Divestment

Geopolitical uncertainty and anticipated regulatory changes are leading companies to jettison some assets, according to new research by Ernst & Young, even if that means losing value in the process.

The EY Global Corporate Divestment study polled 900 corporate executives and 100 private-equity executives worldwide and found that unpredictable political and business landscapes have been among the top motivations driving companies to divest businesses in recent years. Eighty-two percent of companies surveyed say “macroeconomic volatility” will increase their chances of divesting a business over the next 12 months.

“We are seeing many companies flee geographies because of short-term fears and wind up with suboptimal valuations on their businesses,” said Paul Hammes, global divestment leader at EY.

While the vast majority of global businesses cited geopolitical concerns, companies in the Americas are driven to divest mostly by regulatory changes. Eighty-four percent of respondents in the region say new regulations will be the motivation for divestment decisions over the next year. Technological disruptions (57%) and an unpredictable landscape (56%) are also top factors.

Only three in ten companies in the Americas cited geopolitical uncertainty as the reason for their last major divestment.

European, Middle Eastern, and African (EMEA) companies, on the other hand, are far more concerned with the geopolitical landscape. Eighty-one percent of respondents say regional political uncertainty will drive divestments in those regions, while 73% specifically cited Brexit as a top issue.

For some companies, the rush to divest has led to quicker sales at far lower sale prices, according to the study.

“In many cases, we are observing impulsive divestment decisions by companies feeling pressured by external factors to take quick action, often at the cost of realizing maximum value,” said Steve Krouskos, global vice chair at EY.

Many EMEA companies actually prioritized speed of sale over the total value gained. Forty-three percent of those companies surveyed say closing the deal quickly was more important than gaining value. Only 18% of companies in the Americas agreed.

“The impact of speed on sale price is significant, and should motivate companies to be strategic and measured by prioritizing value when navigating a sale process,” Krouskos said.

As a result of the hasty negotiations, far fewer EMEA companies say they are satisfied with their overall divestments than do companies in other regions. For example, 62% of EMEA companies say their divestment created long-term value compared with 88% in the Americas region.

So, what are companies doing with the cash generated by divesting a business? Investing in technology. Just under half of executives (49%) say their planning to invest in more agile technology platforms, like digital supply chains, artificial intelligence, and robotics, to cut down on operating costs and boost bottom lines.

Almost half (43%) of responding companies say they are planning to divest a business in the next two years.

The Global Corporate Divestment study was conducted between October and December 2016.

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