Standardized Values and Multiples

To compare the values of "similar" assets in the market, we need to standardize the values in some way. They can be standardized relative to the earnings they generate, to the book value or replacement value of the assets themselves, or to the revenues that they generate. We discuss each method next.

1. Earnings Multiples

One of the more intuitive ways to think of the value of any asset is as a multiple of the earnings it generates. When buying a stock, it is common to look at the price paid as a multiple of the earnings per share generated by the company. This price/earnings ratio can be estimated using current earnings per share, which is called a trailing PE, or an expected earnings per share in the next year, called a forward PE. When buying a business, as opposed to just the equity in the business, it is common to examine the value of the firm as a multiple of the operating income or the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). While, as a buyer of the equity or the firm, a lower multiple is better than a higher one, these multiples will be affected by the growth potential and risk of the business being acquired.

2. Book Value or Replacement Value Multiples

While markets provide one estimate of the value of a business, accountants often provide a very different estimate of the same business. The accounting estimate of book value is determined by accounting rules and is heavily influenced by the original price paid for the asset and any accounting adjustments (such as depreciation) made since. Investors often look at the relationship between the price they pay for a stock and the book value of equity (or net worth) as a measure of how over- or undervalued a stock is; the price/book value ratio that emerges can vary widely across industries, depending again upon the growth potential and the quality of the investments in each. When valuing businesses, we estimate this ratio using the value of the firm and the book value of all assets (rather than just the equity). For those who believe that book value is not a good measure of the true value of the assets, an alternative is to use the replacement cost of the assets; the ratio of the value of the firm to replacement cost is called37.

3. Revenue Multiples

Both earnings and book value are accounting measures and are determined by accounting rules and principles. An alternative approach, which is far less affected by these factors, is to use the ratio of the value of an asset to the revenues it generates. For equity investors, this ratio is the price/sales ratio (PS), where the market value per share is divided by the revenues generated per share. For firm value, this ratio can be modified as the value/sales ratio (VS), where the numerator becomes the total value of the firm. This ratio, again, varies widely across sectors, largely as a function of the profit margins in each. The advantage of using revenue multiples, however, is that it becomes far easier

37 See Chung and Pruitt for a simple approximation of Tobin's Q.

to compare firms in different markets, with different accounting systems at work, than it is to compare earnings or book value multiples.

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