If you’ve never bought or sold a business before, then the factors that drive and influence business valuations likely seem a bit murky. In a recent Divestopedia article from Kevin Ramsier entitled, “A Closer Look at What Drives and Influences Business Valuations,” Ramsier takes a closer look at this important topic.
Business brokers and M&A advisors play a key role in helping business owners understand why their business receives the valuation that it does. No doubt, the final assessed value is based on a wide array of variables. But with some effort, clarity is possible.
In his article, Ramsier points out that “value means different things to different buyers” and that the “perceived value depends on the circumstances, interpretation and the role that is played in a transition.” It is important to remember that no two businesses are alike. For that reason, what goes into a given valuation will vary, often greatly.
Looking to EBITDA
Ramier points to several metrics including return on assets, return on equity and return on investment. Another important valuable for companies with positive cash flow is a multiple of EBITDA, which stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.” EBITDA is widely used in determining value. On the flip side of the coin, if the company in question has a negative cash flow, then the liquidation value of the business will play a large role in determining its value.
Primary Drivers to Consider
Ramsier provides a guideline of Primary Drivers of Valuation, Secondary Drivers of Valuation and Other Potential Drivers of Valuation. In total there are 25 different variables listed, which underscores the overall potential complexity of accurately determining valuation.
In the Primary Drivers of Valuation list, Ramsier includes everything from the size of revenue and revenue stability to historical and projected EBITDA as well as potential growth and margin percentages. Other variables, ones that could easily be overlooked, such as the local talent pool and people training are also listed as variables that should be considered.
Support for the Business Owner
The bottom line is that determining valuation is not a one-dimensional affair, but is instead a dynamic and complex process. One of the single best moves any business owner can make is to reach out to an experienced business broker. Since business brokers are experts in determining valuation, owners working with brokers will know what to expect when the time comes to sell.
Divestopedia published a rather insightful article, “Letting the Market Bridge the Valuation Gap.” In this October 2018 article, Dave Kauppi dives in and explores how fair market value can be used as a way for business owners to “bridge the gap between the valuation they feel they deserve and that which they’re likely to receive.” This, of course, increases the chances of a deal actually taking place. Let’s turn our attention to some of the key points in Kauppi’s informative article.
Understanding the Reality of Selling a Business
One key point is that only a low percentage of businesses actually sell on their first attempt. The article points out that a mere 10% of businesses that are for sale are actually sold three years later; this is a simply brutal fact. Few facts, if any, help underscore the value of working with a business broker more than this point. Selling a business can be difficult under even the best of circumstances. The process is complex, and most sellers have never actually sold a business before.
Divestopedia believes that it is critical for business owners to have realistic expectations regarding valuation. As the article points out, the market doesn’t care “how much money you need for retirement,” or how much you’ve invested.
Four Points to Consider
According to the article, it is important that business owners understand that a few business characteristics will ultimately drive the sale. There are four key factors to consider: contractually recurring revenue, durable competitive advantage, growth rate and customer concentration.
There is a lot packed into these four points, but here are a couple of big takeaways. In terms of customer growth, if a large percentage of your business is derived from a single customer, then that is going to be seen as a problem. As Divestopedia points out, if your company is dependent and partially dependent on a single customer, then you can expect a lot of pressure for you, as the business owner, to stick around a lot longer to ensure that this key customer isn’t lost. If intellectual property, such as software, is involved, then things can get even more complex. In the end, determining value in technology-based companies can be more challenging.
In the end, working with a seasoned business broker, one that understands valuation and how best to get there, is a must. You want to receive the best possible price for your business. An experienced business broker will help you understand how to navigate the complex process of determining a price. However, and most importantly, a business broker will help you achieve a fair market value, so that your business doesn’t remain unsold for years.
The initial response to the question in the title really should be: “Why do you want to know the value of your business?” This response is not intended to be flippant, but is a question that really needs to be answered.
- Does an owner need to know for estate purposes?
- Does the bank want to know for lending purposes?
- Is the owner entertaining bringing in a partner or partners?
- Is the owner thinking of selling?
- Is a divorce or partnership dispute occurring?
- Is a valuation needed for a buy-sell agreement?
There are many other reasons why knowing the value of the business may be important.
Valuing a business can be dependent on why there is a need for it, since there are almost as many different definitions of valuation as there are reasons to obtain one. For example, in a divorce or partnership breakup, each side has a vested interest in the value of the business. If the husband is the owner, he wants as low a value as possible, while his spouse wants the highest value. Likewise, if a business partner is selling half of his business to the other partner, the departing partner would want as high a value as possible.
In the case of a business loan, a lender values the business based on what he could sell the business for in order to recapture the amount of the loan. This may be just the amount of the hard assets, namely fixtures and equipment, receivables, real estate or other similar assets.
In most cases, with the possible exception of the loan value, the applicable value definition would be Fair Market Value, normally defined as: “The price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller when the former is not under any compulsion to buy and the latter is not under any compulsion to sell, both parties having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” This definition is used by most courts.
It is interesting that in the most common definition of value, it starts off with, “The price…” Most business owners, when using the term value, really mean price. They basically want to know, “How much can I get for it if I decide to sell?” Of course, if there are legal issues, a valuation is also likely needed. In most cases, however, what the owner is looking for is a price. Unfortunately, until the business sells, there really isn’t a price.
The International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) defines price as; “The total of all consideration passed at any time between the buyer and the seller for an ownership interest in a business enterprise and may include, but is not limited to, all remuneration for tangible and intangible assets such as furniture, equipment, supplies, inventory, working capital, non-competition agreements, employment, and/or consultation agreements, licenses, customer lists, franchise fees, assumed liabilities, stock options or stock redemptions, real estate, leases, royalties, earn-outs, and future considerations.”
In short, value is something that may have to be defended, and something on which not everyone may agree. Price is very simple – it is what something sold for. It may have been negotiated; it may be the seller’s or buyer’s perception of value and the point at which their perceptions coincided (at least enough for a closing to take place) or a court may have decided.
The moral here is for a business owner to be careful what he or she asks for. Do you need a valuation, or do you just want to know what someone thinks your business will sell for?
Business brokers can be a big help in establishing value or price.Read More
1. Start with the business
– Value Drivers: Size, growth rate, management, niche, history
– Value Detractors: Customer concentration
Lack of agreements with employees, customers, suppliers
Poor exit possibilities
Potential technology changes
Product or service very price sensitive
2. Financial analysis: Market Value – comparables
Multiple of Earnings – based on rate of return desired
3. Structure and terms: 100% cash at closing could reduce price 20%
4. Second opinion: Even professionals need a sounding board
5. Indications of high value:
– High sustainable cash flow
– Expected industry growth
– Good market share
– Competitive advantage – location/exclusive product line
– Undervalued assets – land/equipment
– Healthy working capital
– Low failure rate in industry
– Modern well-kept plant
6. Indications of low value:
– Poor outlook for industry –
– Distressed circumstances
– History of problems – employees, customers, suppliers, litigation
– Heavy debt load
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.
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.
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.)
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.