Valuation Approaches and Metrics: A Survey of the Theory
Stern School of Business
Valuation Approaches and Metrics: A Survey Article
Valuation lies at the heart of much of what we do in finance, whether it is the
study of market efficiency and questions about corporate governance or the comparison
of different investment decision rules in capital budgeting. In this paper, we consider the
theory and evidence on valuation approaches. We begin by surveying the literature on
discounted cash flow valuation models, ranging from the first mentions of the dividend
discount model to value stocks to the use of excess return models in more recent years. In
the second part of the paper, we examine relative valuation models and, in particular, the
use of multiples and comparables in valuation and evaluate whether relative valuation
models yield more or less precise estimates of value than discounted cash flow models. In
the final part of the paper, we set the stage for further research in valuation by noting the
estimation challenges we face as companies globalize and become exposed to risk in
Valuation can be considered the heart of finance. In corporate finance, we
consider how best to increase firm value by changing its investment, financing and
dividend decisions. In portfolio management, we expend resources trying to find firms
that trade at less than their true value and then hope to generate profits as prices converge
on value. In studying whether markets are efficient, we analyze whether market prices
deviate from value, and if so, how quickly they revert back. Understanding what
determines the value of a firm and how to estimate that value seems to be a prerequisite
for making sensible decisions.
Given the centrality of its role, you would think that the question of how best to
value a business, private or public, would have been well researched. As we will show in
this paper, the research into valuation models and metrics in finance is surprisingly
spotty, with some aspects of valuation, such as risk assessment, being deeply analyzed
and others, such as how best to estimate cash flows and reconciling different versions of
models, not receiving the attention that they deserve.
Overview of Valuation
Analysts use a wide spectrum of models, ranging from the simple to the
sophisticated. These models often make very different assumptions about the
fundamentals that determine value, but they do share some common characteristics and
can be classified in broader terms. There are several advantages to such a classification --
it makes it is easier to understand where individual models fit in to the big picture, why
they provide different results and when they have fundamental errors in logic.
In general terms, there are four approaches to valuation. The first, discounted
cashflow valuation, relates the value of an asset to the present value of expected future
cashflows on that asset. The second, liquidation and accounting valuation, is built around
valuing the existing assets of a firm, with accounting estimates of value or book value
often used as a starting point. The third, relative valuation, estimates the value of an asset
by looking at the pricing of 'comparable' assets relative to a common variable like
earnings, cashflows, book value or sales. The final approach, contingent claim valuation,
uses option pricing models to measure the value of assets that share option
characteristics. This is what generally falls under the rubric of real options.
Since almost everything in finance can be categorized as a subset of valuation and
we run the risk of ranging far from our mission, we will keep a narrow focus in this
paper. In particular, we will steer away any work done on real options, since it merits its
own survey article. In addition, we will keep our focus on papers that have examined the
theory and practice of valuation of companies and stocks, rather than on questions of
assessing risk and estimating discount rates that have consumed a great deal of attention
in the literature.
Discounted Cash flow Valuation
In discounted cashflows valuation, the value of an asset is the present value of the
expected cashflows on the asset, discounted back at a rate that reflects the riskiness of
these cashflows. This approach gets the most play in academia and comes with the best
theoretical credentials. In this section, we will look at the foundations of the approach and
some of the preliminary details on how we estimate its inputs.
Essence of Discounted Cashflow Valuation
We buy most assets because we expect them to generate cash flows for us in the
future. In discounted cash flow valuation, we begin with a simple proposition. The value
of an asset is not what someone perceives it to be worth but it is a function of the
expected cash flows on that asset. Put simply, assets with high and predictable cash flows
should have higher values than assets with low and volatile cash flows.
The notion that the value of an asset is the present value of the cash flows that you
expect to generate by holding it is neither new nor revolutionary. While knowledge of
compound interest goes back thousands of years1, the concrete analysts of present value
was stymied for centuries by religious bans on charging interest on loans, which was
treated as usury. In a survey article on the use of discounted cash flow in history, Parker
(1968) notes that the earliest interest rate tables date back to 1340 and were prepared by
Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, a Florentine merchant and politician, as part of his
manuscript titled Practica della Mercatura, which was not officially published until
1 Neugebauer, O.E.H., 1951, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, Copenhagen, Ejnar Munksgaard. He notes
that interest tables existed in Mesopotamia.
1766.2 The development of insurance and actuarial sciences in the next few centuries
provided an impetus for a more thorough study of present value. Simon Stevin, a Flemish
mathematician, wrote one of the first textbooks on financial mathematics in 1582 and laid
out the basis for the present value rule in an appendix.3
The extension of present value from insurance and lending to corporate finance
and valuation can be traced to both commercial and intellectual impulses. On the
commercial side, the growth of railroads in the United States in the second half of the
nineteenth century created a demand for new tools to analyze long-term investments with
significant cash outflows in the earlier years being offset by positive cash flows in the
later years. A civil engineer, A.M. Wellington, noted not only the importance of the time
value of money but argued that the present value of future cash flows should be
compared to the cost of up-front investment.4 He was followed by Walter O. Pennell, an
engineer of Southwestern Bell, who developed present value equations for annuities, to
examine whether to install new machinery or retain old equipment.5
The intellectual basis for discounted cash flow valuation were laid by Alfred
Marshall and Bohm-Bawerk, who discussed the concept of present value in their works in
the early part of the twentieth century.6 In fact, Bohm-Bawerk (1903) provided an
explicit example of present value calculations using the example of a house purchase
with twenty annual installment payments. However, the principles of modern valuation
1907 and The Theory of Interest in 1930.7 In these books, he suggested four alternative
approaches for analyzing investments, that he claimed would yield the same results. He
argued that when confronted with multiple investments, you should pick the investment
(a) that has the highest present value at the market interest rate; (b) where the present
2 Parker, R.H., 1968, Discounted Cash Flow in Historical Perspective, Journal of Accounting Research, v6,
3 Stevin, S., 1582, Tables of Interest.
4 Wellington, A.M., 1887, The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways, Wiley, New York.
5 Pennell, W.O., 1914, Present Worth Calculations in Engineering Studies, Journal of the Association of
6 Marshall, A., 1907, Principles of Economics, Macmillan, London; Bohm-Bawerk, A. V., 1903, Recent
Literature on Interest, Macmillan.
7 Fisher, I., 1907, The Rate of Interest, Macmillan, New York; Fisher, I., 1930, The Theory of Interest,
Macmillan, New York.
compared to the next most costly investment, yields a rate of return over cost that exceeds
the market interest rate. Note that the first two approaches represent the net present value
rule, the third is a variant of the IRR approach and the last is the marginal rate of return
approach. While Fisher did not delve too deeply into the notion of the rate of return, other
economists did. Looking at a single investment, Boulding (1935) derived the internal rate
of return for an investment from its expected cash flows and an initial investment.8
discount rate that makes the present value of the returns on an asset equal to its current
(1937) examined the differences between the internal rate of return and net present value
approaches and argued that rational investors should maximize the latter and not the
former.10 In the last 50 years, we have seen discounted cash flow models extend their
reach into security and business valuation, and the growth has been aided and abetted by
developments in portfolio theory.
