Category Archives: Auctions

A Time to be Bought, a Time to Die

By Lloyd Graff

It seems like it’s the season for a lot of machining businesses to be selling out or auctioned off. I have worked as an advisor on some of these situations as well, so I have had an inside look at buyers and sellers contorting to get a deal done on an operating business. Selling a job shop as a going concern is really tough unless it is a big and growing business, blessed with depth of management and ownership that is clear about what it wants and decisive when an appropriate buyer materializes. Having a limited debt also helps because it keeps lenders out of the negotiations.

There are buyers constantly looking for deals for attractive firms. Often these sellers are businesses that have already been sold before.

A company I am familiar with near Chicago in the screw machine business started more than 60 years ago with three old Davenport multi-spindles. They may still have those Davenports, along with 100 other ones rebuilt several times, as well as Acmes and New Britains, even a few Brown and Sharpes. They have bought out many small players along the way, been highly disciplined on capital equipment purchases, built up a factory in Mexico, diversified their locations, avoided unions, and consistently rewarded their private equity owners. Their reward—being sold every five to eight years to a new private equity company that can take advantage of fresh depreciation to shelter cash flow.

For better or worse, this is the game for profitable job shops these days because private equity firms are decisive and clear about what they are looking for. For profitable businesses over $10 or $15 million in sales, private equity firms are usually vying against other firms like themselves because most other job shop owners do not have the expertise or banking connections to compete with them for clean, nonproblematic companies.

However, some job shop owners like John Habe IV of Metal Seal Precision in Mentor, Ohio, have decided to challenge the private equity guys on deals that are a little too small for them or that are turn around situations.

John has acquired several turned parts firms, most of them under the radar for private equity firms because they lack profitability or size. But they fit into John’s group of companies. They add value that is greater than potential auction value, or they have extra equipment that can be quickly turned into cash.

John has developed internal talent that can dissect the financials of a target like a private equity firm would do, and he has access to consulting firms to augment his own people. He also has his brothers as partners to run the day-to-day operations of Metal Seal.

Most job shops are not easy turnaround candidates or fertile turf for private equity groups. They usually end up as auction or liquidation situations, often dictated by a lender, but not always.

There are no perfect times to sell or buy a job shop. Often owners wait for a market improvement to build up their free cash flow numbers. Private equity buyers and most other potential buyers usually want to buy a job shop for a multiple of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization). That multiple is usually 3-5 times depending on the buyer’s perception of the company’s strength.

This is not a rule set in stone. Businesses that are breaking even or losing money can be sold if they have some vital ingredient that other companies covet, like people, location, unique customer relationships, or unusual processes or licenses that are hard to duplicate such as nickel plating or FDA approvals. Sometimes a synergy with a company’s customer base enhances the value of a business.

Yet the sale of businesses as going operations is usually a long contorted happening. Lawyers always slow things down with cumbersome contracts which require other lawyers to untangle. Environmental issues often pop up. Family jealousies derail many deals. Often buyers and sellers dislike one another, and emotions count when family businesses are being sold to outsiders.

When you see the auction brochure of a competitor come across your desk it was probably a candidate for a buyout as a going operation at one time. In the end, at least one important missing piece led to its eventual liquidation.

Question: Will the 2020 election affect your business or job?

 

 

 

 

 

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Swarfcast Ep. 6 – The Mind of an Auctioneer with Robert Levy

By Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast interview with Robert Levy.

In today’s podcast we interviewed Robert Levy, longtime industrial auctioneer and owner of Robert Levy Associates, a firm that consults with companies looking to monetize their industrial assets.

Robert joined his family auction business, Norman Levy Associates, in 1980 but only had the opportunity to work with his father for three years. He and his brother continued to grow the company until finally selling it to DoveBid (now GoIndustry DoveBid) in 2000 for $30 million. He stayed on the board of directors at DoveBid but then parted ways four years later, dissatisfied with the direction of the company, which many unhappy former Norman Levy Associates employees had already quit.

At the end of the interview Robert said, “I’ve been in the business 40 years and I’ve been in three companies, and I would still like to be in the one I was at originally.” It was an interesting comment, but my bet is that Robert doesn’t regret his life’s journey from stand to stand.

Robert Levy of Robert Levy Associates, Inc.

