Category Archives: Company Valuation

These posts explore the concepts behind and the methods used in the valuation of companies

Why Facebook and Linked In IPOs Might Scare Users

For some reason, I think I felt comfortable that my personal data was controlled by a small collection of private companies. Facebook, Google, Linked In are the big three that come to mind.

Linked in header image

Google has been public for several years and knows alot about me. And you. What web sites you browse, what you write in your emails, your preferences, your phone number, your personal details. The fact that they also know this about the rest of the world for some reason gave me comfort.

The fact that they also had hundreds of millions and now billions in search revenue also made me feel good. Would they bother jeopardising that in order to sell my data to people? I doubt it but maybe.

I’m also generally not too worried about it which helps.

That said, Linked In’s IPO and Facebook’s coming IPO have got me thinking. Linked In’s first day multiple of 300-600 times earnings implies that public shareholders either plan on making a lot more money than they currently are from these companies or that they love losing buckets of cash in the near term. Or that they’re speculating it will go up more like in the 1998-2001 internet boom.

What i’m wondering is what are they going to have to do to raise earnings in the manner they’ll need to to justify their valuation? Surely they’ll have to start making some decent money somehow?

Will Linked In start calling me and offering me jobs? Will Linked In or a post IPO Facebook sell my data to companies to advertise to me? I was less worried about these things with their private company CEOs at the healm and a smaller group of VC investors and rich Goldman Sachs clients as shareholders. But trading at multiple hundreds times current earnings, I’m not so sure. The profit growth has to come from somewhere.

With the post IPO Google, I not only didn’t think about much about this but I effectively didnt’ have a choice unless I wanted learn Chinese and try out Baidu.

With Facebook and Linked In I do have a choice. I guess less so with Facebook because it is a great tool for staying in touch with people. Linked In, however, I would happily ditch in a heartbeat if the concerns above worried me.

Luckily, they don’t worry me too much so i’m unlikely to leave these sites.

But I imagine there are millions of people out there that these concerns do worry. Will people use these sites the same way now that they’re publically owned? Should they? Will they do things differently? Are Linked In and Facebook less valuable as public companies at such high valuations?

Either way, Goldman Sachs who has already unloaded its Linked In shares and the pre IPO shareholders look likely to profit.

Users of Facebook and Linked in? I wonder.

Conservative vs Aggressive Accounting Practices

When analysing the financial statements of companies, consider the implications of the methods of accounting that a particular company chooses. Unfortunately, using acceptable accounting practices does not always reflect economic reality. Companies often have the discretion to manipulate their earnings to reflect the reality that they wish the rest of the world to see them in.

Have a look below for some of the signs to look out for in the financial statements of companies you are interested in investing in:

Conservative Accounting Practices:

•    Choosing LIFO as opposed to FIFO accounting for inventory in an inflationary environment (this leads to ending inventory being lower from higher COGS, and lower operating profit)
•    Rapid write-offs of intangibles gained through acquisition
•    Lack of nonrecurring gains (no regularity of weird gains from unusual or infrequent items)
•    Expensing of initial start up costs (should be expensed as opposed to being capitalised)
•    Minimal software capitalization (again should usually be expensed unless it is going to provide an on-going future economic benefit)
•    Minimal capitalization of interest and overheads (again should be expensed)
•    Accelerated depreciation methods (this leads to higher depreciation in early years thus decreasing net income in early yearly and increasing the reliability of the earnings) (this also has the benefit of decreasing taxes payable)
•    Short asset lives – depreciation (using a small useful life leads to a bigger depreciation expense and again a smaller net income)
•    Using the completed contract method for revenue recognition rather than the percentage of completion method (this ensures all revenue has been earned)
•    High bad debt provisions
•    Little use of off-balance sheet finance (eg operating leases or using the equity method to account for associate companies)
•    Clear accounting policy disclosure
•    Net income approximate to CFO (higher earnings quality)

Aggressive Accounting Practices (mostly the opposite of above):

•    Lengthening asset lives (will reduce depreciation charge)
•    Using straight line depreciation (lower depreciation in earlier years)
•    Choosing FIFO as opposed to LIFO accounting for inventory in an inflationary environment (this leads to ending inventory being higher from lower COGS, and higher operating profit)
•    Insufficient acquisition disclosures
•    Capitalisation of operating costs (this can be fraudulent – Anything that doesn’t lead to future economic benefits must be expensed)
•    Recording investment income as revenue (Think: is management masking a decline in sales?)
•    Recording revenue prematurely (percentage of completion incorrectly used, bill and hold)
•    Manipulating discretionary expenses (big bath provisioning so future years look better – this involves taking an extra hit in the bad years so the future years look better)
•    Manipulating reserves (impair an asset one year and reverse in future periods – only available under international accounting standards, not US GAAP, as you can reverse impairments)
•    Adopting new accounting policies early/late depending on the the impact of the policy
•    Frequent changes in auditors (why are management changing auditors, is there something to hide? always a warning sign)
•    Selling assets/investments to generate gains/losses (these are one off gains)
•    Accelerating/decelerating sales activities (incorrectly reporting sales, bringing forward etc)

Business and Company Valuation; Discounted Cash Flow and Multiples

Business and Company Valuation

“What is a business worth?” Although it seems simple, determining the value of any business requires experience, sound judgment from market and industry experience and at least some understanding of financial analysis.