Using discounted cash flow models is in some sense an act of faith. We believe
that every asset has an intrinsic value and we try to estimate that intrinsic value by
would be attached to an asset by an all-knowing analyst with access to all information
available right now and a perfect valuation model. No such analyst exists, of course, but
we all aspire to be as close as we can to this perfect analyst. The problem lies in the fact
that none of us ever gets to see what the true intrinsic value of an asset is and we
therefore have no way of knowing whether our discounted cash flow valuations are close
to the mark or not.
There are four variants of discounted cash flow models in practice, and theorists
have long argued about the advantages and disadvantages of each. In the first, we
discount expected cash flows on an asset (or a business) at a risk-adjusted discount rate to
8 Boulding, K.E., 1935, The Theory of a Single Investment, Quarterly Journal of Economics, v49, 479-494.
9 Keynes, J.M., 1936, The General Theory of Employment, Macmillan, London.
arrive at the value of the asset. In the second, we adjust the expected cash flows for risk
to arrive at what are termed risk-adjusted or certainty equivalent cash flows which we
discount at the riskfree rate to estimate the value of a risky asset. In the third, we value a
business first, without the effects of debt, and then consider the marginal effects on value,
positive and negative, of borrowing money. This approach is termed the adjusted present
value approach. Finally, we can value a business as a function of the excess returns we
expect it to generate on its investments. As we will show in the following section, there
are common assumptions that bind these approaches together, but there are variants in
assumptions in practice that result in different values.
Discount Rate Adjustment Models
Of the approaches for adjusting for risk in discounted cash flow valuation, the
most common one is the risk adjusted discount rate approach, where we use higher
discount rates to discount expected cash flows when valuing riskier assets, and lower
discount rates when valuing safer assets. There are two ways in which we can approach
discounted cash flow valuation. The first is to value the entire business, with both assets-
in-place and growth assets; this is often termed firm or enterprise valuation.
Assets in Place
Cash flows considered are
cashflows from assets,
Discount rate reflects the cost of
prior to any debt payments
raising both debt and equity
but after firm has
financing, in proportion to their
reinvested to create
Present value is value of the entire firm, and reflects the value of
all claims on the firm.
The cash flows before debt payments and after reinvestment needs are termed free cash
flows to the firm, and the discount rate that reflects the composite cost of financing from
all sources of capital is the cost of capital.
10 Samuelson, P., 1937, Some Aspects of the Pure Theory of Capital, Quarterly Journal of Economics, v51,
The second way is to just value the equity stake in the business, and this is called
Assets in Place
Cash flows considered are
cashflows from assets,
after debt payments and
Discount rate reflects only the
reinvestments needed for
cost of raising equity financing
Present value is value of just the equity claims on the firm
The cash flows after debt payments and reinvestment needs are called free cash flows to
equity, and the discount rate that reflects just the cost of equity financing is the cost of
Note also that we can always get from the former (firm value) to the latter (equity
value) by netting out the value of all non-equity claims from firm value. Done right, the
value of equity should be the same whether it is valued directly (by discounting cash
flows to equity a the cost of equity) or indirectly (by valuing the firm and subtracting out
the value of all non-equity claims).
1. Equity DCF Models
In equity valuation models, we focus our attention of the equity investors in a
business and value their stake by discounting the expected cash flows to these investors at
a rate of return that is appropriate for the equity risk in the company. The first set of
models examined take a strict view of equity cash flows and consider only dividends to
be cashflows to equity. These dividend discount models represent the oldest variant of
discounted cashflow models. We then consider broader definitions of cash flows to
equity, by first including stock buybacks in cash flows to equity and by then expanding
out analysis to cover potential dividends or free cash flows to equity.
a. Dividend Discount Model
The oldest discounted cash flow models in practice tend to be dividend discount
models. While many analysts have turned away from dividend discount models on the
premise that they yield estimates of value that are far too conservative, many of the
fundamental principles that come through with dividend discount models apply when we
look at other discounted cash flow models.
Basis for Dividend Discount Models
When investors buy stock in publicly traded companies, they generally expect to
get two types of cashflows - dividends during the holding period and an expected price at
the end of the holding period. Since this expected price is itself determined by future
dividends, the value of a stock is the present value of dividends through infinity.
The rationale for the model lies in the present value rule - the value of any asset is the
present value of expected future cash flows discounted at a rate appropriate to the
riskiness of the cash flows. There are two basic inputs to the model - expected dividends
and the cost on equity. To obtain the expected dividends, we make assumptions about
expected future growth rates in earnings and payout ratios. The required rate of return on
a stock is determined by its riskiness, measured differently in different models - the
market beta in the CAPM, and the factor betas in the arbitrage and multi-factor models.
The model is flexible enough to allow for time-varying discount rates, where the time
variation is caused by expected changes in interest rates or risk across time.
While explicit mention of dividend discount models did not show up in research
until the last few decades, investors and analysts have long linked equity values to
dividends. Perhaps the first book to explicitly connect the present value concept with
dividends was The Theory of Investment Value by John Burr Williams (1938), where he
stated the following:
more, no less... Present earnings, outlook, financial condition, and capitalization
should bear upon the price of a stock only as they assist buyers and sellers in
Williams also laid the basis for forecasting pro forma financial statements and drew a
distinction between valuing mature and growth companies.11 While much of his work has
become shrouded with myth, Ben Graham (1934) also made the connection between
dividends and stock values, but not through a discounted valuation model. He chose to
develop instead a series of screening measures that including low PE, high dividend
yields, reasonable growth and low risk that highlighted stocks that would be under valued
using a dividend discount model.12
Variations on the Dividend Discount Model
Since projections of dollar dividends cannot be made in perpetuity and publicly
traded firms, at least in theory, can last forever, several versions of the dividend discount
model have been developed based upon different assumptions about future growth. We
that pays out what it can afford to in dividends. The value of the stock can then be written
as a function of its expected dividends in the next time period, the cost of equity and the
expected growth rate in dividends.
Expected Dividends next period
(Cost of equity - Expected growth rate in perpetuity
Though this model has made the transition into every valuation textbook, its origins are
relatively recent and can be traced to early work by David Durand and Myron Gordon. It
was Durand (1957) who noted that valuing a stock with dividends growing at a constant
rate forever was a variation of The Petersburg Paradox, a seminal problem in utility
theory for which a solution was provided by Bernoulli in the eighteenth century.13 It was
Gordon, though, who popularized the model in subsequent articles and a book, thus
11 Williams, J.B., 1938, Theory of Investment Value, Fraser Publishing company (reprint).
12 Dodd, D. and B. Graham, 1934, Security Analysis, McGraw Hill, New York; Graham, B., 1949, The
Intelligent Investor, Collins (reprint).
13 Durand, D., 1957, Growth Stocks and the St. Petersburg Paradox, Journal of Finance, v12, 348-363.
giving it the title of the Gordon growth model.14 While the Gordon growth model is a
simple approach to valuing equity, its use is limited to firms that are growing at stable
rates that can be sustained forever. There are two insights worth keeping in mind when
estimating a 'stable' growth rate. First, since the growth rate in the firm's dividends is
expected to last forever, it cannot exceed the growth rate of the economy in which the
firm operates. The second is that the firm's other measures of performance (including
earnings) can also be expected to grow at the same rate as dividends. To see why,
consider the consequences in the long term of a firm whose earnings grow 3% a year
forever, while its dividends grow at 4%. Over time, the dividends will exceed earnings.