Sometimes you have to burn down the old to grow and thrive, and if nothing else just survive. Sometimes the clear choice is to sell out to a competitor or private equity firm. Or, you hire someone like Robert to help liquidate your assets that are not giving you what you need anymore. Then go build something new and great.

You still get to keep your fond memories of the past.

Question: Does bidding in an auction excite you or make you crazy?

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Auction Action

I attended the auction of Caire Medical’s surplus machinery Nov. 4, in Indianapolis. The auctioneer, Asset Sales Inc. of Indian Trail, North Carolina, had a financial interest in the sale. There was an 18% buyer’s premium tacked onto the bid prices. The equipment was superb and the bidding was spirited.

The hottest piece in the sale was a Citizen M32 Type V, new in 2007, with a FMB barloader. The bid price was $262,500 plus 18%, taking it over $300,000. There were (2) M32 Type III machines (new in 2003) which fetched $160,000 and $140,000 plus BP. An A-16 VIP Citizen (new in 2006) sold for $50,000 plus BP.

Two Mori Seiki vertical machining centers (new in 2007) fetched $73,000 each. A similar machine in Seattle three months ago brought 65K. A nine-year-old Tsugami 10 pallet vertical machining center brought $140,000. A Nakamura TW-20, (new in 1992) fetched $95,000, and a similar machine (new in 1995) brought $65,000—don’t know why the difference.

I talked to a lot of people at the sale and a recurring theme was “business is good and I want to get the year end tax break.”

Another reason may be that the Japanese machine tool importers are low on inventory now. With the dollar dropping like a stone verses the yen, there is an expectation of price increases when the new machines come in.

Citizen and Nakamura tooling and accessories were also keenly bid on. One Citizen lot of tooling fetched $9,000. This was particularly interesting because conventional CAT 40 machining center holders brought modest prices.

What I gleaned from this sale is that “cream” machinery is escalating rapidly in price because of strong demand and the desire of successful entrepreneurs to capitalize on the raised expensing tax break in 2010.

Question: Do you think the machinery market will soften after the first of the year?

Citizen M32 Type V from the Caire Medical auction

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Industry Scuttlebutt

I talked to Jim Kucharski, National Sales Manager, of Maier USA, about the health of the company. Maier has made inroads as a new player in the North American CNC Swiss marketplace. It is now pushing in the medical and department of defense markets like the other contenders.

With the total Swiss market around 50 percent of last year, everybody is scrapping hard for business. Maier is a family business according to Kucharski, and son Michael recently bought the company out of reorganization in Germany to take out his father’s interest in the business. The senior Maier is a cancer survivor, but has suffered a recent setback in his health. Business is very soft in Germany with automotive suffering mightily. Michael had been leaning on his father to downsize the firm to meet reduced demand. With son Michael now fully in control the company has downsized the workforce at the German Black Forest plant.

According to Kucharski, Maier is selling machines now and business has stabilized since the reorganization.

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Okuma has a clever new promotion to goose interest in a sleepy market. The company is doing a contest for a two-year free lease of an Okuma machine tool. The winner will be chosen Okuma and will be determined by an essay or video submission explaining why they most need the machine. Go to their Web site for a more complete description of the contest.

I like the idea. It is already generating buzz. They are publicizing it on social media like Facebook and Twitter and will be putting up a sampling of videos on a YouTube channel. The winner will be announced in December. Meanwhile, they will be collecting emails and stories which will be valuable for many years to come, as well as accumulating points for being cool and fun.


Okuma America’s COO Explains Contest

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I’ve been collecting machine tool discounting stories. I recently talked to a West Coast company who said they have bought several Mazaks lately and received 10-15 percent off list. I heard of a 35 percent off sale on a Nakamura lathe last month.

Question: If I was looking to buy a new mainstream CNC lathe in the $150,000 list price range, what is the real price I can expect to pay?

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A CAM Operated Davenport in a CNC World

Last month I wrote an article about the death of Automatic Machining, in which I ended the piece with a reference to the magazine being a CAM operated Davenport in a CNC world.
Bob Brinkman, owner of Davenport, took umbrage at my comment. I am taking a moment to answer him.

