The following column is from Robert Bender, who is Associate, Investments for W. P. Carey, a GlobeSt.com Thought Leader. The views expressed are the author’s own.
The global M&A market experienced record activity in 2021, topping $5 trillion for the first time as unprecedented dry powder, a low cost of capital and demand for inorganic growth fueled dealmaking. Savvy corporate acquirers and private equity investors looking to jump in on the action have seized the opportunity to use creative financing options that unlock equity, strengthen balance sheets and free up capital for strategic initiatives and additional transactions.
Enter stage right, the sale-leaseback.
In 2021, sale-leaseback volume topped $24 billion, up from nearly $13 billion in 2020. For those interested in joining the growing number of investors and acquirers leveraging sale-leaseback financing alternatives to supplement M&A activity, here’s what you need to know.
How do you know if a sale-leaseback should be part of an M&A transaction?
There are a couple of key considerations in determining whether to pursue a sale-leaseback as part of an M&A strategy. First, identifying whether or not owned real estate is critical to the pro forma business in the long run. A sale-leaseback is a long-term source of financing, so it’s important that the real estate involved is not only critical to the pro forma entity’s operations, but that the company is comfortable with committing to a meaningful lease term. Just as important is understanding the market’s appetite for the specific real estate and rent cash flow in contrast to the entity’s cost of capital. Tenant credit, facility criticality and quality of the real estate are all factors that contribute to how competitive a sale-leaseback strategy might be against more traditional financing strategies in supporting a transaction.
How do the current inflation levels and the Fed’s rate hike impact M&A volume and attractiveness of sale-leasebacks?
There are certainly some headwinds, with rising rates, the expected tightening of regulation and potential for changes in tax policy all driving a “wait and see” approach for some acquirers. However, activity so far in 2022 is still visible and the recent rate hikes and overall volatility in the debt capital markets make alternatives to traditional debt financing, such as sale-leasebacks, an even more attractive option in funding M&A strategies.
What are the advantages of sale-leasebacks compared to more traditional routes of financing?
There are quite a few advantages to financing via a sale-leaseback: the avoidance of many traditional debt challenges such as a balloon payment or need to refinance at the end of the term, and in some cases, less stringent financial covenants. In addition, many companies also benefit from the flexibility of extension options and operating lease treatment, all without immediately forgoing control of critical real estate or disrupting day-to-day operations. Depending on the buyer, sellers may also gain a long-term capital partner who can work with them far into the future to ensure their real estate continues to meet their evolving business needs.
It’s also important to remember the cost of capital for a real estate investor is often extremely competitive. In some cases, this—coupled with the fact that a real estate investor is better suited for property ownership as it aligns with its core competency—means a real estate investor will buy assets at a higher multiple compared to an M&A target’s valuation, thereby unlocking a value creation opportunity that benefits from the combined operating business and real estate value. In addition, some companies find that by converting illiquid real estate assets into liquid capital at a favorable cost, the pro forma company is able to optimize its cost of capital.
With optimism that M&A activity will remain strong despite the current market headwinds, I anticipate sale-leaseback activity will continue to soar in 2022, particularly as awareness of this valuable financing strategy among private equity investors and corporate owner-occupiers becomes more prevalent. When working with an experienced real estate investor, sale-leasebacks can be a powerful and reliable tool to finance acquisitions and fuel corporate growth.