Anticipating the hike in interest rates: A little planning can have benefits

 
 
James S. Cassell
James S. Cassell

jcassel@casselsalpeter.com

Now that the government is back in business, it’s time to think about interest rates. With interest rates having recently begun to rise and currently expected to climb higher than today’s historically low rates, it’s important for middle-market business owners to begin planning and preparing for the likely impacts on their businesses and finding ways to lock down the most favorable long-term rates. A little strategic action now can go a long way to help put their companies in the best-possible financial position.

Many business owners do not understand all of the potential impacts that rising rates may have on their businesses, including affecting their profitability and value, and how serious the impacts can be. Higher interest rates mean higher costs for borrowing money and financing equipment. They affect almost everything, including the interest rates charged on lines of credit that have floating rates as well as both the interest rates and the coverage ratios that affect the ability to refinance term loans when they become due.

Interest rates also can have significant impacts on the valuations of businesses. Although rising interest rates won’t affect Earnings Before Interest and Taxes, they will have an impact on business cash flow. Most significantly, however, they can affect potential buyers of businesses, as they will probably have to pay higher interest rates when they borrow money to the leverage their purchases of businesses. This may cause valuation gaps or discourage them from making the acquisitions. In a nutshell, the higher interest rates affect debt service coverage ratios. The higher the interest rates, the lower the amounts that may be borrowed. As a result, there’s a good possibility that business valuations will be affected as interest rates rise.

With all this considered, now is a good time to begin taking steps to ensure that you can secure the lowest-possible interest rates for your business over the long term. How should you go about this? Some strategies:

•  Take advantage of today’s historically low rates. If you’re planning to take out any new loans or can renegotiate existing ones, there’s no time like the present. Aim to lock in long-term rates or hedge the rates whenever possible.

•  Get liquid. Use your excess cash flow now to pay down as much of your debt as possible, provided you do not see a need in the foreseeable future to borrow the money back.

•  Get creative. Approach different lenders, such as trying community banks rather than national banks. Both have their pros and cons, but it might be in your best interest to work with a smaller lender that’s hungrier and more flexible for your business in order to lock in lower rates and more favorable terms.

•  If you choose to expand your business credit line, owner-occupied real estate loan or any other type of loan, use your newly found capital wisely to penetrate new markets and invest in the right people, technologies, equipment and other resources to support your business.

•  Government programs like SBA-type programs might offer lower fixed rates that are more favorable. Although it’s not always a good idea to put up your house as collateral for your business loans, if you do find yourself in the position of having to do this, you should consider locking in those interest rates for the longest-possible terms.

•  Keep in mind that some loans that are based on using cash flow as collateral might be good, less expensive options if you can provide acceptable collateral. You might consider converting some of your loans and/or changing lenders to take advantage of better terms offered by different lenders. Be careful when getting unsecured loans: Giving up the collateral is not always ideal.

•  Consider specialty lenders. Look for lenders who specialize in specific areas, as they may help you secure better terms. If you can pit multiple lenders in a bidding war against each other, you probably can get better deals.

In addition to ensuring that you are borrowing money at the most favorable long-term rates, it’s always a good idea to consult qualified, trusted advisors, such as attorneys, investment bankers and CPAs. By doing some smart planning now and taking the right strategic steps, you can strengthen your business and put it in the best position for both the short and long term.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. www.casselsalpeter.com

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