Dec 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

The revival of retail deals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Before the pandemic, the retail sector was more known for bankruptcies than for blockbuster M&A deals or high-profile leveraged buyouts.

  • Not anymore: 2021’s global retail M&A volume reached $227 billion as of Dec. 16, a year-over-year increase of 59%. That nearly keeps up with the broader increase of about 64% across all industries, according to data provided by Refinitiv.

Why it matters: The pandemic may have decimated retail foot traffic, but ecommerce is alive and well. And amid an overall shift in consumer spending, to goods from services, retail sales have skyrocketed to new heights this year.

Bankers say to stay tuned for more turbo-charged retail deal volume in 2022.

  • Yes, but: In the near-term we may see a pause in some auction processes — as bidders evaluate concerns tied supply chains or the emerging Omicron variant, Kenneth Rosen, partner at Lowenstein Sandler, tells Axios.

By the numbers: Private equity activity in consumer retail totaled about $13.7 billion during the first three quarters of 2021, which outstrips each of the last three full years.

  • Valuations for retail deals increased to an average of a 12x multiple of earnings in 2021, compared to a stagnant 11x over the past three years (though industries such as tech, healthcare, consumer products and media saw bigger jumps), data from Bain & Co. show.

The big picture: "One of the dynamics that is absolutely impacting M&A activity is one of the most active IPO markets in my history of covering the sector," Adam Rifkin, senior managing director at Guggenheim Securities, tells Axios.

  • That's caused more competition for deals, and contributed to high valuations, he says.

What's next: The need for supply chain resiliency could drive M&A, especially among middle market companies pushing for scale, says Sean Daugherty, senior managing director at Guggenheim.

  • "There is a heavy focus on services, infrastructure and logistics to support retailers," adds David Shiffman, co-head of Solomon Partners' global consumer retail group.

The bottom line: "We believe 2022 should eclipse 2021," Shiffman says.

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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to attribute data to Bain & Co. (not Bain Capital).

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