Leveraged Buyouts (LBOs)

Leveraged buyouts (LBOs) are also called “bootstrap” transactions or highly-leveraged transactions (HLT). It occurs when a lot of debt, which is also referred to as leverage or borrowing, is used to acquire an organization or controlling percentage of shares of the organisation. As much as 90% or more of debt is used to finance a leveraged buyout.

The assets of the target company are typically used as collateral to finance the merger. Leveraged buyouts often involve situations when a public company is taken private. LBOs are examples of financial mergers.

Due to the nature of the acquisition, certain organizations are especially attractive candidates for leveraged buyouts. Such characteristics include under priced stock, healthy liquidity position, low debt level, inefficient current management of the organization which can be rectified by the new owners, consistent stable earnings of the target company, strong cash flow or the possibility of stronger cash-flows and a good position within the industry and availability of assets to account for sufficient collateral.

Repurchase of stock is sometimes undertaken by companies to decrease attractiveness of the company as a leveraged buyout target. Takeovers can be attractive due to a company’s liquidity position. If a company has a lot of cash, it can be used to cover all or part of the debt undertaken to finance the acquisition. By using available cash to repurchase stock, a firm decreases its attractiveness as a takeover target. Moreover, repurchase of shares increases the price per share which makes takeover more expensive.

Another strategy that management of the target company may use to protect itself against hostile takeover via leveraged buyout is defensive acquisition. The purpose of such an action is for the target company to make itself less attractive to the acquiring company. In such situations, the target company will acquire another company as a defensive acquisition and finance such an acquisition through debt. Due to increased debt of the target company, the acquiring company, which previously planned the hostile takeover, may lose interest in acquiring a highly leveraged target company. Before a defensive acquisition is undertaken, it is important to make sure that such action is better for shareholders’ wealth than a merger with acquiring company which pursues hostile takeover.

The nature of leveraged buyouts changed over the last 30 years. Whereas before, LBOs were mostly used to finance hostile takeovers, currently leveraged buyouts are predominantly used to finance management buyouts.