On the other hand, if a firm's earnings grow at a faster rate than dividends in the long
term, the payout ratio, in the long term, will converge towards zero, which is also not a
steady state. Thus, though the model's requirement is for the expected growth rate in
dividends, analysts should be able to substitute in the expected growth rate in earnings
and get precisely the same result, if the firm is truly in steady state.
In response to the demand for more flexibility when faced with higher growth
companies, a number of variations on the dividend discount model were developed over
time in practice. The simplest extension is a two-stage growth model allows for an initial
phase where the growth rate is not a stable growth rate and a subsequent steady state
where the growth rate is stable and is expected to remain so for the long term. While, in
most cases, the growth rate during the initial phase will be higher than the stable growth
rate, the model can be adapted to value companies that are expected to post low or even
negative growth rates for a few years and then revert back to stable growth. The value of
equity can be written as the present value of expected dividends during the non-stable
growth phase and the present value of the price at the end of the high growth phase,
usually computed using the Gordon growth model:
(Cost of Equity - g)
where E(DPS ) is the expected dividends per share in period t and g is the stable growth
rate after n years. More complicated variants of this model allow for more than two
14 Gordon, M.J., 1962, The Investment, Financing and Valuation of the Corporation, Homewood, Illinois:
stages of growth, with a concurrent increase in the number of inputs that have to be
estimated to value a company, but no real change in the underlying principle that the
value of a stock is the present value of the expected dividends.15
To allow for computational simplicity with higher growth models, some
researchers added constraints on other aspects of firm behavior including risk and
two-stage model for growth, but unlike the classical two-stage model, the growth rate in
the initial growth phase is not constant but declines linearly over time to reach the stable
growth rate in steady state. This model was presented in Fuller and Hsia (1984) and is
based upon the assumption that the earnings growth rate starts at a high initial rate (ga)
and declines linearly over the extraordinary growth period (which is assumed to last 2H
periods) to a stable growth rate (gn).16 It also assumes that the dividend payout and cost
of equity are constant over time and are not affected by the shifting growth rates. Figure 1
graphs the expected growth over time in the H Model.
Figure 1: Expected Growth in the H Model
Extraordinary growth phase: 2H years
Infinite growth phase
Richard D. Irwin, Inc.
15 The development of multi-stage dividend discount models can be attributed more to practitioners than
academic researchers. For instance, Sanford Bernstein, an investment firm founded in 1967, has used a
proprietary two-stage dividend discount model to analyze stocks for decades. An extensive categorization
of multi-stage models is provided in Damodaran, A., 1994, Damodaran on Valuation, John Wiley, New
16 Fuller, R.J. and C. Hsia, 1984, A Simplified Common Stock Valuation Model, Financial Analysts
Journal, v40, 49-56.
The value of expected dividends in the H Model can be written as:
where DPS is the current dividend per share and growth is expected to decline linearly
over the next 2H years to a stable growth rate of g . This model avoids the problems
! associated with the growth rate dropping precipitously from the high growth to the stable
growth phase, but it does so at a cost. First, the decline in the growth rate is expected to
follow the strict structure laid out in the model -- it drops in linear increments each year
based upon the initial growth rate, the stable growth rate and the length of the
extraordinary growth period. While small deviations from this assumption do not affect
the value significantly, large deviations can cause problems. Second, the assumption that
the payout ratio is constant through both phases of growth exposes the analyst to an
inconsistency -- as growth rates decline the payout ratio usually increases. The allowance
for a gradual decrease in growth rates over time may make this a useful model for firms
which are growing rapidly right now, but where the growth is expected to decline
gradually over time as the firms get larger and the differential advantage they have over
their competitors declines. The assumption that the payout ratio is constant, however,
makes this an inappropriate model to use for any firm that has low or no dividends
currently. Thus, the model, by requiring a combination of high growth and high payout,
may be quite limited in its applicability 17.
Applicability of the Dividend Discount Model
While many analysts have abandoned the dividend discount model, arguing that
its focus on dividends is too narrow, the model does have its proponents. The dividend
discount model's primary attraction is its simplicity and its intuitive logic. After all,
dividends represent the only cash flow from the firm that is tangible to investors.
Estimates of free cash flows to equity and the firm remain estimates and conservative
investors can reasonably argue that they cannot lay claim on these cash flows. The
second advantage of using the dividend discount model is that we need fewer
17 Proponents of the model would argue that using a steady state payout ratio for firms that pay little or no
dividends is likely to cause only small errors in the valuation.
assumptions to get to forecasted dividends than to forecasted free cashflows. To get to the
latter, we have to make assumptions about capital expenditures, depreciation and working
capital. To get to the former, we can begin with dividends paid last year and estimate a
growth rate in these dividends. Finally, it can be argued that managers set their dividends
at levels that they can sustain even with volatile earnings. Unlike cash flows that ebb and
firms. Thus, valuations based upon dividends will be less volatile over time than cash
flow based valuations.
expose it to a serious problem. Many firms choose to hold back cash that they can pay out
to stockholders. As a consequence, the free cash flows to equity at these firms exceed
dividends and large cash balances build up. While stockholders may not have a direct
claim on the cash balances, they do own a share of these cash balances and their equity
values should reflect them. In the dividend discount model, we essentially abandon equity
claims on cash balances and under value companies with large and increasing cash
balances. At the other end of the spectrum, there are also firms that pay far more in
dividends than they have available in cash flows, often funding the difference with new
debt or equity issues. With these firms, using the dividend discount model can generate
value estimates that are too optimistic because we are assuming that firms can continue to
draw on external funding to meet the dividend deficits in perpetuity.
Notwithstanding its limitations, the dividend discount model can be useful in
exceed dividends. For these firms, the dividend discount model will yield a
conservative estimate of value, on the assumption that the cash not paid out by
managers will be wasted n poor investments or acquisitions.
flow to equity as dividends, at least on average over time. There are firms, especially
in mature businesses, with stable earnings, that try to calibrate their dividends to
available cashflows. At least until very recently, regulated utility companies in the
United States, such as phone and power, were good examples of such firms.
cash flows that can be estimated with any degree of precision. There are two reasons
why dividend discount model remain widely used to value financial service
companies. The first is that estimating capital expenditures and working capital for a
bank, an investment bank or an insurance company is difficult to do.18 The second is
that retained earnings and book equity have real consequences for financial service
companies since their regulatory capital ratios are computed on the basis of book
value of equity.
In summary, then, the dividend discount model has far more applicability than its critics
concede. Even the conventional wisdom that the dividend discount model cannot be used
to value a stock that pays low or no dividends is wrong. If the dividend payout ratio is
adjusted to reflect changes in the expected growth rate, a reasonable value can be
obtained even for non-dividend paying firms. Thus, a high-growth firm, paying no
dividends currently, can still be valued based upon dividends that it is expected to pay out
when the growth rate declines. In practice, Michaud and Davis (1981) note that the
dividend discount model is biased towards finding stocks with high dividend yields and
low P/E ratios to be under valued.19 They argue that the anti-growth bias of the dividend
discount model can be traced to the use of fixed and often arbitrary risk premiums and
costs of equity, and suggest that the bias can be reduced or even eliminated with the use
of market implied risk premiums and returns.
