As a proportion of overall U.S. buyout activity, add-ons have gone from strength to strength. But the latest quarterly numbers have topped them all.
In 1Q 2016, add-ons comprised a staggering 68% of buyouts. And while this percentage will likely decline as the year goes on, it’s still a testament to how PE investment strategies have shifted—particularly in the current environment.
PE firms are engaging in buy-and-build more than ever in order to help position their holdings in the event of an economic slowdown. But there are additional motives, namely the mitigation of initial purchase prices in an expensive climate. There are multiple anecdotes of investors lining up potential add-ons or identifying targets prior to the initial platform buyout, or even not considering deals without clearly defined add-on opportunities.
Granted, adding on is largely a sector-determined trend. For example, one of the primary drivers in add-ons within the healthcare sector has been consolidation in fragmented markets, such as dermatology practices. Accordingly, for 2016 to break the decade-high proporation of 61%, continued activity in such niches will have to continue at a healthy clip.
More generally, as long as competition continues to be fierce and deal multiples relatively elevated, PE firms are likely to target add-on opportunities in the lower middle market, looking for some relief. All in all, it is unlikely that 2016 will take the crown from 2015 in terms of most add-ons ever, but it is probable that the proportion of add-ons will remain at a similarly high level.