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If Business Valuation Was A Science…

Determining the value of your business is not as simple as looking at the numbers, applying tried and tested formulas, and concluding. Were it that straightforward all business valuations would be virtually identical. The fact that they are not is sure proof that valuation is not a science, it can only be an art.

If Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) was as straightforward as calculating the theoretical value of a business, based on historical performance and using that to determine market value I would need something more constructive to do with my time.

Valuation is not as primitive as we have been led to believe. Whilst transaction values are commonly represented as a multiple of earnings this is merely the accepted vernacular used to report on a concluded transaction and almost never the methodology used to arrive at the value being reported.

The worth of a business is often determined by the category of buyer engaged. Financial buyers can add significant value to a business in the right stage of its life cycle but may not assume complete ownership, thereby delivering value for the seller simultaneously with their own. The right strategic acquirer for any business would be one that can unlock a better future for the business, and is willing to recognize, and compensate, a seller for the true value the entity represents to them.

Comparing the experience of so many clients, over so many years, and avidly following the outcomes of all the transactions published in South Africa there is little dispute that businesses are an asset class, like any other, and that the best value of all asset classes are only ever realized through competitive processes irrespective of whether the acquirer has financial or strategic motives.  

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1.  The itch of business valuation

Simplistically, for the right acquirer - one seeking an outcome that extends past a short-term return on their initial investment - valuation is more a function of the buyer's next best alternative, than it is a businesses’ historic performance.

It would be naïve to think that the myriad of accepted valuation methodologies have no place in the process but identifying, engaging and recognising the benefits of the acquisition for a variety of strategically motivated buyers is essential in determining value in this context.

Considering a variety of appropriate valuation metrics, the parameters applied and then being able to balance these against the alternative investment required to achieve a similar outcome is where the key determinant of value lies. This is a complex process that unlocks the correct value for buyer and seller alike and it is a result that is rarely achieved without engaging with a wide variety of different acquirers and being prepared to "kiss a few frogs"

The most valuable assets on the planet are only ever sold through competitive processes where buyers have the benefit of understanding and determining value in the context of their own motives, having considered their available alternatives. It is for this reason that when marketing a business, it should never be done with a price attached. 

2.  An aggressive multiple

Whilst conventional wisdom is firm on industry average multiples, case studies abound, and the business community is regularly astounded by stated multiples achieved when companies change hands.

Beneath the glamour, the reality is that multiples are rarely used as a determinant of value, but almost without exclusion applied to understand it. Multiples represent little more than a simplistic metric that reflects an understanding of how many years a business would need to reliably deliver historic earnings in order for the acquirer to recoup their investment.

In the same way as a net asset value (NAV) valuation would unfairly discriminate against service businesses, multiples discriminate against asset rich companies. For strategic acquirers, with motives beyond an internal rate of return - measured against historic earnings - valuation is sophisticated.  It relies on an assessment of whether the business represents the correct vehicle to achieve the strategic objectives, modelling the future returns and assessing risk. Valuation in these circumstances will naturally consider it, but places little reliance on the past performance of a business constrained by capital or the conservatism of a private owner to formulate the future value of such investment. 

Whilst there are Instances where the product of such an exercise matches commonly accepted multiples, there are equally as many valuations that, on the face of it, represent unfathomable results. 

3.  A better tomorrow for the buyer

It would be irresponsible to advocate that that return on investment is not a consideration when determining value - corporate companies and private equity firms typically all have investment committees, boards and shareholders that assess the financial impact of any transaction. It is rare that such decisions are ever vested with a single individual, or that the valuation is derived from their personal desire to own a company or brand.

The art of valuation requires a reliable determination of the synergies between buyer and seller and an accurate assessment of the risks and benefits of the investment. Risk and reward are inherently related and skilled negotiation is required to find solutions that mitigate, or de-risk a transaction for buyer and seller alike, in order to underpin the value
of a transaction.

Financial buyers can be very good acquirers, especially in circumstances where they are co-investing alongside existing owners, staff or management to provide growth funding. When seeking a strategic partner for a business the acquirer should always be unable to unlock value beyond the equivalent of a few years of historical earnings. It is for this reason that the disparity between valuations by trade and financial buyers exists, and why determining the appropriate form of acquirer for any business is a function of the objectives of the seller.

4.  Passing-on the baton, or living the legacy

The motives for a sale can be varied and extend from retirement to funding and growth, from ill-health to a desire to focus on the technical (as opposed to management and administration) aspects, of the business.

Value for buyers and sellers comes in many different forms. For sellers it is their ultimate objective that determines whether they have achieved value in a transaction. For sellers it may be as simple as the price achieved or it could extend to value beyond the balance sheet as diverse as leveraging the acquirer’s BEE credentials, unconstrained access to growth capital or even to secure a future for loyal staff.