How well does the dividend discount model work?
The true measure of a valuation model is how well it works in (i) explaining
differences in the pricing of assets at any point in time and across time and (ii) how
quickly differences between model and market prices get resolved.
Researchers have come to mixed conclusions on the first question, especially at it
relates to the aggregate equity market. Shiller (1981) presents evidence that the volatility
18 This is true for any firm whose primary asset is human capital. Accounting conventions have generally
treated expenditure on human capital (training, recruiting etc.) as operating expenditures. Working capital
is meaningless for a bank, at least in its conventional form since current assets and liabilities comprise
much of what is on the balance sheet.
19 Michaud, R.O. and P.L. Davis, 1981, Valuation Model Bias and the Scale Structure of Dividend
Discount Returns, Journal of Finance, v37, 563-573.
in stock prices is far too high to be explained by variance in dividends over time; in other
words, market prices vary far more than the present value of dividends.20 In attempts to
explain the excess market volatility, Poterba and Summers (1988) argue that risk
premiums can change over time21 and Fama and French (1988) note that dividend yields
are much more variable than dividends.22 Looking at a much longer time period (1871-
2003), Foerster and Sapp (2005) find that the dividend discount model does a reasonably
good job of explaining variations in the S&P 500 index, though there are systematic
differences over time in how investors value future dividends.23
To answer the second question, Sorensen and Williamson (1985) valued 150
stocks from the S&P 400 in December 1980, using the dividend discount model.24 They
used the difference between the market price at that time and the model value to form
five portfolios based upon the degree of under or over valuation. They made fairly broad
assumptions in using the dividend discount model:
(a) The average of the earnings per share between 1976 and 1980 was used as the
current earnings per share.
(b) The cost of equity was estimated using the CAPM.
(c) The extraordinary growth period was assumed to be five years for all stocks
and the I/B/E/S consensus analyst forecast of earnings growth was used as the
growth rate for this period.
(d) The stable growth rate, after the extraordinary growth period, was assumed to
be 8% for all stocks.
(e) The payout ratio was assumed to be 45% for all stocks.
The returns on these five portfolios were estimated for the following two years (January
1981-January 1983) and excess returns were estimated relative to the S&P 500 Index
using the betas estimated at the first stage. Figure 2 illustrates the excess returns earned
20 Shiller, R., 1981, Do Stock Prices Move Too Much to be Justified by Subsequent Changes in
Dividends? American Economic Review, v71, 421-436.
21 Poterba, J., and L. Summers, 1988, Mean reversion in stock prices: evidence and implications, Journal
of Financial Economics, v22, 27-59.
22 Fama, E. and K. French, 1988, Dividend Yields and Expected Stock Returns, Journal of Financial
Economics 22, 3-25.
23 Foerster, S.R. and S.G. Sapp, 2005, Dividends and Stock Valuation: A Study of the Nineteenth to the
Twenty-first Century, Working Paper, University of Western Ontario.
24 Sorensen, E.H. and D.A. Williamson, 1985, Some Evidence on the Value of the Dividend Discount
by the portfolio that was undervalued by the dividend discount model relative to both the
market and the overvalued portfolio.
The undervalued portfolio had a positive excess return of 16% per annum between 1981
and 1983, while the overvalued portfolio had a negative excess return of almost 20% per
annum during the same time period. In the long term, undervalued (overvalued) stocks
from the dividend discount model outperform (under perform) the market index on a risk-
adjusted basis. However, this result should be taken with a grain of salt, given that the
dividend discount model tends to find stocks with high dividend yields and low PE ratios
to be under valued, and there is well established empirical evidence showing that stocks
with those characteristics generate excess returns, relative to established risk and return
models in finance. In other words, it is unclear how much of the superior performance
attributed to the dividend discount model could have been replicated with a far simpler
strategy of buying low PE stocks with high dividend yields.
Model, Financial Analysts Journal, v41, 60-69.
b. Extended Equity Valuation Models
In the dividend discount model, we implicitly assume that firms pay out what they
can afford to as dividends. In reality, though, firms often choose not to do so. In some
cases, they accumulate cash in the hope of making investments in the future. In other
cases, they find other ways, including buybacks, of returning cash to stockholders.
Extended equity valuation models try to capture this cash build-up in value by
considering the cash that could have been paid out in dividends rather than the actual
Dividends versus Potential Dividends
Fama and French (2001) report that only 20.8% of firms paid dividends in 1999,
compared with 66.5% in 1978 and find that only a portion of the decline can be attributed
to changes in firm characteristics; there were more small cap, high growth firms in 1999
than in 1978. After controlling for differences, they conclude that firms became less
likely to pay dividends over the period.25
The decline in dividends over time has been attributed to a variety of factors.
DeAngelo, DeAngelo and Skinner (2004) argue that aggregate dividends paid by
companies has not decreased and that the decreasing dividends can be traced to smaller
firms that are uninterested in paying dividends.26 Baker and Wurgler (2004) provide a
behavioral rationale by pointing out that the decrease in dividends over time can be
attributed to an increasing segment of investors who do not want dividends.27 Hoberg and
Prabhala (2005) posit that the decrease in dividends is because of an increase in risk, by
noting that increases in idiosyncratic risk (rather than dividend clientele) explain the drop
in dividends.28 Notwithstanding the reasons, the gap between dividends paid and
potential dividends has increased over time both in the aggregate and for individual firms,
creating a challenge to those who use dividend discount models.
25 Fama, E.F. and K.R. French, 2001, 2001, Disappearing dividends: Changing firm characteristics or
26 DeAngelo, H., L. DeAngelo, and D. Skinner, 2004, Are dividends disappearing? Dividend concentration
27 Baker, M., and J. Wurgler, 2004a, Appearing and disappearing dividends: The link to catering
28 Hoberg, G. and N.R. Prabhala, 2005, Disappearing Dividends: The Importance of idiosyncratic risk and
the irrelevance of catering, Working Paper, University of Maryland.
One fix for this problem is to replace dividends in the dividend discount models with
potential dividends, but that raises an estimation question: How do we best estimate
potential dividends? There are three suggested variants. In the first, we extend our
definition of cash returned to stockholders to include stock buybacks, thus implicitly
assuming that firms that accumulate cash by not paying dividends return use them to buy
back stock. In the second, we try to compute the cash that could have been paid out as
dividends by estimating the residual cash flow after meeting reinvestment needs and
making debt payments. In the third, we either accounting earnings or variants of earnings
as proxies for potential dividends.
Buybacks as Dividends
One reason for the fall of the dividend discount model from favor has been the
increased use of stock buybacks as a way of returning cash to stockholders. A simple
response to this trend is to expand the definition of dividends to include stock buybacks
and to value stocks based on this composite number. In recent years, firms in the United
States have increasingly turned to stock buybacks as a way of returning cash to
stockholders. Figure 3 presents the cumulative amounts paid out by firms in the form of
dividends and stock buybacks from 1989 to 2002.
The trend towards stock buybacks is very strong, especially in the 1990s. By early 2000,
more cash was being returned to stockholders in stock buybacks than in conventional
What are the implications for the dividend discount model? Focusing strictly on
dividends paid as the only cash returned to stockholders exposes us to the risk that we
might be missing significant cash returned to stockholders in the form of stock buybacks.
