Florida M&A Deals Likely Flat in 2011

By Ina Paiva Cordle Icordle@MiamiHerald.com

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Merger-and-acquisition activity in Florida may be flat this year, despite earlier expectations that it would exceed last year’s total.

A boost in Florida’s merger-and-acquisition market may not come this year, while financial institutions are eager to fund deals, local experts said Wednesday.

Across the state, mergers and acquisitions have slowed since the beginning of this year, and although the volume and dollar value of deals previouslywas expected to exceed last year’s totals, the outlook now is that it will likely be flat, said James Cassel, chairman and co-founder of the Miami-based investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter & Co.

Among the reasons: Business valuations are down, and owners are cautiously holding onto their companies unless they have a compelling need to sell, such as a divorce, losing a major customer or pressure from a bank.

“People are still nervous,’’ Cassel told attendees Wednesday morning during a CFO Alliance presentation at the Coral Gables Country Club. “People are feeling better than two or three years ago, but they are still concerned.’’

Yet, at least one company, Miami-based Trivest Partners, has multiple deals in the works. Those rank in the middle market — companies with minimum annual revenue of $20 million and minimum cash flow of $5 million.

Trivest, which currently owns 10 companies, typically holds its investments for an average of 5.5 years. It recently sold one business and is in varying stages of selling three others and buying two more, said Chip Vandenberg, a Trivest partner.

Trivest focuses on founder- and family-owned businesses that are in need of a transition.

“It’s pretty busy for us right now,’’ Vandenberg said after his presentation at the meeting of the CFO Alliance, a nationwide group of finance leaders that started its South Florida chapter two years ago.

Meanwhile, banks are aggressively looking to fund merger-and-acquisition activity, said J. Eric Hartman, Fort Lauderdale-based senior vice president and market executive of corporate banking at PNC.

“The pendulum has swung back,’’ Hartman said.

“Banks are eager to deploy capital to finance M and A activity,’’ he said. “However, for those firms with EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] under $15 million, finding traditional bank financing can still be challenging.’’

The meeting was held in partnership with the University of Miami School of Business Administration. Among those in attendance were corporate chief financial officers, bankers, executives of private equity firms and academicians.

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