Bob,
I love you and I love your product. My father made a lot of money running Davenports in World War II with the assistance of your father, Earl.
But sadly, today, the world of machining tends to look at your and my beloved Davenport automatic as a noisy representative of a bygone era. Right or wrong, the market for used Davenports, the world I live in, is in shambles. My brother Jim, my partner in our used machinery firm, Graff-Pinkert, attended an auction last week in Rhode Island and saw nice, operable, used Davenports with attachments sell for $250 each—and he passed on them. We recently traded our stock of 21 used Davenports for Maglites because we could not find a cash buyer. I know that your machines are still wonderfully productive pieces of equipment, but the market today is telling us bluntly that they are no longer valued by many buyers.

As always, I wish you all the best.

Lloyd

Automatic-machining-cover

Letter from Bob Brinkman

August 11, 2009

Dear Lloyd,

To quote President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”

In your article on the demise of Automatic Machining you imply that Davenport is going the way of Automatic Machining.  “A cam operated magazine (machine) in a CNC world.  The comparison could not be farther from the truth.

In spite of my repeated advice, Wayne Wood could not quite understand that he had to get engaged in the business, develop new perspectives and improve his product.

In comparison, we at Davenport have constantly improved the machine, the parts and our customer service to the point that we are now considered the only alternative for spare parts.  Lower prices, highest quality, and extensive inventory continue to provide our customers with a superior customer experience.  Not only that, our machines continue to produce millions of parts a day because the Davenport is the most economical, efficient and cost effective way to produce these parts.

Sure, CNC has its place and is very effective for many applications.  But the thousands of Davenports running out there prove that the machine is still viable and will continue to be.  Our HP servo driven machines can do many of the things a CNC machine can do at a fraction of the cost.

We intend to continue to support our customers with the best in parts, service, and support.  When I took over in 2003 our motto became, “Davenport, Another 100 Years”.  As the only remaining American made screw machine builder we would appreciate your support instead of your repeated derision.

R. J. Brinkman

Chairman

Davenport Machine

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Industry Scuttlebutt

Hydromat of St. Louis is suffering through a soft spell and has let about 35 people go from its peak employment. But a sign of the times is a fresh notice on the company’s Web site looking for new people.

They need a design engineer, a draftsman and an electrical control integrator.
I also heard through the grapevine that Bruno Schmitter, the head of the company, would like to buy a couple of CNC lathes to make more components in-house.
There is a strong rumor that Pfiffner in Switzerland has a severe cash flow problem and that company founder, Mr. Pfiffner, has infused the firm with a sizable sum of personal cash.

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Tad Yamamoto has been named CEO of Okuma America. He spent 1994 to 2002 in the U.S., then went back to Japan for six years and then spent a year getting reacclimated to the American company. This is not an unusual career path for a top executive of a Japanese multinational company.
By moving back and forth between Japan and the U.S. a Japanese executive keeps his ties and credibility strong in both places. The home Japanese execs keep their confidence that the man still shares the parent company values and the Americans believe that he knows the territory. Larry Schwartz continues as President and COO of Okuma America.

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The glutted screw machine market is going to get even more saturated in September. Niagara Machine Products in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, is being auctioned off by Glenn Gray’s Premier Asset Recovery Group September 16th and 17th. There are 50 multi-spindles including an MS32-C Index and (2) 8 spindle Euroturns to go with 40 Acmes and 60 centerless grinders.
This sale will be followed a week later by a DoveBid sale in Athens, Alabama, with 25 more 8 spindle Acmes and Conomatics.

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Chad Arthur, whose Arthur Machinery was the most dynamic dealer in machine tools in Illinois until his company spiraled into bankruptcy, has resurfaced as exclusive distributor for DMG in Illinois. Chad’s company, CDA Machinery, is based in Elk Grove Village Ill., as was Arthur Machinery. I think this is a good move for DMG because they needed a surge of energy, and few people in the business have more energy than ex-hockey player Chad Arthur when he is truly engaged.

Question:

Which machine tool builder from your experience has the best service?