The simplest way to incorporate stock buybacks into a dividend discount model is to add
them on to the dividends and compute a modified payout ratio:
While this adjustment is straightforward, the resulting ratio for any year can be skewed
by the fact that stock buybacks, unlike dividends, are not smoothed out. In other words, a
years. Consequently, a much better estimate of the modified payout ratio can be obtained
by looking at the average value over a four or five year period. In addition, firms may
sometimes buy back stock as a way of increasing financial leverage. If this is a concern,
we could adjust for this by netting out new debt issued from the calculation above:
Stock uybacks -
Damodaran (2006) presents this extension to the basic dividend discount model and
argues that it works well in explaining the market prices of companies that follow a
policy of returning cash over regular intervals in the form of stock buybacks.29
Free Cash Flow to Equity (FCFE) Model
The free cash flow to equity model does not represent a radical departure from the
traditional dividend discount model. In fact, one way to describe a free cash flow to
equity model is that it represents a model where we discount potential dividends rather
than actual dividends. Damodaran (1994) a measure of free cash flow to equity that
captures the cash flow left over all reinvestment needs and debt payments:
Practitioners have long used variants of free cash flow to equity to judge the
attractiveness of companies as investments. Buffett, for instance, has argued that
he defined to be cash flows left over after capital expenditures and working capital needs,
a measure of free cash flow to equity that ignores cash flows from debt.30
When we replace the dividends with FCFE to value equity, we are doing more than
substituting one cash flow for another. We are implicitly assuming that the FCFE will be
paid out to stockholders. There are two consequences.
1. There will be no future cash build-up in the firm, since the cash that is available
after debt payments and reinvestment needs is paid out to stockholders each
2. The expected growth in FCFE will include growth in income from operating
assets and not growth in income from increases in marketable securities. This
follows directly from the last point.
How does discounting free cashflows to equity compare with the modified dividend
discount model, where stock buybacks are added back to dividends and discounted? You
can consider stock buybacks to be the return of excess cash accumulated largely as a
consequence of not paying out their FCFE as dividends. Thus, FCFE represent a
smoothed out measure of what companies can return to their stockholders over time in
the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
The FCFE model treats the stockholder in a publicly traded firm as the equivalent
of the owner in a private business. The latter can lay claim on all cash flows left over in
the business after taxes, debt payments and reinvestment needs have been met. Since the
free cash flow to equity measures the same for a publicly traded firm, we are assuming
that stockholders are entitled to these cash flows, even if managers do not choose to pay
them out. In essence, the FCFE model, when used in a publicly traded firm, implicitly
assumes that there is a strong corporate governance system in place. Even if stockholders
cannot force managers to return free cash flows to equity as dividends, they can put
pressure on managers to ensure that the cash that does not get paid out is not wasted.
29 Damodaran, A. 2006, Damodaran on Valuation, Second Edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
30 Hagstrom, R., 2004, The Warren Buffett Way, John Wiley, New York.
As with the dividend discount model, there are variations on the free cashflow to
equity model, revolving around assumptions about future growth and reinvestment needs.
The constant growth FCFE model is designed to value firms that are growing at a stable
rate and are hence in steady state. The value of equity, under the constant growth model,
is a function of the expected FCFE in the next period, the stable growth rate and the
required rate of return.
Cost of Equity " Stable Growth Rate
The model is very similar to the Gordon growth model in its underlying assumptions and
works under some of the same constraints. The growth rate used in the model has to be
! less than or equal to the expected nominal growth rate in the economy in which the firm
operates. The assumption that a firm is in steady state also implies that it possesses other
characteristics shared by stable firms. This would mean, for instance, that capital
expenditures, relative to depreciation, are not disproportionately large and the firm is of
'average' risk. Damodaran (1994, 2002) examines two-stage and multi-stage versions of
these models with the estimation adjustments that have to be made as growth decreases
over time. The assumptions about growth are similar to the ones made by the multi-stage
dividend discount model, but the focus is on FCFE instead of dividends, making it more
suited to value firms whose dividends are significantly higher or lower than the FCFE. In
particular, it gives more realistic estimates of value for equity for high growth firms that
are expected to have negative cash flows to equity in the near future. The discounted
value of these negative cash flows, in effect, captures the effect of the new shares that
will be issued to fund the growth during the period, and thus indirectly captures the
dilution effect of value of equity per share today.
The failure of companies to pay out what they can afford to in dividends and the
difficulties associated with estimating cash flows has led some to argue that firms are best
valued by discounting earnings or variants of earnings. Ohlson (1995) starts with the
where the goodwill on the balance sheet represents the present value of future abnormal
earnings. He goes on to show that the value of a stock can be written in terms of its book
value and capitalized current earnings, adjusted for dividends.31 Feltham and Ohlson
(1995) build on the same argument to establish a relationship between value and
earnings.32 Penman and Sougiannis (1997) also argue that GAAP earnings can be
substituted for dividends in equity valuation, as long as analysts reduce future earnings
and book value to reflect dividend payments.33 Since these models are built as much on
book value as they are on earnings, we will return to consider them in the context of
accounting valuation models.
While it is possible, on paper, to establish the equivalence of earnings-based and
dividend discount models, if done right, the potential for double counting remains high
with the former. In particular, discounting earnings as if they were cash flows paid out to
stockholders while also counting the growth that is created by reinvesting those earnings
will lead to the systematic overvaluation of stocks. In one of the more egregious
examples of this double counting, Glassman and Hassett (2000) assumed that equity was
close to risk free in the long term and discounted earnings as cash flows, while counting
on long term earnings growth set equal to nominal GDP growth, to arrive at the
conclusion that the Dow Jones should be trading at three times its then prevailing level.34
Potential Dividend versus Dividend Discount Models
The FCFE model can be viewed as an alternative to the dividend discount model.
Since the two approaches sometimes provide different estimates of value for equity, it is
worth examining when they provide similar estimates of value, when they provide
different estimates of value and what the difference tells us about the firm.
There are two conditions under which the value from using the FCFE in
discounted cashflow valuation will be the same as the value obtained from using the
dividend discount model. The first is the obvious one, where the dividends are equal to
the FCFE. There are firms that maintain a policy of paying out excess cash as dividends
31Ohlson, J. 1995, Earnings, Book values and Dividends in Security Valuation, Contemporary Accounting
Research, v11, 661-687.
32Feltham, G. and J. Ohlson. 1995. Valuation and Clean Surplus Accounting of Operation and Financial
Activities, Contemporary Accounting Research, v11, 689-731.
33 Penman, S. and T. Sougiannis, 1997. The Dividend Displacement Property and the Substitution of
Anticipated Earnings for Dividends in Equity Valuation, The Accounting Review, v72, 1-21.
34 Glassman, J. and K. Hassett, 2000, Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise
in the Stock Market, Three Rivers Press.
either because they have pre-committed to doing so or because they have investors who
expect this policy of them. The second condition is more subtle, where the FCFE is
greater than dividends, but the excess cash (FCFE - Dividends) is invested in fairly priced
assets (i.e. assets that earn a fair rate of return and thus have zero net present value). For
instance, investing in financial assets that are fairly priced should yield a net present
value of zero. To get equivalent values from the two approaches, though, we have to keep
track of accumulating cash in the dividend discount model and add it to the value of
equity. Damodaran (2006) provides an illustration of this equivalence.35
There are several cases where the two models will provide different estimates of
value. First, when the FCFE is greater than the dividend and the excess cash either earns
below-market interest rates or is invested in negative net present value assets, the value
from the FCFE model will be greater than the value from the dividend discount model.
