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Auto Dealership Buy/Sell Market Slightly Declines in Fourth Quarter, but 2022 is the Second Most Active Buy/Sell Year Ever

The auto dealership buy/sell market experienced its second most active buy/sell year ever in 2022, with a 25% increase in transactions in the first three quarters of the year compared to 2021, and a record 845 franchises sold during that period, according to the just-released Blue Sky Report® by Kerrigan Advisors. However, a dramatic decrease in transactions in the fourth quarter led to a 2.3% decline for the year overall.

In 2022, 374 dealership transactions were completed, compared to 383 in 2021, impacted by a fourth quarter decline in transactions of 41% to 93, compared to 158 in the fourth quarter of 2021. This was largely a result of the public auto retailers' lowered valuations, which spurred a significant reduction in their acquisition spending in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The publics' acquisition spending on US dealerships was 79% less in 2022 than in 2021, according to the report, a dramatic about-face from the prior year. They spent $1.9 billion in 2022, $7.1 billion less than in 2021, but still 155% higher than the pre-pandemic average of $740 million. By the third quarter of 2022, the publics' average blue sky multiple had declined to just 2.9x, a 64% reduction from their peak in Q1 2021. Believing their companies were undervalued by Wall Street, the public auto retailers chose to primarily allocate their capital to acquiring their own stock in 2022 with 51% of their capital going toward stock buybacks, more than double 2021's level and the highest level in recent history.

"Despite the public auto retailers reduced acquisition spending, the industry still had the second most active buy/sell market ever, with private buyers dominating the market and putting their substantial war chest of capital to work," said Erin Kerrigan, Founder and Managing Director of Kerrigan Advisors. "Private dealers' acquisition activity is a real endorsement of the auto retail business model and systemic of the industry's strength over the last three years. Even in a rising interest rate environment, dealers voted with their pocketbooks and grew their businesses through acquisition in 2022 and continue to do so in 2023."

Much of the activity in the 2022 buy/sell market was, again, driven by surging dealership earnings which hit a third consecutive record year. Kerrigan Advisors estimates that average dealership earnings rose 9.0% in 2022 as compared to 2021, ending the year 210% above the pre-pandemic five-year average from 2015-2019.

As the publics' share of the buy/sell market declined in 2022, private buyers leveraged their strong balance sheets to make substantial acquisitions, rebounding from an all-time low buy/sell market share in 2021 of 71% to 94% in 2022. Multi-dealership transactions, which were particularly impacted by the decline in public acquisition spending, fell 24% in 2022 to 96 compared to 126 in 2021. Nevertheless, this was 67% higher than their pre-pandemic average of 58.

"While the publics ceded buy/sell market share to the private dealership groups in 2022, there is potential that these companies could increase their capital allocation to US dealership acquisitions in 2023," said Kerrigan, who noted that, in 2023, The Kerrigan Indextm has risen nearly 14% through March, with five of the publics reaching record stock valuations in February. "With their tremendous liquidity - a collective $7.6 billion - the publics will continue to focus on acquisitions as a means to grow their top and bottom lines. Assuming the challenges associated with the brewing banking crisis do not extenuate, some of these companies may choose to increase their allocation to dealership acquisitions in 2023."

2023 Buy/Sell Trends

In the 2022 Annual Report, Kerrigan Advisors identified the following four important trends that are expected to meaningfully impact the market in 2023.

"The biggest trend for the buy/sell market in 2023 is that the ?cream' is starting to rise to the top," said Ryan Kerrigan, Managing Director at Kerrigan Advisors. "The buy/sell market is beginning to diverge into a ?have and have not' marketplace, where certain dealerships remain in high demand, commanding tremendous pricing power, while others struggle to identify a buyer."

