Acquisition of a Business – Do Such Contracts Affect the Decision to Acquire Shares or Assets?

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I am considering the acquisition of a business. Long term contracts between the business and third parties are important to the business. Do such contracts affect the decision to acquire shares or assets of the business?

There are a number of factors to be taken into account when purchasing an existing business including tax, liability, due diligence and employee matters. Your question relates to the contracts between the business and third parties. These contracts may include rights obtained by the business necessary to carry on the business, such as licenses or franchises, or the benefit of sale or service agreements for the supply of products or services that generate revenue for the business.

A fundamental difference between an asset purchase and a share purchase is that in an asset sale the contracts must be assigned (along with the transfer of assets) while in a share sale the contracts remain intact (since only the shares of the business itself are transferred).

A comprehensive review of all important contracts is advisable as early as possible during the due diligence process to determine rights and obligations. If third party consents are required, consideration must be given as to the risk that such consents may not be available in a timely manner, or at all, and whether the transaction may be better structured to avoid the necessity for assignment. In some less common circumstances there is an outright bar to assignment and consents cannot be obtained (this is the case in some government procurements). The acquisition of the business in such circumstances may only be achieved through a share sale to avoid termination of such contract(s). It should also be noted that some contracts contain provisions that deem a change of control from a sale of shares to be equivalent to assignment, and triggering the necessity for third party consent.