2016 was a strong year for the industrial distribution market. Deal volume for the year finished only 7% below 2015, which was the peak of an impressive six year stretch of industrial distribution M&A activity that compounded 11.6% annually during that time. The fourth quarter, in particular, saw a resurgence in M&A activity, with the number of industrial distribution deals increasing 8.2% over the same period last year. Public EBITDA valuation multiples in the space increased as well, consistent with the broader equity markets, improving approximately a full turn since the end of the third quarter.
The macroeconomic environment in Q4 2016 showed some positive signs of recovery. New housing permits for Q4 increased 4.6% quarter-over-quarter, and housing starts increased 6.2% on the same basis. The Institute for Supply Management’s Production Index is at its highest point in two years (a rating of 60.3), and its Purchasing Manager Index rose 3.2 points to finish at 54.7, both indicating expansion. The Chicago Fed Midwest Economy Index, which measures growth in nonfarm business activity, also improved, closing at (1%) at year-end versus (7.9%) at the close of September.
The positive outlook in Q4 was felt beyond an improvement in economic statistics. Several large industrial distributors indicated optimistic outlooks during recent quarterly earnings calls, and revenue was up this quarter for some prominent manufacturers and wholesalers, including Honeywell, Stanley Black & Decker, Praxair, and Rockwell Automation. Additionally, a January survey by PwC indicated that 85% of manufacturers polled expect positive growth in 2017. This renewed economic activity bodes well for the M&A market, where large players made bold announcements in Q4, including Praxair’s $30 billion agreement to merge with Linde, which is awaiting regulatory approval, and HD Supply declaring it is gauging potential suitors.
Read Industrial Distributor M&A Pulse Q4 2016 Full Report