Underpining everything that is outlined below however (much of which I sourced from wstselfstudy.com), I am certainly a part of the Warren Buffet school of thought that outlines that it is important to be able to understand a business before you decide it is the business for you.

What a company is worth is commonly different between buyers and depends on several factors including:

  • Assumptions regarding the growth and profitability prospects of the business,
  • An Assessment of future market conditions and demand,
  • Assumptions based on the competition in the market,
  • Varying appetites for assuming risk (the discount rate on expected future cash flows)
  • What unique synergies may be brought to the business after the purchase.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the basic valuation techniques used by financial analysts to answer the question in the context of a merger or acquisition.

Basic Valuation Methodologies

There are several basic analytical tools that are commonly used by financial analysts to determine the value of a company or business. These methods are based on financial theory and market reality but it must be remembered that these tools are only indicators and should not be viewed as a final definitive statement of value, but rather, as a starting point to estimate value.

The Wall Street Self Study course notes that different people will have different ideas on value of an entity depending on factors such as:

  • Public status of the seller and buyer
  • Nature of potential buyers (strategic vs. financial)
  • Nature of the deal (“beauty contest” or privately negotiated)
  • Market conditions (bull or bear market, industry specific issues)
  • Tax position of buyer and seller

Each methodology is fairly simple in theory but can become extremely complex. They include:

“DCF” – Discounted Cash Flow Analysis

The free cash flows to a company are discounted over projection period. This method is especially relevant where there aren’t any comparable companies allowing the use of the multiples methods below or for smaller companies.

In a DCF analysis, free cash flows are modeled over a projection horizon and then discounted to reflect thier present value in today’s dollars (i.e less). In addition to these cash flows, a value must be determined for the cash flows generated beyond the projection horizon, commonly called the “terminal value”. Thus, DCF accounts for time value of money and relative risk of investment, but is highly sensitive to the discount rate.

The DCF approach is among the most scientific and theoretically precise valuation methodologies because it relates specifically to the profitability and growth of the business being valued. Due to its dependency on the discount rate and a number of long term future assumptions, it must be remembered that it needs to be used in association with other methods.

Analysis of Selected Publicly Trading Companies or Selected Acquisitions using Multiples

A part of most valuation methodologies is the idea of a ‘multiple’. A multiple is simply a ratio of value to a financial statement statistic such as Revenue, EBITDA, EBIT and the Price / Earnings (PE) ratio (Check here for Company Valuation Definitions of these ratios). Each of these multiples are common in different industries for different reasons. In general, the higher the multiple, the higher the value given to the future earnings or cash flow of a company; in other words, the higher the multiple, the more a buyer will pay for the company.

An an examples, If a company’s LTM EBITDA was $50 million and similar companies were trading at a 7X EBITDA multiple, the company would have an implied value of $50 million X 7 or $350 million based on an LTM or trailing basis.

The following is a brief overviewe of the two common methods that are used in selecting appropriately similar company multiples:

Trading Comparables (“Trading Comps”) Analysis

Trading Comps is the term for multiples analysis of publicly traded companies and then making comparisons with other similar or comparable companies.

This method is most relevant for valuing public companies with publicly traded competitiors. A major disadvantage of this valuation method is that often, it is difficult to determine the appropraite competitor and number of variables can get in the way.

Deal Comparables (Deal Comps”) Analysis

Deal Comps or analysis of selected acquisitions are very similar to trading comps except that deal comps compare actual completed transactions instead of publicly traded companies as the domain of comparable companies.

This approach is very relevant in the absence of public traded competitors but information can be very scarce and unreliable depending on company and the particular industry.

Other Methods

The following are other methods that I will not go deeper into in this article:

Asset Valuation – Involves analysis of tangible asset

Break up Analysis – Involves sum of parts analysis based on different business lines

LBO Valuation – Involves financial engineering based on leverage or use of debt

Understanding Technical Analysis and Fundamental Analysis in Investing

This article is primarily intended to give an introduction to how technical analysis is used to make investment and stock market trading decisions. It will then compare the position of technical analysts to fundamental analysts in terms of what information and data each group uses in their quest for high returns.

I have sourced most of the information below from a copy of the 2007 CFA Level 1 course notes that I have been reading.

Technical Analysis

Technical analysis involves the examination of past market data, such as stock prices and the volume of
trading, to lead to an estimate of future price trends and subsequently an investment decision.