And, which is more important for customer service, the builder or the distributor? (You can also comment at www.shopdoc.com)

Tad Yamamoto

Tad Yamamoto

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On the Way Up

By Lloyd Graff

June 3rd, and the world looks a lot different than just 30 days ago.
    GM finally did the dirty deed and filed, and the stock market reacted with relief. It appears suppliers are going to get paid from the Feds lending as the reorganization goes forward. BorgWarner stock is up 80 percent from its low and Johnson Controls has also bumped.
    All of the commodities are zooming with copper near $2.30 and ArcelorMittal stock more than double from its yearly low.
    Obviously, the markets are signaling a bottoming of the economy.
    One of the most encouraging aspects of what’s going on is the strength of the California home market. Sales have been improving for existing homes and the unsold overhang is shrinking. Home prices have actually been rising recently. California led us into the housing chaos and it appears to be leading us out. New homebuyers are appearing in Phoenix, Florida and Vegas where syndicates are coming in with speculative bids for cash on multiple units.
    In the real machining world we live in, the signs of a rebound are beginning to show. Hoff-Hilk’s Bystrom sale last week was a winner with Swiss CNC machines, and Gerry Mannion told me that his recent Bosch sale surprised big on the upside. On the other hand, Robert Levy of Hilco says that he remains very conservative after seeing the market for used twin grip Cincy centerless grinders grind to a halt. Presses and multi-spindle screw machines have no pulse right now, and gear equipment is languishing.
    Intrest rates are rising on 10 year U.S. government bonds, the dollar is weak, the big banks have floated $70 billion in stock and are begging to pay back the TARP. Huge money is leaving the sidelines for investments that appear to have upside. Put it all together and it smells like a recovery in the womb, if we can hang in there while inventories gradually rebuild.

Question: Do you feel more upbeat about business now that GM has finally filed?

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One auction in May, the machining world looked brighter

By Lloyd Graff

Auction prices today are very hard to figure. I talked at length with Dennis Hoff of Hoff-Hilk Auctioneers about his May 26 sale at Bystrom Precision, a small CNC shop in Minneapolis. The magnet pieces in the 150 lot sale were three L-20 Citizens, Type VII new in 2000 with Iemca Genius barloaders.

Hoff says he told the client the sale price for each of those machines would be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. The day after a long Memorial Day holiday is a lousy day to do an auction because people are just getting their plants up and running. An hour before closing, the prices were a little above dirt.

Hoff told me that the seller was distraught as he looked at the disappointing numbers on the screen, but suddenly the bidders started waking up. In the last few minutes of bidding, the Citizens spurted from $12,000 to an average of $60,000 for each of the three machines with barfeeds.

The Royal Master centerless grinders brought $15,000 for one and $20,000 for a second, and a one of a kind model went for $5000. Uglier ones sold in Canada a month earlier for $500 each.

There were three small Brother TC31A drilling and tapping machines which sold for an average of $11,000 each.

A Daewoo Lynx 200A turning center fetched $12,000, and a Eurotech 7 axis 420SLL with a 1-3/4” bar capacity new in 1999 brought $33,000.

The weak sisters of the sale were three Nomura CNC Swiss Model NN13-SB, which scored $10,000 bids, with Fedek loaders hitting around $2000.

This auction is no definitive marker of the beginning of a turnaround—it may be more a function of shrewd marketing by Hoff-Hilk. But on one day in May, the machining world looked brighter.

Question: The Consumer Confidence Index had a big bounce Tuesday, are you seeing anything positive?

Citizen Model L20-VII CNC Swiss Type Screw Machine from sale

Citizen Model L20-VII CNC Swiss Type Screw Machine from sale

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Inside the Swiss Screw Machine Industry

Paul Huber of Comex comments on the recent Bosch auction in which 75 Escomatics were sold by Asset Sales Corporation. Paul came to the U.S. as a Tornos service engineer and is now the wise man of the Swiss screw machine industry.

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Even Medical is Suffering

The auction market for good used CNC machinery is being overwhelmed by a rush of supply. Even CNC Swiss lathes, always in short supply, are appearing in auction brochures almost weekly.

Recently a dental instrument maker, Hu-Friedy Corporation of Chicago, sold 13 late model Stars in an online sales event.

The machines were in beautiful condition, well maintained, and being sold because the company wanted the space for other manufacturing operations. Hilco had given the company a guarantee on the proceeds of the sale several months earlier and had been attempting to liquidate the machines prior to the auction date. They sold (3) SR-20 machines in December, but the balance of the deal was sold in early March.

The auction prices did not reach the computer’s reserves, but I understand many were sold to the unsuccessful bidders after the sale.

The Stars at Hu-Friedy were exceptionally nice machines with Iemca loaders on each one. The fact that not one piece brought the reserve price on the web auction is a clear indicator that even one of the strongest CNC markets is quite weak.

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