Stock Sale VS Asset Sale

Not All Sales Are Created Equal: Stock Sale vs Asset Sale 

The best-sellers are informed sellers. Knowing your options and what they entail before they require you to act is both smart and efficient. It will save you time and headaches when the moment arrives to have a mental image in mind of what each separate transactional avenue – the stock sale vs asset sale – could mean for your business, for you, and for your buyer. 

In a stock sale, all the items on the books of a company and all existing contractual agreements are left untouched. From asset amortization to zero-layoff policies, this type of sale is merely a matter of moving all the equity to a new owner while the entity itself remains just as before. 

An asset sale, on the other hand, requires the itemization of all assets of the business followed by a transfer of the assets to a buyer’s new company that will then be the new owner of these current assets. The typical assets this will include are licenses, goodwill and equipment, above all. Typically, an asset sale will be cash-free and also debt-free, retaining the debt obligations in the existing entity. 

Lock, Stock, and Barrel

The stock purchase option means going all in – all current assets and liabilities included. While the asset sale will enable a buyer to take a buffet approach, the stock purchase is very much the fixed menu, wine pairing included. That usually makes for the more straightforward deal, even if it can entail additional due diligence since no itemization takes place that would exclude certain assets from consideration. In other words, the stock sale has the advantage of bypassing the time-consuming re-evaluations and reassignments of a potentially long list of assets to be transferred. However, in most cases, this process is worth the effort for a buyer and trumps the stock sale. Here’s why.  

Stock Sale vs Asset Sale: Goodwill Hunting

Buyers are keen on individual assets because they get to mark up assets in line with their fair market value once they have been transferred. This enables a buyer to depreciate them again as opposed to acquiring their existing depreciation on the books when purchasing equity. In addition, buyers can gain a significant tax advantage from year one in an asset sale by amortizing goodwill – the value paid in excess of the cost of tangible assets. So, while goodwill is not tax-deductible in a stock sale, it can be tax-amortized over 15 years in an asset sale. Particularly in the agency space, where businesses thrive on intangibles such as client lists, this can make all the difference on the books of a new entity. 

Limited Liability?

The upsides of selective asset purchasing while skillfully transposing these onto a buyer’s books may make the asset sale appear more seamless than it actually is. In reality, things can get choppy even when the transfer of liabilities is kept in check. Existing contracts moving to a new entity will likely need to be renegotiated, for example. This can apply to client contracts as much as it can apply to employment agreements. So, while the liabilities on the books may seem manageable, business continuity itself may come into question more easily with an asset sale. It’s also worth remembering, from a seller’s perspective, that since unpurchased assets and liabilities don’t just disappear, a seller will be left to clear these, over time. 

Getting Your Assets in Gear

When it comes to stock sale vs asset sale, generally speaking, sellers want to sell stock and buyers want to buy assets. Avoiding costly backtracking that can also reduce credibility when negotiating can be accomplished by getting a head start on what’s to come. Getting divergent interests aligned and making a seller aware of the scenarios at play is part of the job of a seasoned M&A expert. Ultimately, understanding the consequences of each sale option before putting a deal together will help ensure a smoother transaction and line up a win-win outcome. Knowing your asset sale from your stock sale will also allow you to ready your accounting and ensure you get things done by the book. 

 


Here's Why You Should Consider Phantom Equity When Selling Your Agency

The Very Real Promise of Phantom Equity

The terminology may frighten some away. But phantom equity, especially when it comes to selling your agency, has the potential to breathe new life into your agency. The upsides are well worth taking the time to ensure that phantom equity is anything but elusive to you. Make phantom equity work to your advantage by using it as the adhesive that binds essential human capital to your agency long-term, especially post-sale, promising profit shares in return.   

What Is Phantom Equity and Why Does It Matter When Selling Your Agency?

Phantom equity is both equity and not equity. It offers the benefits of company stock without actually issuing any. Known also as “phantom stock” or “virtual shares”, they offer deferred compensation in line with company performance much like actual stock would. And much like actual stock, this equity will vest over time and according to an agreed schedule. However, unlike actual stock, phantom equity never offers the opportunity to exercise a voting right; they are financial-only. This means holders of phantom equity don’t sit on the cap table, carry no liability and, as such, pose practically no added legal requirements or costs to get set up as phantom stockholders.

Should I Take Advantage of Phantom Equity When Selling My Agency? 

If you are considering selling your agency and you’re an owner who is looking to stay on long-term, phantom equity makes perfect sense. Phantom equity ensures that a founder – or any other essential team member for that matter – stays on, stays committed and stays a part of the continued growth story even after a sale and post-sale transition period have been completed. Offering phantom stock in the business post-transaction offers an objective guarantee, aligning buyer and seller incentives for continued success. 

After all, human capital is the key component to the business that was just acquired. Keeping the engine room of an agency firing on all cylinders means binding that human capital to the agency’s continuing journey down the growth path. Especially when the agency is a smaller business – approximately 15 people or fewer – the value of each team member tends to be magnified. Binding essential team members to the long-run success can be a sure-fire win-win.  

When Does it Make Sense to Avoid Phantom Equity? 

If you are looking at selling your agency but do not plan to stick around for the long haul once your agency has been sold, then phantom equity may not be for you. Even a full year of commitment post-sale is not in alignment with the purpose and likely vesting schedule of phantom equity. Generally speaking, it takes a minimum of a three-year commitment for phantom equity to really begin to pay off.

In addition, if a buyer only wants to incentivize team members that stick around for an agreed minimum period that extends beyond the start of the vesting schedule, they may want to consider a cash bonus plan instead. The reason here is that these are generally forfeited altogether when an employee leaves whereas the vested phantom equity could mean having to pay out somebody who left sooner than a buyer might have liked. 

The Bottom Line

The initial post-sale transition period of, on average, 90 days is tied into every deal. What happens beyond that is down to the interests and alignment of seller and buyer. If the interest is there for a seller to stay on board long-term and keep reaping the benefits of an agency’s ongoing growth story, the direct path to participating in the profits to come, is phantom equity.