Monica Mehta writes at Bloomberg BusinssWeek that business sellers are using creative financing to command better prices or close deals.  During the recession, merger and acquisition activity in the lower-middle market (private companies with up to $100 million in annual sales) was anything but active. Now sharp discounts of private company valuations—I’m seeing 30 percent to 40 percent reductions from 2007 levels—are again piquing buyer interest. But with deals on the table and the dialing for dollars begun, the bank loan market, which is still licking its wounds from the credit crunch, is coming up short. Buyers are increasingly turning to sellers to fill the funding gap. It’s not that financing is unavailable. Companies with strong recurring cash flow and significant collateral can still obtain debt. They’re just raising less of it and at a higher cost.

Acquirers accustomed to providing only 30 percent equity and funding 70 percent of a deal through bank loans are now lucky to get a commitment for even 50 percent of the purchase price. Increasingly, they are looking to the seller to supply a separate loan (often called a note), to cover the remaining 20 percent. The seller is becoming the lender of last resort.

Seller participation in deal financing is not new. Most prerecession deals included some kind of earnout provision that delayed payment of a portion of the purchase price—up to 20 percent for one to three years. Despite cutting down the immediate tab for the seller, earnouts continue to be used primarily as insurance against seller misrepresentations post-closing.

In most instances, a seller note is still issued on top of bank debt and earnouts. When any portion of a purchase is financed by a conventional lender, seller paper is almost always subordinate in terms of when the note is paid and the ability to exercise remedies in the event of a default. Transactions are highly negotiated, with terms varying widely from deal to deal. Seller paper is usually held longer than a bank loan and can have limited transferability. Commensurate with the additional risk, interest rates for seller paper are almost always higher than those for traditional loans.

Read more at: BloombergBusinessWeek