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What is a company worth?

Value a business

What is the value of your business?

There are many ways to approach that question - based on complex formulae or just a good hard look at the balance sheet, but no answer based purely on numbers is going to be exactly right. Even factoring in that most popular of abstracts - goodwill - the true essence of an operation is not likely to be revealed.

To find the real value of a business, we must go to its very heart: the attitude, work habits, managerial style, customer/marketplace savvy, and community reputation of the person in charge. The business owner or manager is the final, and most cogent, indicator of business worth. Check out the following healthy signs, and then listen to the heartbeat of your own business and its leadership style:

Optimistic Attitude

Many business owners today are more pragmatic and take price in being less of an "incurable optimist." The owner of yesterday wasn't afraid to follow the words of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman: "A salesman has got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."

A decline in optimism is an unfortunate trend. In a world driven by technology and scientific analysis, it's easy to forget the importance of the right attitude. If business owners aren't positive, how This question can only be answered by addressing other related questions, specifically: Who's asking and for what purpose?

From the perspective of the owner, prospective buyers, the IRS, lenders and divorce & bankruptcy courts, the value of a business for purposes of a sale, estate planning, orderly or forced liquidation, gifting, divorce, etc. can be vastly different.

Intrinsically tied to the various purposes of valuation are numerous definitions of "value." Here are a few examples:

Investment Value - The value an acquirer places on a business based on a future return on investment determined by assessing past and current performance, future prospects, and other opportunities and risk factors involving the business.

Liquidation Value - The value derived from the sale of the assets of a business that is closed or expected to be closed following the sale.

Book Value - Book value is the difference between the total assets and total liabilities as accounted for on the company's balance sheet.

Going Concern Value - Used to define the intangible value which may exist as a result of a business having such attributes as an established, trained and knowledgeable workforce, a loyal customer base, in-place operating systems, etc.

Fair Market Value
For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on transaction related valuations. Fair Market Value ("FMV") is the most relevant definition of "value" and is of the most interest to business owners.

The more knowledge business owners and prospective buyers have about the valuation process, the more likely they will come to an agreement on a purchase price. (For more information, see the article in this issue titled "Common Mistakes in Business Valuation.")

FMV is the measure of value most used by business appraisers, as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the courts. FMV is essentially defined as "the value for which a business would sell assuming the buyer is under no compulsion to buy and the seller is under no compulsion to sell, and both parties are aware of all of the relevant facts of the transaction." IRS Revenue Rule 59-60 lists the following factors to consider in establishing estimates of FMV:

  1. The nature and history of the business.
  2. The general economic outlook and its relation to the specific industry of the business under review.
  3. The earnings capacity of the business.
  4. The financial condition of the business and the book value of the ownership interest.
  5. The ability of the business to distribute earnings to owners.
  6. Whether or not the business has goodwill and other intangible assets.
  7. Previous sales of ownership interests in the business and the size of ownership interests to be valued.
  8. The market price of ownership interests in similar businesses that are actively traded in a free and open market, either on an exchange or over-the-counter.

What is Goodwill?
An important element of value, when it exists, is goodwill. The IRS defines goodwill in its Revenue Rule 59-60, stating, "In the final analysis, goodwill is based upon earning capacity. The presence of goodwill and its value, therefore, rests upon the excess of net earnings over and above a fair return on the net tangible assets.

While the element of goodwill may be based primarily on earnings, such factors as the prestige and renown of the business, the ownership of a trade or brand name, and a record of successful operation over a prolonged period in a particular locality, also may furnish support for the inclusion of intangible value.

In some instances it may not be possible to make a separate appraisal of the tangible and intangible assets of the business. The enterprise has a value as an entity. Whatever intangible value there is, which is supportable by the facts, may be measured by the amount by which the appraised value for the tangible assets exceeds the net book value of such assets."

Valuation Approaches and Methods
Exploring valuation techniques requires an understanding of the tools available. Which tools are utilized depends in part on the purpose of the valuation and the circumstances of the subject company. Generally there are several approaches to valuing a business. Within these approaches, there are several different methods. Listed below are the three major approaches along with some examples of specific methods that fall under each category.

Income Approach
Discounted Cash Flow Method
Single Period Capitalization of Earnings Method

Market Approach
Comparable Publicly Traded Company Analysis
Comparable Merger & Acquisition Analysis

Asset-Based Approach
Adjusted Net Asset Method
Excess Earnings Method

All of the above methods and approaches are frequently used in business valuations.

Normalizing the Financial Statements
Before the approaches and methods above can be applied, it is necessary to analyze and normalize both the income statement and balance sheet of the business for the current and past periods selected to form the basis of the valuation.

Normalizing the Income Statement

Normalizing the Income Statement generally entails adding back to earnings certain personal expenses, non-recurring and non-cash items. Examples of these "add-backs" could include depreciation, amortization, auto, boat and airplane expenses, one-time extraordinary expenses and other excess expenses such as owner's salaries and family member's salaries that are above fair market value, travel and entertainment, bonuses, etc. Owners usually tend to be extremely liberal when normalizing the income statement in order to bolster earnings, which can artificially inflate valuation. Each item must be carefully analyzed and scrutinized to insure that the normalization process is credible.

Normalizing the Balance Sheet

Normalizing the Balance Sheet includes adjustments that eliminate non-operating assets and other assets and liabilities that are not included in the proposed transaction, and therefore the valuation. The book value of the assets will be adjusted up or down to reflect their fair market value. Inter-company charges will also be eliminated. Inventory may be adjusted upward or downward based on prior accounting procedures and/or obsolescence. Accounts receivable may also require an adjustment based on an analysis of collectibility.

Relevant Terminology:

EBIT - An acronym for earnings before interest and taxes

EBITDA - An acronym for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Capitalization Rate - Any divisor that is used to convert income into value. This is generally expressed as a percentage.

Discount Rate - The rate of return that is used to convert any future monetary gain into present value.

(Note: when determining FMV, the earnings stream selected to be capitalized or discounted should be normalized.)

Summary
Even with all the terminology and definitions discussed above, the answer to the original question has not yet completely been answered: What is the company worth?

The value driver of a business is the ability of the entity to generate future cash flow or earnings. Business appraisers will assign an appropriate capitalization rate (or multiple) to a selected earnings stream to derive an overall value for a business. The value of the net assets of the business will be compared to the cash flow valuation and may be adjusted upward or downward. For example: if the earnings based valuation is less than the net asset value, an upward adjustment may be in order. Conversely, if the net assets are negligible, a downward adjustment is more likely to occur.

Many appraisers typically use a common range of multiples to arrive at a "ballpark" indication of value (for example, 4 to 6 times EBITDA). While this approach is commonplace, an in-depth valuation of the subject company will produce a more accurate result. There are too many intangible factors to be considered to rely solely on the capitalization of earnings. Of course, the ultimate value of a company will be determined by the marketplace, which can greatly differ from a seller's expectation, as well as the expectations of potential acquirers.

It is not uncommon for business owners to have an inflated sense of value of their company. This could be due to a variety of factors including emotional attachment to the business, unwillingness to accept the impact of the risk factors of the business, outside influence from previous market conditions, incorrect conclusion of normalized earnings, comparable transactions, etc. Conversely, acquirers often undervalue businesses. In their quest to "buy right" they often end up paying a lower multiple for a company with serious negative factors, while passing up on higher multiple opportunities, which, due to the quality, are actually better buys.

Valuation is a complex process. Owners and buyers will be well served if they rely on professional advisors such as their accountants, business appraisers, intermediaries or investment bankers.

Copyright 2007 Business Brokerage Press
 

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