A FEATURE EXAMINING THE ROLE OF PRIVATE EQUITY IN THE MANUFACTURING SECTOR.

The new administration’s pro-economic growth agenda has spurred optimism among the investment community, and most agree the coming year is primed for a healthy cadence of deals.

In fact, in a poll BDO conducted in January, 71 percent of fund managers characterized the investment environment as favorable. That represented a 15 percentage point jump from managers who said the same prior to the November election results (56 percent).

While the industry continues to barrel toward innovation, traditional manufacturers of components and parts for a variety of applications—including industrial application and consumer products—continue to garner interest from private equity and strategic buyers.

With trade policy front and center and, if proposals aimed at fortifying domestic manufacturing come to fruition, companies in the sector could be poised to see a much bigger influx in private equity investment.

Given the private nature of most transactions, it is difficult to say whether the following proved to generate good returns for the sellers or smart investments for the buyers, but here are a few transactions that characterize the pace and breadth of activity in recent weeks:

In a deal announced Jan. 4, Graham Partners sold blow molder Western Industries to Michigan-based Speyside Equity Fund. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, reports Plastics News. Speyside, a 12-year-old fund, targets manufacturing businesses in specialty chemicals, food and metal-forming, among others.

Western Industries’ plastics unit, which the company says is home to one of North America’s biggest collections of plastic presses, specializes in large and complex plastics products and components for industrial and consumer end-markets. They also offer assembly, packaging and logistics services.

Gladstone Investment Corporation, a publicly traded business development firm that makes debt and equity investments, has announced plans to sell its equity interest and the prepayment of its debt investment in Behrens Manufacturing to Mill City Capital, a producer of branded metal containers. Gladstone, which acquired Behrens in 2013, has seen its shares rally six percent since that announcement on Dec. 19.

Bain Capital Private Equity, meanwhile, has announced it will buy Innocor Inc. from Sun Capital Partners Inc. in a deal set to close in the first quarter of this year, according to The Middle Market. Innocor, a New Jersey-based manufacturer of polyurethane foam products and home furnishings, owns 22 plants and distribution centers across the U.S.

The Middle Market reports that home furnishings manufacturers are the beneficiaries of increased demand tied to an uptick in new home sales. Z Capital Partners’ investment in Twin-Star International and Mattress Firm Holding Corp.’s deal with Sleepy’s are two examples of buyer interest driving deals in this space.

In the food sector, PE Hub reports Charlesbank Capital Partners announced in January the sale of food manufacturer and packaging and supply chain management provider Peacock Foods to Greencore Group plc, an Ireland-based convenience foods producer. Illinois-based Charlesbank focuses on companies in the automation, packaging and processing subsector. The firm operates seven manufacturing facilities.

In December, Platinum Equity completed the acquisition of two Asia-based manufacturing enterprises: Foam Plastics Solutions, a leading maker of protective packaging; and Flow Control Devices, a manufacturer of valves, fittings, sensors and other components, reports PE Hub. The Trump administration’s focus on reshoring American manufacturing, however, could dampen interest in foreign manufacturers in the coming months. This will be a trend for domestic manufacturers to watch as it could add to buy-side demand and drive up valuations for U.S. manufacturing firms.

Future PErspectives: What’s Up Next for Manufacturing Investors

In light of uncertainty around U.S. global trade policy under the new administration, we could see technology companies in particular begin expanding U.S. manufacturing operations, according to Business Insider.

For example, Nikkei reports that Japanese manufacturer Sharp, owned by Foxconn—Apple’s top manufacturing partner—is mulling a screen factory in the U.S. Foxconn is an investor in Softbank’s Vision Fund, which insiders report could be leveraged to purchase technology assets or make a private equity deal.

U.S.-based factories may be subject to increased costs due to higher labor costs and reliance on Asian parts suppliers. If tech darling Apple begins increasing its manufacturing footprint in the U.S., other companies could follow suit. This trend would likely lead to more private equity dollars investing in the domestic technology sector.

Sources: PE Hub, Benchmark Monitor, Plastics News, Pittsburgh Business Times, The Middle Market, Business Insider, Nikkei

This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Manufacturing Output” newsletter (Winter 2017). Copyright © 2017 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved.www.bdo.com