For both local and international buyers alike, the intangibles may be as straightforward as speed to market in a new geography who would otherwise not readily secure vendor numbers with the existing customers of the target business. An acquisition may be motivated by access to complimentary technology, skills or distribution agencies to diversify their own offering. Whatever the motives, an assessment of the future of the staff will always be an important aspect to both parties.

There are few, if any businesses, that are anything without the loyal, skilled and hardworking people that deliver for the clients of a business. The quality of resources, succession and staff retention are all factors that weigh on a decision to transact. Navigating the impact of a transaction on staff is a factor that cannot be ignored and the timing of such announcements can be meaningful.

Author:
Andre Bresler
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 1865 410 050
E: Bresler@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Five Ways to Value Your Business

The first question you will probably want to ask when thinking about selling your business is – what is it actually worth? This is understandable, as you do not want to make such a big decision as to sell your business without knowing how much it could command in the market.

Below are five different ways a business can be valued, along with which type of companies suit which type of valuation.

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Multiple of Profits

A common way for a business to be valued is multiple of profits, although this typically suits businesses that have an established track record of profits.

To determine the value, you will need to look at the business’ EBITDA, which is the company’s net income plus interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. This then needs to be adjusted to ‘add-back’ any expenses that may have been incurred by the current owner which are unlikely to be incurred by a new owner. These could be either linked to a certain event (e.g. legal fees for a one-off legal dispute), a one-off company cost (e.g. bad debts, currency exchange losses), are at the discretion of the current owner (e.g. employee perks such as bonuses), or wages/costs to the owner or a family member that would be more than the typical going rate.

Once the adjusted EBITDA has been calculated this figure needs to be multiplied; this is typically between three and five times; however, this can vary – for example, a larger company with a strong reputation can attract towards an eight times multiple.

This provides an Enterprise Value, with the final ‘Transaction Value’ adjusted for any surplus items, such as free cash, properties and personal assets.

Asset Valuation

Asset valuation is suitable way to value a business that is stable and established with a lot of tangible assets – e.g. property, stock, machinery and equipment.

To work out the value of a business based on an asset valuation the net book value (NBV) of the company needs to be worked out. The NBV then needs to be refined to take into account economic factors, for example, property or fixed assets which fluctuate in value; debts that are unlikely to be paid off; or old stock that needs to be sold at a discount.

Asset valuations are usually supplemented by an amount for goodwill, which is a negotiable amount to reflect any benefits the acquirer is gaining that are not on the balance sheet (for example, customer relationships).

Entry Valuation

This way of evaluating the value of a company simply involves taking into account how much it would take to establish a similar business.

All costs have to be taken into account from what it has taken to start-up the company, to recruitment and training, developing products and services, and establishing a client base. The cost of tangible assets will also have to be taken into account.

This method for valuing a business is more useful for an acquirer, rather than a seller, as through an entry valuation they can choose whether it is worth purchasing the business, or whether it is more lucrative to invest in establishing their own operations.

Discounted Cash Flow

Types of companies that benefit from the discounted cash flow method of valuing a business include larger companies with accountant prepared forecasts. This is because the method uses estimates of future cash flow for the business.

A valuation is reached by looking at the company’s cash flow in the future, and then discounts this back into today’s money (to take into account inflation) to give you the NPV (net present value) of the business.

Valuing a business based on discounted cash flow is a complex method, and is not always the most accurate, as it is only as good as its input, i.e. a small change in input can vastly change the estimated value of a company.

Rule of Thumb

Some industries have different rules of thumb for valuing a business. Depending on the type of business, a rule of thumb can, for example, be based on multiples of revenue, multiples of assets or of earnings and cash flow.

While this method may have its merits in that it is quick, inexpensive and easy to use, it can generally not be used in place of a professional valuation and is instead useful for developing a preliminary indication of value.

To summarise, the methods of valuation can very much vary in terms of complexity and thoroughness, and different industries will find different methods more useful than others. A good M&A adviser can best suggest which way to value your business, as well as help to counter offers in the latter stages of the process with an accurate valuation in mind.

 

Author:
Tony Yerbury
Director
Benchmark International
T: +44 (0) 1865 410 050
E: Yerbury@benchmarkcorporate.com


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I’m Thinking of Selling My Company, How do I Value My Business

So, you are entertaining the thought of possibly selling your business. How do you know what it’s worth? There are a lot of factors that go into deciding an asking price for your company. The market, the industry, and the level of risk can all affect the final value. The following guide will walk you through a quick rundown of the valuation process for middle-market businesses and help you gain a basic understanding of what your company might be worth.

Step One: Have Your Finances in Check

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Sterimedix Client Testimonial {video}

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