The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.By Lisa Springer NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- Last year was a record year for spinoffs, with deals worth an estimated $116 billion completed. There are even more expected in 2012. Spinoffs occur when companies want to shed units that are performing poorly, undervalued or unrelated to the main business. Instead of selling to a rival, companies can make a tax-free distribution of the business to investors that often increase shareholder value. In return, the new company is often able to innovate and grow, leading to better returns for shareholders. Unlike IPOs, which get lots of media attention, spinoffs often fly under the radar. This means investors can buy shares before the spinoff is well-known and often lock in above-average yields.