Spin-offs are divisions of companies or organizations that then become independent businesses with assets, employees, intellectual property, technology, or existing products that are taken from the parent company. Shareholders of the parent company receive equivalent shares in the new company in order to compensate for the loss of equity in the original stocks. However, shareholders may then buy and sell stocks from either company independently; this potentially makes investment in the companies more attractive, as potential share purchasers can invest narrowly in the portion of the business they think will have the most growth.
In contrast, divestment can also sever one business from another, but the assets are sold off rather than retained under a renamed corporate entity.
Many times, the management team of the new company are from the same parent organization. Often, a spin-off offers the opportunity for a division to be backed by the company but not be affected by the parent company's image or history, giving potential to take existing ideas that had been languishing in an old environment and help them grow in a new environment. Spin-offs also allow high-growth divisions, once separated from other low-growth divisions, to command higher valuation multiples.
In most cases, the parent company or organization offers support doing one or more of the following:
All the support from the parent company is provided with the explicit purpose of helping the spin-off grow.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission's definition of "spin-off" is more precise. Spin-offs occur when the equity owners of the parent company receive equity stakes in the newly spun off company. For example, when Agilent Technologies was spun off from Hewlett-Packard in 1999, the stock holders of HP received Agilent stock.
A company not considered a spin-off in the SEC's definition (but considered by the SEC as a technology transfer or licensing of technology to the new company) may also be called a spin-off in common usage.
A second definition of a spin-out is a firm formed when an employee or group of employees leaves an existing entity to form an independent start-up firm. The prior employer can be a firm, a university, or another organization. Spin-outs typically operate at arm's length from the previous organizations and have independent sources of financing, products, services, customers, and other assets. In some cases, the spin-out may license technology from the parent or supply the parent with products or services; conversely, they may become competitors. Such spin-outs are important sources of technological diffusion in high-tech industries.
One of the main reasons for what The Economist has dubbed the 2011 "starburst revival" is that "companies seeking buyers for parts of their business are not getting good offers from other firms, or from private equity". For example, Foster's Group, an Australian beverage company, was prepared to sell its wine business. However, due to the lack of a decent offer, it decided to spin off the wine business, which is now called Treasury Wine Estates.
According to The Economist, another driving force of the proliferation of spin-offs is what it calls the "conglomerate discount" -- that "stockmarkets value a diversified group at less than the sum of its parts".
Some examples of spin-offs (according to the SEC definition):
Examples following the second definition of spin-out:
An example of companies created by technology transfer or licensing: