PhillyDeals: Accolade for a big name in midsize business news

by Joseph N. DiStefano
Philly.com / The Philadelphia Inquirer

Inquirer All the big business-news services – Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg — got started by listing bond or stock prices for the investors of the day.

As “private-equity” markets took off in the mid-2000s, two Philadelphia investment bankers – Andrew T. Greenberg, managing director of Fairmount Partners and a long-ago aide to the late Gov. Bob Casey, and B. Graeme Frazier IV, now of Private Capital Research LLC — set up GF Data Resources to track “mid-market” company prices in deals across the United States.

They shine light on obscure deals for firms that were sold for $10 million to $250 million. They’ve collected price, debt, revenue, profit, and growth data on more than 2,000 private-equity sales.

GF’s benchmark status last week earned Greenberg, the venture’s managing partner, the “Thought Leader of the Year” award from the Alliance of Merger and Acquisition Advisors at its winter conclave in Scottsdale, Ariz. GF has amassed “reliable data [that] just isn’t available to middle-market M&A professionals anywhere else,” said the association’s founder, Michael Nall.

“We use [Greenberg’s] data. I’ve found it to be reliable and much more meaningful,” said Richard Jaffe, cohead of the private-equity practice at law firm Duane Morris L.L.P. While deal-trackers like Capital IQ (now part of Standard & Poor’s), Preqin, and PitchBook have data on bigger deals, GF “gives us close to real-time data on market rates. That’s critical to advising clients and to structuring and competing for deals,” and helps find “credible” prices.

What do their data tell investors? Greenberg and Frazier submitted their approach to Professional Private Equity Digest last year. According to their summary:

An average-performing business, with management that can be expected to stay in place after the sale, can expect a sale price of about 5.1 times its annual profits (measured as earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization).

If it’s a health-care business or in another hot, high-demand sector, add an additional 1.2 times earnings.

If it’s a “high-quality” business, with both earnings growth and revenue growth averaging 10 percent or better, add an additional 0.7 times earnings.

If it’s a relatively larger ($100-million-plus annual sales), well-established business within the mid-market sector, add up to an extra 1 times earnings.

An “X factor” or statistical margin of up to 0.2 times earnings that does not easily reduce to common factors may be the added price premium needed to get the sellers to the table. For example: a growing, profitable, relatively large medical-device business may fetch a price up to nine times earnings, while a modestly profitable but slow-growing machine shop or warehouse-and-trucking hub collects closer to five times earnings.

Jaffe said GF’s data have been eye-openers for bankers that before relied on asking prices rather than aggregated sale prices and ratios.

Greenberg said the model works well with manufacturing, business-services and distribution firms, as well as health-care firms, but he also cautioned the model doesn’t work so well for specialized sectors “with funky valuations of their own.”

GF provides useful news in its sector, but Greenberg and Frazier are keeping their day jobs as dealmakers.

“Running GF Data has made us sharper deal practitioners,” Greenberg said. “Our being in the trade has continued to benefit the data product by keeping us in harness with our customers.”

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