Mergers and acquisitions within the packaging industry are ever-increasing, newly released date shows.
The first half of 2018 saw continued high levels of M&A, with 183 transactions completed in the first half of the year according to the data from global investment banking and asset management firm Alantra. This follows a record year for packaging deals in 2017.
The growth of the global economy has provided a positive backdrop, while macro trends including the rise of on-the-go food packaging, sustainable packaging and online retail has offered businesses expansion and new market opportunities.
Mark Wilson, a partner in the UK advisory business of Alantra and adviser to the packaging sector, said: “The high valuations paid by strategic buyers for market-leading assets will not abate any time soon. Vendors will, however, need to consider very carefully how they can maximise value from a sale process, especially when their business spans diverse products, geographies and end markets. We are seeing an increasing trend whereby standalone divisions in multi-site groups are sold to completely different acquirers.”
He said there has been substantial consolidation in the paper and board market, with the largest three players in Europe all reinforcing their market-leading positions. DS Smith acquired Europac in Spain for €1.7bn at a 10x EBITDA multiple, Smurfit Kappa acquired Reparenco in the Netherlands for €460m, and SAICA acquired Emin Leydier in France.
While European companies have historically struggled to win auction processes in the US, DS Smith successfully acquired Corrugated Container Corporation, a US recycled paper packaging manufacturer.
US players are looking to Europe for expansion, with International Paper making an ultimately unsuccessful €8.6bn bid for Smurfit Kappa.
Investors are increasingly considering separate sale processes for different business segments. The lack of synergies within the flexible packaging industry due to localised supply, a lack of pan-regional sales opportunities or variation in products and technology can impact economies of scale. As a result, maximising returns through the sale of standalone assets is becoming a more viable strategy. The break-up of Coveris by investor Sun Capital is a key example: Coveris Americas, acquired by Transcontinental in a transformative $1.3bn acquisition in April 2018, Coveris Rigids and Coveris Flexibles Europe (rumoured to be further split between the UK and Continental Europe) are all separately run processes. Similarly, Egeria’s Clondalkin business has been shedding non-core assets in separate sales, including its Florida business to ProAmpac last year and its European confectionary and tea businesses to Schur Flexibles in February 2018.
Platform acquisitions continue
Platform acquisitions by private equity investors continue to be popular due to the packaging industry’s stability and non-cyclical nature. Strong returns have ensured reinvestment by private equity firms which have previously exited the market. Platinum Capital, formerly involved with Contego, MacTac and BWAY, as well as equipment supplier Husky, have re- entered the market with the $360m acquisition of WS Packaging from J.W. Childs.
Packaging niches in favour with private equity
Private equity is showing strong interest in packaging businesses operating in niche, but growing and stable market sub-segments. The PET bottle market, with predictable bottom-lines and growth opportunities through long-term macro trends such as the increased consumption of bottled water, is seeing strong M&A activity. PE investors such as GED (acquisition of Envases Soplados in Spain), Nexus (Intercorp’s bolt-on acquisition of Sinea in Peru), Progressio SGR (Garda Plast’s bolt-on acquisition of I.F.A.P in Italy) and DeA Capital (CDS’s bolt-on acquisition of Inplast in Italy) have all been active in the market in H1 2018, demonstrating the value to investors of a market that has consolidation potential.