There is reason to believe that this is not as unusual as it would seem at the outset. There
are numerous case studies of firms, which having accumulated large cash balances by
paying out low dividends relative to FCFE, have chosen to use this cash to overpay on
acquisitions. Second, the payment of dividends less than FCFE lowers debt-equity ratios
and may lead the firm to become under levered, causing a loss in value. In the cases
where dividends are greater than FCFE, the firm will have to issue either new stock or
debt to pay these dividends or cut back on its investments, leading to at least one of three
negative consequences for value. If the firm issues new equity to fund dividends, it will
face substantial issuance costs that decrease value. If the firm borrows the money to pay
the dividends, the firm may become over levered (relative to the optimal) leading to a
loss in value. Finally, if paying too much in dividends leads to capital rationing
constraints where good projects are rejected, there will be a loss of value (captured by the
net present value of the rejected projects). There is a third possibility and it reflects
different assumptions about reinvestment and growth in the two models. If the same
growth rate used in the dividend discount and FCFE models, the FCFE model will give a
higher value than the dividend discount model whenever FCFE ar
e higher than dividends and a lower value when dividends exceed FCFE. In reality, the
growth rate in FCFE should be different from the growth rate in dividends, because the
free cash flow to equity is assumed to be paid out to stockholders. In general, when firms
35 Damnodaran, A,, 2006, Damodaran on Valuation (Second edition), John Wiley & Sons, New York.
pay out much less in dividends than they have available in FCFE, the expected growth
rate and terminal value will be higher in the dividend discount model, but the year-to-
year cash flows will be higher in the FCFE model.
When the value using the FCFE model is different from the value using the
dividend discount model, with consistent growth assumptions, there are two questions
that need to be addressed - What does the difference between the two models tell us?
Which of the two models is the appropriate one to use in evaluating the market price?
The more common occurrence is for the value from the FCFE model to exceed the value
from the dividend discount model. The difference between the value from the FCFE
model and the value using the dividend discount model can be considered one component
of the value of controlling a firm - it measures the value of controlling dividend policy. In
a hostile takeover, the bidder can expect to control the firm and change the dividend
policy (to reflect FCFE), thus capturing the higher FCFE value. As for which of the two
values is the more appropriate one for use in evaluating the market price, the answer lies
in the openness of the market for corporate control. If there is a sizable probability that a
firm can be taken over or its management changed, the market price will reflect that
likelihood and the appropriate benchmark to use is the value from the FCFE model. As
changes in corporate control become more difficult, either because of a firm's size and/or
legal or market restrictions on takeovers, the value from the dividend discount model will
provide the appropriate benchmark for comparison.
2. Firm DCF Models
The alternative to equity valuation is to value the entire business. The value of the
firm is obtained by discounting the free cashflow to the firm at the weighted average cost
of capital. Embedded in this value are the tax benefits of debt (in the use of the after-tax
cost of debt in the cost of capital) and expected additional risk associated with debt (in
the form of higher costs of equity and debt at higher debt ratios).
Basis for Firm Valuation Models
In the cost of capital approach, we begin by valuing the firm, rather than the
equity. Netting out the market value of the non-equity claims from this estimate yields
the value of equity in the firm. Implicit in the cost of capital approach is the assumption
that the cost of capital captures both the tax benefits of borrowing and the expected
bankruptcy costs. The cash flows discounted are the cash flows to the firm, computed as
if the firm had no debt and no tax benefits from interest expenses.
cited papers by Miller and Modigliani (1958) where they note that the value of a firm can
be written as the present value of its after-tax operating cash flows:36
E(X " I )
where Xt is the after-tax operating earnings and It is the investment made back into the
being that the cost of capital would remain unchanged as debt ratio changed in a world
with no taxes, default risk and agency issues. While there are varying definitions of the
expected after-tax operating cash flow in use, the most common one is the free cash flow
to the firm, defined as follows:
In essence, this is a cash flow after taxes and reinvestment needs but before any debt
payments, thus providing a contrast to free cashflows to equity that are after interest
payments and debt cash flows.
There are two things to note about this model. The first is that it is general enough
to survive the relaxing of the assuming of financing irrelevance; in other words, the value
of the firm is still the present value of the after-tax operating cash flows in a world where
the cost of capital changes as the debt ratio changes. Second, while it is a widely held
preconception that the cost of capital approach requires the assumption of a constant debt
ratio, the approach is flexible enough to allow for debt ratios that change over time. In
fact, one of the biggest strengths of the model is the ease with which changes in the
financing mix can be built into the valuation through the discount rate rather than through
the cash flows.
The most revolutionary and counter intuitive idea behind firm valuation is the
notion that equity investors and lenders to a firm are ultimately partners who supply
capital to the firm and share in its success. The primary difference between equity and
36Modigliani, F. and M. Miller, 1958, The Cost of Capital, Corporation Finance and the Theory of
Investment, American Economic Review, v48, 261-297.
get prior claims to fixed cash flows and equity investors get residual claims to remaining
Variations on firm valuation models
As with the dividend discount and FCFE models, the FCFF model comes in
different forms, largely as the result of assumptions about how high the expected growth
is and how long it is likely to continue. As with the dividend discount and FCFE models,
be valued using a stable growth mode using the following equation:
There are two conditions that need to be met in using this model, both of which mirror
conditions imposed in the dividend discount and FCFE models. First, the growth rate
nominal growth if the cost of capital is in nominal terms, or real growth if the cost of
capital is a real cost of capital. Second, the characteristics of the firm have to be
consistent with assumptions of stable growth. In particular, the reinvestment rate used to
estimate free cash flows to the firm should be consistent with the stable growth rate.
Implicit in the use of a constant cost of capital for a growing firm is the assumption that
the debt ratio of the firm is held constant over time. The implications of this assumption
were examined in Miles and Ezzel (1980), who noted that the approach not only assumed
tax savings that would grow in perpetuity but that these tax savings were, in effect, being
discounted as the unlevered cost of equity to arrive at value.37
Like all stable growth models, this one is sensitive to assumptions about the
expected growth rate. This sensitivity is accentuated, however, by the fact that the
37 Miles, J. and J.R. Ezzell, 1980, The weighted average cost of capital, perfect capital markets and project
life: A clarification, Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, v40, 1485-1492.
discount rate used in valuation is the WACC, which is lower than the cost of equity for
most firms. Furthermore, the model is sensitive to assumptions made about capital
expenditures relative to depreciation. If the inputs for reinvestment are not a function of
expected growth, the free cashflow to the firm can be inflated (deflated) by reducing
(increasing) capital expenditures relative to depreciation. If the reinvestment rate is
estimated from the return on capital, changes in the return on capital can have significant
effects on firm value.
Rather than break the free cash flow model into two-stage and three-stage models
and risk repeating what was said earlier, we present the general version of the model in
this section. The value of the firm, in the most general case, can be written as the present
value of expected free cashflows to the firm.
