Sunshine and Showers - A Year-End Perspective for Businesses in Northern Ireland

insight featured image
As 2021 drew to a close and we looked back at the headlines over the previous 12 months, ‘Covid-19,’ and ‘Brexit’ continued to dominate – two words that I had hoped we could have left behind in the history books.

Despite the challenges that these events have brought, there have also been many opportunities. In Northern Ireland deal volume was up 40%, and deal value up by 397%, against last year. Contributing to that, was the £775m acquisition of Euro Auctions by Canadian company Ritchie Bros; this is the second largest acquisition ever in NI, with the deal due to transact at a reported 15 times EBITDA multiple.

In the context of so much economic uncertainty, what has been driving this activity?

There is a significant level of pent-up demand, with Private Equity firms highly active in the market as they seek to capitalise on opportunities. This is being supported by the availability of cash, with local banks reporting a substantial increase in deposits.

The expanding level of deal activity, despite Covid-19 and Brexit, has made this a seller’s market, with strong assets securing high valuations. With tax changes to business asset disposal relief likely at some stage, and more and more business owners seeking to exit and take cash off the table, there is a real prospect that deal volumes will continue to increase into 2022.

Whilst this points to ongoing positivity, the challenges are never far away, with labour shortages, supply chain disruption, price inflation, and the arrival of the Omicron variant leading to an incomplete recovery, which remains contorted by sectoral and regional imbalances.

Travel, hospitality, and retail will continue to face difficulties in 2022, but many other sectors could equally be added to that list. Although Government support measures, record liquidity, and the vaccine rollout have helped prevent economic collapse, there is a bumpy ride ahead for those sectors struggling to get back to profitability. The anticipated level of business restructurings may not yet have materialised to the extent the market predicted, but it is likely that they are not far around the corner.

Although the storm clouds are starting to build on the horizon for some, there is no doubt that the resilience and creativity of NI businesses operating in the face of adversity will continue to shine through, with many more success stories anticipated in the New Year ahead.