The assumptions underpinning the technical analysis model are as follows:

  1. The market value of any good or service is determined solely by the interaction of supply and demand.
  2. Supply and demand are governed by numerous factors (examples include people’s moods, guesses and opinions). The market weighs all these factors continuously and automatically.
  3. The prices for individual securities and the overall value of the market tend to move in trends, which persist for appreciable lengths of time. That is, when new information enters the market, it leads to an adjustment of stock prices.
  4. Prevailing trends change in reaction to shifts in the supply and demand relationship. These shifts can be detected at some point in the action of the market itself.

The philosophy behind technical analysis is in sharp contrast to the efficient market hypothesis and fundamental analysis.

Fundamental Analysis Versus Technical Analysis

Fundamental Analysis involves making investment decisions based on the difference between the fundamental value of a company and the current price of that company’s stock.

Fundamental analysis involves an examination of the economy, a particular industry, and financial company data in order to lead to an estimate of value for that company. If this value is then compared to the current stock price, investment decisions can be made assuming that the market will correct and move towards the estimated value at some point in the future.

Although both fundamental and technical analysts agree that the price of a security is determined by the interaction of supply and demand, technical analysts and fundamental analysis have different opinions on the influence of irrational factors. A technical analyst might expect that an irrational influence may persist for some time, whereas other market analysts would expect only a short-run effect with rational beliefs prevailing over the long-run.

A bigger difference exists between the two regarding the speed of adjustments of stock prices to changes in supply and demand. Technical analysts believe that new information comes to the market over a period of time because of different sources of information or because certain investors receive the information or perceive fundamental changes earlier than others. Based on this belief they expect stock prices to move in trends that persist for long periods, and a gradual price adjustment to reflect the gradual flow of the information.

However, fundamental analysts believe that new information comes to the market very quickly and they expect stock prices to change abruptly as a result of this.

How do Technical and Fundamental Analysts make investment decisions?

  • Technical analysts make investment decisions by examining past market data to estimate future price trends. They identify new trends and take appropriate actions to profit from the trends. Technical analysts use market data and non-quantifiable variables like psychological factors and claim that their method is not heavily dependent on company financial accounting statements.
  • Fundamental analysts make investment decisions by examining the economy, the industry and the company to estimate the intrinsic value of the company’s stock. They then compare the intrinsic value to the prevailing market price and take appropriate actions. Fundamental analysts typically use economic data (including accounting data and information released by the company to the market).

Why Technical Analysts believe Technical Analysis is superior

According to technical analysts, it is important to recognise that the fundamental analysts can experience superior returns only if they obtain new information before other investors and process it correctly and quickly. Technical analysts do not beleive that most investors do so consistently.

Secondly, Technical analysts believe that it is too difficult for fundamental analysts to pinpoint a specific time to take investment actions even if they have identified the under-valued or over-valued securities.

Technical analysts need only quickly recognise a movement to a new equilibrium value for whatever reason (they need not know about an event and determine the effect of the event on the value of the firm and its stock). In addition, because they don’t invest until the move to the new equilibrium is under way, they contend that they are more likely to experience ideal timing compared to the method of fundamental analysts.

Finally, technical analysts believe that financial statement analysis is not sufficently accurate to depend on to make investment decisions and therefore consider it advantageous not to depend on such statements.

I will later write an article about the potential fundamental analysts’ responses to these points but more can be read about fundamental analysis and Warren Buffett’s concept of Value Investing in one of my previous articles (includes a video).

Click here for a look at Company Valuation methodologies like multiples and discounted cashflow analysis.

9 key definitions to understand the valuation and earnings of companies

learning goggles - key valuation definitions

Valuation of Companies and 9 key definitions

After skimming through The Fast Forward MBA in Finance, Second Edition by John Tracy, a few key concepts (such as EPS, ROE, market capitalisation and P/E) kept coming up again and again when dealing with the value of companies. When read in combination with Joel Greenblatt’s book, The Little Book That Beats the Market which simplifies things to some degree, an understanding of these concepts is required to begin understanding whether a company is undervalued or overvalued on the stock exchange and hence whether you should invest in the company.

It is important to firstly recognise that the value of a company’s shares on the stock exchange is only a representation of what the public will pay at any particular time for a stake in the company and is not a direct representation of the company’s true value per se. This fact is actually why smart investors should always be able to make money investing the stock market. For example, if an investor is able to identify a under or overvalued company, they can make the appropriate decision to either buy the stock if it is undervalued or sell the stock (we’ll come to how you can sell stock you don’t have later) if it is overvalued. Over time, whether it is overnight or over 5 years, the market will correct itself and the investor will profit from his analysis of the companies true value compared with the market’s perception of its value.

In later posts, I will describe how Greenblatt’s book proposes a magic formula strategy for identifying undervalued companies based on a company having a high earnings yield and a high return on capital. Firstly, however, this post will aim to explain these concepts so that we can get familiar with them first. Some of the definitions below are drawn from Tracy’s glossary in The Fast Forward MBA in Finance, Second Edition.

Continue reading 9 key definitions to understand the valuation and earnings of companies