If the firm reaches steady state after n years and starts growing at a stable growth rate gn
after that, the value of the firm can be written as:
Since the cash flows used are cash flows from the operating assets, the cost of capital that
is used should reflect only the operati!
ng risk of the company. It also follows that the
present value of the cash flows obtained by discounting the cash flows at the cost of
capital will measure the value of only the operating assets of the firm (which contribute
to the operating income). Any assets whose earnings are not part of operating income
have not been valued yet. The McKinsey books on valuation have provided extensive
coverage both of the estimation questions associated with discounted cash flow valuation
and the link between value and corporate financial decisions.38
To get from the value of operating assets to the value of equity, we have to first
incorporate the value of non-operating assets that are owned by the firm and then subtract
out all non-equity claims that may be outstanding against the firm. Non-operating assets
include all assets whose earnings are not counted as part of the operating income. The
most common of the non-operating assets is cash and marketable securities, which can
often amount to billions at large corporations and the value of these assets should be
added on to the value of the operating assets. In addition, the operating income from
minority holdings in other companies is not included in the operating income and FCFF;
we therefore need to value these holdings and add them on to the value of the operating
assets. Finally, the firm may own idle and unutilized assets that do not generate earnings
or cash flows. These assets can still have value and should be added on to the value of the
operating assets. The non-equity claims that have to be subtracted out include not only all
debt, but all capitalized leases as well as unfunded pension plan and health care
obligations. Damodaran (2006) contains extensive discussions of the adjustments that
have to be made to arrive at equity value and further still at equity value per share.39
Firm versus Equity Valuation Models
This firm valuation model, unlike the dividend discount model or the FCFE
model, values the firm rather than equity. The value of equity, however, can be extracted
from the value of the firm by subtracting out the market value of outstanding debt. Since
this model can be viewed as an alternative way of valuing equity, two questions arise -
Why value the firm rather than equity? Will the values for equity obtained from the firm
valuation approach be consistent with the values obtained from the equity valuation
approaches described in the previous section?
The advantage of using the firm valuation approach is that cashflows relating to
debt do not have to be considered explicitly, since the FCFF is a pre-debt cashflow, while
they have to be taken into account in estimating FCFE. In cases where the leverage is
38 Copeland, T.E., T. Koller and J. Murrin, 1990, Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of
Companies, John Wiley and Sons (first three editions) and Koller, T., M. Goedhart and D. Wessels, 2005,
Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, John Wiley and Sons (Fourth Edition).
39 Damodaran, A., 2006, Damodaran on Valuation, Second Edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
expected to change significantly over time, this is a significant saving, since estimating
new debt issues and debt repayments when leverage is changing can become increasingly
difficult, the further into the future you go. The firm valuation approach does, however,
require information about debt ratios and interest rates to estimate the weighted average
cost of capital.
The value for equity obtained from the firm valuation and equity valuation
approaches will be the same if you make consistent assumptions about financial leverage.
Getting them to converge in practice is much more difficult. Let us begin with the
earnings before interest and taxes and a tax rate of 40%. Assume that the firm has equity
Note that the firm has no reinvestment and no growth. We can value equity in this firm
by subtracting out the value of debt.
Now let us value the equity directly by estimating the net income:
The value of equity can be obtained by discounting this net income at the cost of equity:
Even this simple example works because of the following assumptions that we made
implicitly or explicitly during the valuation.
1. The values for debt and equity used to compute the cost of capital were equal to
the values that we obtained in the valuation. Notwithstanding the circularity in
indicates that a cost of capital based upon market value weights will not yield the
same value for equity as an equity valuation model, if the firm is not fairly priced
in the first place.
2. There are no extraordinary or non-operating items that affect net income but not
operating income. Thus, to get from operating to net income, all we do is subtract
out interest expenses and taxes.
3. The interest expenses are equal to the pre-tax cost of debt multiplied by the
market value of debt. If a firm has old debt on its books, with interest expenses
that are different from this value, the two approaches will diverge.
If there is expected growth, the potential for inconsistency multiplies. We have to ensure
that we borrow enough money to fund new investments to keep our debt ratio at a level
consistent with what we are assuming when we compute the cost of capital.
Certainty Equivalent Models
While most analysts adjust the discount rate for risk in DCF valuation, there are
some who prefer to adjust the expected cash flows for risk. In the process, they are
replacing the uncertain expected cash flows with the certainty equivalent cashflows,
using a risk adjustment process akin to the one used to adjust discount rates.
Misunderstanding Risk Adjustment
At the outset of this section, it should be emphasized that many analysts
misunderstand what risk adjusting the cash flows requires them to do. There are some
who consider the cash flows of an asset under a variety of scenarios, ranging from best
case to catastrophic, assign probabilities to each one, take an expected value of the cash
flows and consider it risk adjusted. While it is true that bad outcomes have been weighted
in to arrive at this cash flow, it is still an expected cash flow and is not risk adjusted. To
see why, assume that you were given a choice between two alternatives. In the first one,
guaranteed cash flows over the second one.
If this argument sounds familiar, it is because it is a throwback to the very
beginnings of utility theory. In one of the most widely cited thought experiments in
economics, Nicholas Bernoulli proposed a hypothetical gamble that updated would look
something like this: He would flip a coin once and would pay you a dollar if the coin
came up tails on the first flip; the experiment would stop if it came up heads. If you won
the dollar on the first flip, though, you would be offered a second flip where you could
double your winnings if the coin came up tails again. The game would thus continue,
with the prize doubling at each stage, until you lost. How much, he wanted to know,
would you be willing to pay to partake in this gamble? This gamble, called the St.
Petersburg Paradox, has an expected value of infinity but no person would be willing to
pay that much. In fact, most of us would pay only a few dollars to play this game. In that
context, Bernoulli unveiled the notion of a certainty equivalent, a guaranteed cash flow
that we would accept instead of an uncertain cash flow and argued that more risk averse
investors would settle for lower certainty equivalents for a given set of uncertain cash
flows than less risk averse investors. In the example given in the last paragraph, a risk
The practical question that we will address in this section is how best to convert
uncertain expected cash flows into guaranteed certainty equivalents. While we do not
disagree with the notion that it should be a function of risk aversion, the estimation
challenges remain daunting.
Utility Models: Bernoulli revisited
The first (and oldest) approach to computing certainty equivalents is rooted in the
utility functions for individuals. If we can specify the utility function of wealth for an
individual, we are well set to convert risky cash flows to certainty equivalents for that
individual. For instance, an individual with a log utility function would have demanded a
40 Bernoulli, D., 1738, Exposition of a New Theory on the Measurement of Risk. Translated into English in
Econometrica, January 1954.
each expected cash flow can be converted into a certainty equivalent.41
One quirk of using utility models to estimate certainty equivalents is that the
certainty equivalent of a positive expected cash flow can be negative. Consider, for
certainty equivalent may very well be negative, with the effect depending upon the utility
There are two problems with using this approach in practice. The first is that
specifying a utility function for an individual or analyst is very difficult, if not
impossible, to do with any degree of precision. In fact, most utility functions that are well
behaved (mathematically) do not seem to explain actual behavior very well. The second
is that, even if we were able to specify a utility function, this approach requires us to lay
out all of the scenarios that can unfold for an asset (with corresponding probabilities) for
every time period. Not surprisingly, certainty equivalents from utility functions have been
largely restricted to analyzing simple gambles in classrooms.
