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.