Home / Financial News / Low loonie luring foreign buyers, but an M&A boom in Canada may prove elusive

Low loonie luring foreign buyers, but an M&A boom in Canada may prove elusive

A low loonie is attracting foreign companies to Canada, but buyers might not necessarily like what they find here, say dealmakers.

Canadian companies are eager to make deals and international companies are looking to buy in a low-loonie environment, but don’t expect that to result in a wave of acquisitions this season.

A decline of more than 30 per cent within the exchange rate from the Canadian dollar from the greenback makes it much cheaper for American firms to scoop up their northern counterparts, as Lowe’s Cos Inc. did now with Quebec-based Rona Inc. Those familiar with deal activity say there’s been a noticeable uptick in American firms shopping around for opportunities in Canada.

The interested buyers vary from strategics to personal equity players, with many primarily thinking about companies away from resource space.

“Recently we’ve seen a greater proportion of mid-tier U.S private equity investors within the Canadian marketplace, our sense is they’re searching for their traditional private targets,” said Doug Jenkinson, a partner in Ernst & Young’s transaction advisory services practice in Canada.

This week already saw a high profile deal with the $3.2-billion purchase of home-improvement retailer Rona  U.S.-based Lowe’s. Other deals previously month incorporate a merger between Canadian waste management company Progressive Waste Solutions and Texas company, Waste Connections.

There is buzz within the Canadian market that buyers are kicking the tires of companies as a low loonie makes the deals much more enticing, says Barry Schwartz, chief investment officer at Baskin Wealth Management.

“I can tell you which i have numerous clients that are saying they’re working on private deals of U.S. and foreign acquisitions,” he explained. “There’s lots of cash searching for a home. A forward-looking company, whether public use or private, will see there’s going to be opportunities in Canada at this time. You need to assume that many publicly-traded companies within the U.S. and elsewhere are contemplating deals in Canada.”

The interest goes both ways. Jenkinson of Ernst & Young says that recent research by his firm, set to be officially released in a few days, shows that 56 per cent of Canadian firms surveyed are intending to sell non-core assets in the next two years, a notably higher number compared to 49 percent figure for global companies.

For foreign buyers, besides the exchange rate make buying attractive, but equity valuations have fallen to multi-year lows for a lot of companies. Canadian stocks dripped into a bear market recently (defined as a drop of 20 percent or more from the recent high), using the the S&P/TSX Composite Index now trading at a 2016 forward price-to-earnings ratio of 15.4, compared with more than 20.0 last year.

Finding a deal, however may prove more elusive. Interest does not necessarily mean a coming rise in mergers and acquisitions this year.

“The issue is there’s not too many options just because a large amount of our great Canadian names are voting shares, owner operated,” Schwartz said. “They’d really have to obtain a spectacular offer to even contemplate being purchased, because you quit equity for cash, now you got this cash, and you’ve got to pay for a bunch of capital gains unless they go for equity within the new company.”

Two of the most beaten down sectors, energy and mining, meanwhile, are unlikely to determine much buyer interest. While they offer foreign firms some the steepest discounts, Jenkinson asserted he’s seeing fewer prospective buyers looking around for energy deals. 

Schwartz said that if activity does pick up in that space, he sees it coming from private equity finance players looking for the assets of bankrupt companies.

Other complications that may put a lid around the quantity of deals this season range from the fact that some of the more appealing names that foreign buyers might be interested in – Telus Corp. and Canadian National Railway Co., for example, says Schwartz – are deemed to become strategic assets through the Canadian government and never for sale.

American firms can also be turned off if they accept many economists the loonie will stay weak against the U.S. dollar for an extended period of time. While a preliminary purchase might be cheaper for foreign buyers, repatriated earnings from Canadian operations may also be worth less as long as the loonie remains low.  

“There’s always prospective buyers on the prowl, however i wouldn’t anticipate seeing a big upswing in foreign takeovers this season,” said David Madani, senior Canadian economist at Capital Economics.

He added that, while many information mill trading at low valuations, trying to determine the real value of Canadian businesses in the current environment can be challenging, that might divide both sides.

“When we’re referring to energy companies for example, no-one can accurately predict what these businesses count right now, because no-one can predict the need for oil three or 5 years down the road,” Madani said. “Yes, in the margin, the stop by the Canadian dollar vis–vis the U.S. dollar makes things more appealing from the foreign investment point of view, but you need to take a look at other bits of the puzzle.”

Financial Post

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