The Acquisition and Leveraged Finance Review: Editor's Preface
It is fair to say that the acquisition and leveraged finance industry has shown resilience in relation to the difficult global situation arising from the covid-19 pandemic, particularly in comparison to the previous global crisis in 2008. Generally speaking, while in the first semester of 2020 the deal flow slowed as a result of covid-19 as private equity (PE) houses were forced to shift their focus onto already existing portfolios, there was a noteworthy increase in the acquisition and leveraged market activity in the second semester, predominantly in the last quarter. The following defensive industries have demonstrated their ability to withstand the covid-19 crisis: pharmaceuticals; bio sanitary; food; technology, media and telecommunications; and logistics, among others.
Covid-19 vaccines are providing confidence to market players, therefore facilitating the ability to agree on valuations, and also reducing gaps between the expectations of both seller and buyer. The result is more mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. Besides, it is reasonable to expect that the emergency measures taken by governments worldwide to address the hardships caused by covid-19 (such as state aid measures or public restrictions regarding foreign direct investment) will gradually be removed. This should, in principle, also lead to more deal flow in the M&A sector.
We are currently witnessing fierce competition in the acquisition and leveraged finance market due to the following factors: (1) an abundance of liquidity (perhaps even more than the previous year since some PE houses now hold additional 'dry powder' that was allocated to 2020 but which they could not use because of covid-19); (2) a low-interest-rate environment, which is likely to persist for several years; and (3) the fact that US investors are increasingly entering EU markets seeking a higher yield, and vice versa.
The above is, in turn, resulting in more flexible terms for sponsors. It is also helping to consolidate the trend on convergence between both high-yield structures and loan structures and US and European markets in the world's most sophisticated financial hubs. Once again, this means that careful and thoughtful monitoring of domestic circumstances is imperative.
Finally, as indicated by the European Leveraged Finance Association, it is worth remarking that 'the leveraged finance market is undergoing a seismic shift in approach to ESG [environmental, social and governance] and sustainability'. Indeed, ESG has emerged dramatically in the acquisition and leveraged finance industry as evidenced by the blossoming of loans and bonds linked to sustainability in 2021. Terms will continue to unfold as market players intend to develop broadly ESG terms that go beyond pricing considerations. To this end, transparency will be a key factor in the success of the cross-border expansion tied to this nascent trend.
Many thanks to everybody who has participated in this publication, and a special thank you to Law Business Research.
We sincerely hope that this edition of The Acquisition and Leveraged Finance Review will be of assistance to you in this challenging era.
Fernando Colomina Nebreda
Latham & Watkins