Despite practical challenges, earnouts are a tool that PE buyers should increasingly consider to reconcile differences and get deals done.
The use of earnouts, though historically disliked by PE buyers, is increasing across Europe. Earnouts can provide a way to bridge valuation gaps, a common need given frothy valuations pre-COVID-19, and a more frequently encountered issue during H1 2020. According to the forthcoming seventh edition of the Latham & Watkins Private Equity Market Study that examined deals signed or closed between July 2018 and June 2020, 18% of deals featured an earnout, compared to 16% and 14% in the 2018 and 2019 editions respectively. While the use of earnouts has challenges for PE dealmakers, earnouts have enabled parties to reconcile differences and get deals done, making them a tool that PE buyers may become more willing to accommodate in the year ahead, particularly given the uncertainties for many businesses caused by COVID-19.