&A could be a tale of two cities for each half of the year in 2007,” says Peter Young, president of Young & Partners (New York), an M&A advisory firm. “There are enough announced and completed first-half deals so that 2007 will still be a pretty active year. The second half is going to be tough, however.

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