According to the report, in 2021 and 2022, dealers were anxious to put their rising pool of capital to work, throwing a wide net when determining which acquisitions met their parameters. But, in 2023, they are more judicious, paying a premium for top franchises in high-growth, business-friendly markets, such as Florida and Texas, while discounting riskier franchises in lower-growth markets, particularly those with low sales volume. Kerrigan Advisors is also seeing a notable migration in buyers' acquisition preferences to higher volume dealerships due to the economies of scale and projected higher profitability of these stores, a trend noted in the Third Quarter 2022 Blue Sky Report. With just 31% of dealerships selling 750 new vehicles annually on average, Kerrigan Advisors finds high volume dealerships can command premium pricing due to strong buyer demand for these scalable assets.

Honda and CDJR Multiple Decrease, Buick GMC and Cadillac Multiples Could Increase in 2023

Kerrigan Advisors made several adjustments to its blue sky multiples and multiple outlook this quarter, reducing Honda's high-end multiple by .25. Honda lost significant market share in 2022 - down 26.9%, the largest loss of any non-luxury franchise. Notably, Honda's sales per franchise fall below Hyundai and Kia for the first time and a decline in buyer demand for the franchise towards the end of last year brought down the multiple. In the case of CDJR, Kerrigan Advisors reduced its multiple on the high and low ends by .25, as the franchise saw inventories rise and sales decline, which is resulting in a reduction in new vehicle gross profits, reduced overall dealer profitability and declining buyer demand.

Kerrigan Advisors saw improvements in the outlook for Buick GMC and Cadillac. Both franchises increased market share and sales per franchise, particularly as they reduced franchise count. With these moves, Kerrigan Advisors observed an increase in buyer demand for the franchises and expects both franchises could see their multiples rise in 2023. In particular, Cadillac had the largest sales per franchise increase of any franchise in 2023 (165 to 240 or 45%), resulting in increased dealer profitability, particularly in major metros where franchise consolidation is meaningful, and with stand-alone franchises, where sales per franchise is even higher than the average.

Highlights from the Q4 2022 Blue Sky Report® by Kerrigan Advisors include:

The Blue Sky Report®, published by Kerrigan Advisors, is the auto retail industry's most comprehensive and authoritative quarterly report on dealership M&A activity, as well as franchise values. The quarterly report, received by over 11,000 industry recipients in 35 countries, includes analysis of all dealership transaction activity for the year, and lays out the high, average and low blue sky multiples for each franchise in the luxury and non-luxury segments. For more details and to preview the report, click here. To sign up to receive the quarterly report, click here.

Kerrigan Advisors also releases monthly The Kerrigan Indextm composed of the seven publicly traded auto retail companies with operations focused on the US market. The Kerrigan Auto Retail Index is designed to track dealership valuation trends, while also providing key insights into factors influencing auto retail. To access The Kerrigan Indextm, click here.

About Kerrigan Advisors

Kerrigan Advisors is the premier sell-side advisor and thought partner to auto dealers in the US. The firm advises auto dealers nationwide, enhancing value through the lifecycle of growing, operating and monetizing their businesses, as well as offering restructuring and turnaround consulting services. Since the firm's founding, Kerrigan Advisors has had the honor of representing the industry's largest transactions, including more Top 150 Dealership Groups than any other firm in the industry. Led by a team of veteran industry experts, the firm does not take listings, rather Kerrigan Advisors develops a customized approach for each client to achieve their personal and financial goals. In addition to Kerrigan Advisors' sell-side advisory and capital-raising services, the firm also provides a suite of consulting services including growth strategies, capital allocation, transactional due diligence, open point proposals, operational improvement and real estate analysis.

Kerrigan Advisors publishes The Blue Sky Report®, which is the auto industry's most comprehensive and authoritative quarterly report of dealership buy/sell activity and franchise values, received by over 11,000 industry participants in 35 countries. To register to receive The Blue Sky Report®, click here. Kerrigan Advisors also publishes The Kerrigan Indextm, the only monthly report tracking the seven publicly traded auto retail companies. To access The Kerrigan Indextm, click here.

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