Pepperdine University, in cooperation with the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source, publishes a quarterly Market Pulse Survey on the sale of small businesses in the United States. The most recent report, covering the fourth quarter of 2012, shows that “retiring Baby Boomers” is for the first time the number one reason for selling a small business in the United States.
I’ve written since 2007 in this space and elsewhere about the impact of Boomer business owners leaving their companies. You can download my e-book on the subject at www.theboomerbust.com. (The password for my faithful readers is “Woodstock.”) The Market Pulse Survey is just the latest indicator of a crest that is building, and which will have a huge impact on the American business landscape.
If you are as acutely aware of the impact of Boomers on the American economy as I am, you begin to see it in a lot of places. I attended a luncheon with an official of the Federal Reserve a few weeks ago, and a question was raised about the recovery of residential housing. He pointed out that the introduction of 30-year mortgages with only 20% down transformed the US into a country of homeowners.
Home ownership grew to over 60% of households by 1960, fueled by larger families (Boomer children) and the GI Bill. It stabilized at around 65% from the 1970s through the late 1990s, when it began climbing again, largely as a result of political pressure to let the Federal Government (through their proxies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) make mortgages available to a wider portion of the population. By 2007, the percentage of homeowners had reached almost 70%.
Residential housing markets began cratering in 2007, largely because too many people had been financed into homes they couldn’t really afford. They weren’t just the poor, but also included millions of Boomers who “traded up” in their quest for material success. (See the e-book for more on that Boomer drive.) The presenter pointed out that the population of homeowners was now stabilizing at much closer to 65%, which is assumed to be the normal equilibrium.
What if that is only a “Boomer equilibrium?” After all, the growth in home ownership occurred in a 50-year long expanding economy fueled by Boomers, first as household size increased, then as they became consumers. Aren’t we working with an assumption that the following generations will repeat the Boomer quest for more? Will GenX and the Millennials really get in line to splurge on ageing McMansions, or will they be satisfied with a more reasonable standard of functional shelter?
If the housing market suffered so badly in adjusting from a temporary high of 70% back to a more “normal” level of 65%, what will it look like if the next normal is 60%, or even 55%? (Prior to WWII only about 40% of US households owned their homes.)
The Market Pulse Survey also found that it is increasingly a buyer’s market for small businesses. That trend will inevitably accelerate, especially as we reach the 2018-2023 period, when Boomers turning 65 years old out number the GenXers turning 45 by 4,000 a day. If you are a young business owner, or plan to be one, the time is coming when you can pick and choose your opportunities.
But I’d be cautious of businesses focused on high-end residences.