Research: Few Corporate Spinoffs Deliver Value

Research: Few Corporate Spinoffs Deliver Value

Large companies routinely spin off existing units to become public companies of their own, in an attempt to focus management attention and capture larger multiples in equity markets. An analysis of 350 large spinoffs from 2000 to 2020 reveals the average one creates negligible value. A study of the best-performing separations concludes that to succeed, leaders must create a compelling separation thesis, one that consists of four parts: an equity story, target financials, an asset perimeter, and program design.

Barely a month goes by without a major company announcing that it is breaking up its business into spun-out public companies. Kellogg, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, General Electricand IBM all recently made such announcements. While it is too soon to predict the effectiveness of any single recently announced deal, this intensified focus on separations raises some critical questions about the value created from a spin-off. What is it that these companies are hoping to achieve? What challenges will they face? How will they create shareholder value in light of these challenges?

We analyzed more than 350 public spin-offs valued at greater than $1 billion between 2000 and 2020. The most unexpected thing we learned was that 50% of companies pursuing a separation fail to create any new shareholder value two years down the road, and 25% destroy a significant amount of shareholder value in the process. This happens despite their stated intentions to create value through greater management focus, additional growth opportunities, targeted capital allocation, and investment profiles that match a more specific investor base.

The evidence is overwhelming. Among the companies in our study, the average separation delivered as little as a 5% increase in combined market cap two years after spinning off. The range of performance was significant. Companies in the bottom quartile completed separations that actually destroyed value by as much as 50% of the combined market cap.

At the same time, while most companies saw little for their efforts, top-quartile separations performed exceptionally well, with 75% higher combined market cap two years after the separation. Think of the experience of industrial company Arconic, which spun off Howmet Aerospace in April 2020. Fifteen months later the combined market cap of both companies had risen by more than 150%. Or consider Baxter’s spin-off of Baxalta in 2015, in which combined market cap rose by 30% in one year before Baxalta was acquired by Shire.

The huge disparity in performance between winners and losers led us to focus our research on what leading companies do that results in such dramatic outperformance—as well as on the missteps that trip up other companies.

What we see is that many companies doom their separations from the start with a faulty premise. They assume the mere act of spinning off a business is sufficient to achieve a higher multiple, and they define success shortsightedly as getting to day one as fast as possible. In fact, investors know there are sometimes significant dis-synergies and one-time costs from breaking up. They want to see that the profit-and-loss (P&L) shape, operating model, and growth trajectory of one or both entities are great enough to offset those costs and sufficiently different enough from past performance to warrant a higher multiple.

Some companies already run separate operations, with no shared functions and systems, and can break apart easily and relatively quickly. Most companies, however, face a high level of entanglement across support functions and even operations. Untangling can take several months to several years and often includes service agreements of varying durations. In addition, the complex regulatory and legal requirements make the process even more complex.

Why do top-quartile separations deliver so much more value?

Top-quartile companies focus on what matters most. They start with a clear point of view of what the go-forward equity story and P&Ls need to be, design the future organization to enable that, and then build separation and transformation plans. The very best performing separations have a strong point of view on these items before they even announce publicly that they are going to separate.

More than anything else, it is a well-crafted separation thesis that helps them to focus and provides a roadmap to value creation. In our study, we found that the existence of a clear and robust separation thesis was the single-biggest difference between top-quartile and bottom-quartile separations.

In the best situations, the thesis serves as the primary input to the board’s decision to separate. It spells out how the strategic and financial benefits outweigh the one-time costs, dis-synergies, stranded costs, and distraction to the base business.

There are four components to the separation thesis: equity story, target financials, asset perimeter, and program design. We’ll look at them one by one.

Equity story

The heart of the separation thesis, the equity thesis articulates the value that each company will create as a standalone entity, including growth trajectory and margin profile, compared with its new competitive set. It also provides the opportunity to reset what metrics are important going forward. A well-defined equity story sets the ambition (e.g., annual growth of x%, EBITDA profile of y%) and lays the groundwork to achieve it (e.g., expansion into specific categories/geographies, cost cutting in specific functions to enable reinvestment into specific areas).

Consider the case of a recent manufacturing company that used its internal equity story to set clear post–spin-off revenue growth and EBITDA targets for year one and year four. These were each backed up with specific activities to enable the company to reach those targets. The company then set up priority projects in line with the high-value activities. These projects ran alongside the separation program to deliver the needed changes to the business by day one.

Target financials

Creating target financials involves asking two questions:

  • What are the standalone financials of the business today after we add dis-synergies?
  • What should our P&L look like in three years?

Once those two questions are answered, top-quartile separations assess the gap, define the set of initiatives required to close the gap, and then identify which initiatives need to be executed before spinning off, which can be in flight at spin-off, and which should be executed after spin-off. When healthcare company Baxter separated Baxalta, its biopharma business, the separation program focused on establishing the right cost structure for each business early on. Baxter set selling, general, and administrative expense efficiency targets, while Baxalta increased R&D and sales and marketing as a percentage of revenue. Baxalta traded at a significant premium after separation, and Baxter saw an increase in share price and free cash flow.

Asset perimeter

The asset perimeter is the detailed boundary of the business to be separated. It is important to draw this boundary across several major categories: people, assets, systems, and IP/contracts. Drawing the asset perimeter early on allows critical entanglements to be identified. It also creates a picture of where dis-synergies are most likely and where critical decisions are needed between sign and close. It is not uncommon for the asset perimeter to gradually evolve over time as the new company’s P&Ls take shape.

Kraft and Mondelēz set the standard for this back in 2011. Despite activist pressure for a pure split of the grocery and snacking businesses globally, the company designed an asset perimeter with a regional focus. North America was split into grocery and snacks, and everything outside North America went to snacks. This made separation less expensive, reduced dis-synergies, enabled the split to happen in just over a year, and ensured no de-scaling of smaller markets.

Program design

Once the other three elements are defined, a team can begin to identify how the separation thesis impacts the separation transaction itself.

What timeline is needed to execute the separation and make some meaningful changes in each business? What are the critical decisions around asset perimeter and entanglements that will require senior leadership bandwidth? What will be the ongoing relationship between the entities post spin-off with transition service agreements and commercial agreements, for example? What approaches will they take toward mitigating corporate/stranded costs? Answering each of these questions will provide critical inputs into the transaction process and structure.

The separation thesis becomes the answer key to the questions regarding how a spin-off should create value and how to plan the actual separation process. It helps senior leadership focus on the decisions that will drive the greatest value and highlights the operational implications for both companies. Understanding the extent of P&L changes and the level of complexity around the asset perimeter enables the company to set a realistic timeline to day one.

Ultimately, the separation thesis creates an exciting picture of the future of each standalone business — one that can inspire employees and shareholders alike at a time that otherwise can so easily fall prey to confusion, discontent, and disappointing results.

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