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Private dealer groups lead buy-sell activity

The auto dealer buy-sell space continues to flourish, but in recent months, it has been the private dealer groups doing the buying, as activity among the publics has slowed.

Overall, according to the Q2 2022 Haig Report from Haig Partners LLC, there was a 3% year-over-year spike in the number of dealerships sold during the first half of the year — and that’s against a record first half in 2021.

There was a 28% increase in activity among private buyers, Haig reported, but a 62% drop for public groups.

And while they’re still spending more on acquisitions than they were before the pandemic, public groups spent 73% less on purchases than they did a year ago.

“Thanks to high current and expected future profits many dealers and investors are looking to acquire dealerships, and therefore, it is still a great time for dealers who might be looking to exit,” Haig Partners president Alan Haig said in a news release.

“That said, we are seeing some indicators that skyrocketing earnings at dealerships may have hit a plateau. The recent financial statements for the publicly traded retailers show their profits per dealership remained flat from Q1,” Haig said.

“What will happen in future quarters is up for debate. It is possible that costs will continue to increase, and margins will fall, followed by lower profits,” he said. “But it's also possible that if supply of new vehicles increases, dealers may make more money since there is still so much pent-up demand that dealers will be able to maintain current margins on higher volume. Either way, our math indicates we will remain in a period of elevated earnings for the next three years or so.”

Over at Kerrigan Advisors, the firm released its Blue Sky Report this week, which found that buy-sells were up 16% year-over-year in the second quarter. For the first half of the year, there were 167 transactions. That means that there have been 406 transactions in the past 12 months (ending June 2022), an all-time record, Kerrigan said

“Today, dealership balance sheets are flush with cash, with current assets nearly double current liabilities, and debt-to-equity is at historically low levels,” said Erin Kerrigan, the firm's founder and managing director, in a news release. “Despite multiple unknown variables facing auto retail, the majority of dealers are looking to redeploy their tremendous cash flow back into the industry they know and love, resulting in more demand than supply of dealerships on the market today.”

The Kerrigan report shows that the first half of the year brought more private buyers into the market, and these buyers represented 91% of franchises acquired

The share of the buy/sell market commanded by top private groups climbed to 23%, versus the public dealer groups’ 9% share, Kerrigan said.

A year ago, the public dealer groups had a 29% share. They may be spending less this year due to “compression” in their stock prices, the firm said.

“As the public retailers’ share of the buy/sell market declined, the largest private dealership groups remained focused on growing through acquisition,” Erin Kerrigan said. “ In fact, the largest private groups increased their share of the buy/sell market to more than double that of the publics.” 

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