Why Use EBITDA Instead of Net Income When Valuing a Business?

When calculating the value of a business most valuations rely on a multiple of EBITDA instead of a multiple of profits. Occasionally, a buyer will object, saying that his return will be after taxes, interest, and depreciation so the profit figure should be used instead of EBITDA. The reason that approach does not work is that the cost of the items that are backed out in EBITDA depend on the sellers circumstances and may be quite different for the buyer.

Let’s look at an example. Assume that we have two businesses (A Widget Inc. and B Widget Maker). Each of the two companies produces the same number of identical widgets, which they sell for the same price, using a machine that cost $2,000,000 and each financed the machine using a bank loan. Because of their credit histories the first company pays 5% on the loan while the second company pays 15%. A Widget Inc. is a sole proprietorship and so shows no corporate taxes on its income statement but B Widget Maker is a C Corp it is paying $100,000 in corporate taxes. Our two widget companies occupy identical buildings, side by side. A Widget Inc. acquired their building a decade ago and this year will be able to take only $100,000 in depreciation. B Widget Maker acquired their building only one year ago and because of the high purchase price will be able to take $400,000 in depreciation on this year’s income statement.

Let’s look at the income statements for these two companies:

……………………………. A Widget Inc……….B Widget Maker

Sales…………………………5,000,000……………..5,000,000

Cost of Goods Sold……..2,000,000……………..2,000,000

Other Expenses*…………1,000,000……………..1,000,000

EBITDA……………………..2,000,000……………..2,000,000

Interest……………………..100,000…………………..300,000

Taxes……………………………….0……………………..100,000

Depreciation…………………100,000…………………400,000

Profits………………………..1,800,000……………..1,200,000

*All other expenses except Interest, Taxes, and Depreciation.

In our simplified universe, based on the excess earnings method of valuation, A would be worth 50% more than B (since 180,00 if 150% of 120,000). But let’s look at what happens to their earnings after you acquire them.

You are going to refinance the machines. Your credit history is better than B’s but you are unwilling to pledge your house as collateral (which A did to get his low rate) so in both cases you could get a rate of 7% (making the interest only payment on the loan $140,000). In both cases you will mark up the value of the building to fair market value, on which you’ll be able to take $450,000 in depreciation. Your company is organized as a C Corporation, and you project taxes on the additional profits at $80,000. Post acquisition, in either case your profits are identical.

So, you ask why not pay on a multiple of what you project your EBITDA would have been? You may internally calculate the rate of return that you’d like to see after non-cash expenses but talking to a seller about your taxes, methods of depreciation, and financing costs is never a good idea. and remember that if you are calculating a multiple based on profits and you want to close deals you’ll need to make the multiple higher since other buyers will be basing theirs on EBITDA.

Finally, I want to add a note about depreciation since with this non-cash expense the problem becomes a little more complex. There is a great deal of latitude in choosing what depreciation method a company uses and often the useful life that is assumed for depreciation is not an accurate reflection of the real world. You certainly do not want to value a company more highly simply because it chose a less aggressive depreciation schedule. In some circumstances, however, depreciation may represent a reasonable approximation of a real expense. I have, for example, seen buyers in the non-emergency medical transportation business who used a seven year depreciation schedule as a proxy for the cost of replacing a fleet of vehicles, which they decided was necessary roughly every seven years. In those cases I have seen buyer and seller agree to talk in terms of EBIT.

Source by David Annis

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