Risk and Return Models
A more practical approach to converting uncertain cash flows into certainty
equivalents is offered by risk and return models. In fact, we would use the same approach
to estimating risk premiums that we employ while computing risk adjusted discount rates
but we would use the premiums to estimate certainty equivalents instead.
Risk-adjusted Discount Rate)
Assume, for instance, that Google has a risk-adjusted discount rate of 13.45%, based
upon its market risk exposure and current market conditions; the riskfree rate used was
4.25%. Instead of discounting the expected cash flows on the stock at 13.45%, we would
41 Gregory, D.D., 1978, Multiplicative Risk Premiums, Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis,
v13, 947-963. This paper derives certainty equivalent functions for quadratic, exponential and gamma
distributed utility functions and examines their behavior.
decompose the expected return into a risk free rate of 4.25% and a compounded risk
premium of 8.825%.42
respectively, we can compute the certainty equivalent cash flows in those years:
This process would be repeated for all of the expected cash flows and it has two effects.
Formally, the adjustment process for certainty equivalents can be then written more
formally as follows (where the risk adjusted return is r and the riskfree rate is r ):43
This adjustment has two effects. The first is that expected cash flows with higher
uncertainty associated with them have lower certainty equivalents than more predictable
cash flows at the same point in time. The second is that the effect of uncertainty
compounds over time, making the certainty equivalents of uncertain cash flows further
into the future lower than uncertain cash flows that will occur sooner.
A far more common approach to adjusting cash flows for uncertainty is to
will replace uncertain cash flows with conservative or lowball estimates. This is a
weapon commonly employed by analysts, who are forced to use the same discount rate
for projects of different risk levels, and want to even the playing field. They will haircut
the cash flows of riskier projects to make them lower, thus hoping to compensate for the
failure to adjust the discount rate for the additional risk.
42 A more common approximation used by many analysts is the difference between the risk adjusted
discount rate and the risk free rate. In this case, that would have yielded a risk premium of 9.2% (13.45% -
43 Robichek, A.A. and S. C. Myers, 1966, Conceptual Problems in the Use of Risk Adjusted Discount
Rates, Journal of Finance, v21, 727-730.
In a variant of this approach, there are some investors who will consider only
those cashflows on an asset that are predictable and ignore risky or speculative cash flows
when valuing the asset. When Warren Buffet expresses his disdain for the CAPM and
other risk and return models, and claims to use the riskfree rate as the discount rate, we
suspect that he can get away with doing so because of a combination of the types of
companies he chooses to invest in and his inherent conservatism when it comes to
estimating the cash flows.
While cash flow haircuts retain their intuitive appeal, we should be wary of their
usage. After all, gut feelings about risk can vary widely across analysts looking at the
same asset; more risk averse analysts will tend to haircut the cashflows on the same asset
more than less risk averse analysts. Furthermore, the distinction we drew between
diversifiable and market risk when developing risk and return models can be completely
lost when analysts are making intuitive adjustments for risk. In other words, the cash
flows may be adjusted downwards for risk that will be eliminated in a portfolio. The
absence of transparency about the risk adjustment can also lead to the double counting of
risk, especially when the analysis passes through multiple layers of analysis. To provide
an illustration, after the first analyst looking at a risky investment decides to use
conservative estimates of the cash flows, the analysis may pass to a second stage, where
his superior may decide to make an additional risk adjustment to the already risk adjusted
Risk Adjusted Discount Rate or Certainty Equivalent Cash Flow
Adjusting the discount rate for risk or replacing uncertain expected cash flows
with certainty equivalents are alternative approaches to adjusting for risk, but do they
yield different values, and if so, which one is more precise? The answer lies in how we
compute certainty equivalents. If we use the risk premiums from risk and return models
to compute certainty equivalents, the values obtained from the two approaches will be the
same. After all, adjusting the cash flow, using the certainty equivalent, and then
discounting the cash flow at the riskfree rate is equivalent to discounting the cash flow at
a risk adjusted discount rate. To see this, consider an asset with a single cash flow in one
year and assume that r is the risk-adjusted cash flow, r is the riskfree rate and RP is the
compounded risk premium computed as described earlier in this section.
This analysis can be extended to multiple time periods and will still hold.44 Note, though,
that if the approximation for the risk premium, computed as the difference between the
risk-adjusted return and the risk free rate, had been used, this equivalence will no longer
hold. In that case, the certainty equivalent approach will give lower values for any risky
asset and the difference will increase with the size of the risk premium.
Are there other scenarios where the two approaches will yield different values for
the same risky asset? The first is when the risk free rates and risk premiums change from
time period to time period; the risk-adjusted discount rate will also then change from
period to period. Robichek and Myers, in the paper we referenced earlier, argue that the
certainty equivalent approach yields more precise estimates of value in this case. The
other is when the certainty equivalents are computed from utility functions or
subjectively, whereas the risk-adjusted discount rate comes from a risk and return model.
The two approaches can yield different estimates of value for a risky asset. Finally, the
two approaches deal with negative cash flows differently. The risk-adjusted discount rate
discounts negative cash flows at a higher rate and the present value becomes less negative
as the risk increases. If certainty equivalents are computed from utility functions, they
can yield certainty equivalents that are negative and become more negative as you
increase risk, a finding that is more consistent with intuition.45
The biggest dangers arise when analysts use an amalgam of approaches, where
the cash flows are adjusted partially for risk, usually subjectively and the discount rate is
also adjusted for risk. It is easy to double count risk in these cases and the risk adjustment
to value often becomes difficult to decipher.
44 The proposition that risk adjusted discount rates and certainty equivalents yield identical net present
values is shown in the following paper: Stapleton, R.C., 1971, Portfolio Analysis, Stock Valuation and
Capital Budgeting Decision Rules for Risky Projects, Journal of Finance, v26, 95-117.
45 Beedles, W.L., 1978, Evaluating Negative Benefits, Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, v13,
Excess Return Models
The model that we have presented in this section, where expected cash flows are
discounted back at a risk-adjusted discount rate is the most commonly used discounted
cash flow approach but there are variants. In the excess return valuation approach, we
separate the cash flows into excess return cash flows and normal return cash flows.
Earning the risk-adjusted required return (cost of capital or equity) is considered a normal
return cash flow but any cash flows above or below this number are categorized as excess
returns; excess returns can therefore be either positive or negative. With the excess return
valuation framework, the value of a business can be written as the sum of two
return cash flows from both existing and future projects
If we make the assumption that the accounting measure of capital invested (book value of
capital) is a good measure of capital invested in assets today, this approach implies that
firms that earn positive excess return cash flows will trade at market values higher than
their book values and that the reverse will be true for firms that earn negative excess
return cash flows.
Basis for Models
Excess return models have their roots in capital budgeting and the net present
value rule. In effect, an investment adds value to a business only if it has positive net
present value, no matter how profitable it may seem on the surface. This would also
imply that earnings and cash flow growth have value only when it is accompanied by
excess returns, i.e., returns on equity (capital) that exceed the cost of equity (capital).
Excess return models take this conclusion to the logical next step and compute the value
of a firm as a function of expected excess returns.
While there are numerous versions of excess return models, we will consider one
widely used variant, which is economic value added (EVA) in this section. The economic
value added (EVA) is a measure of the surplus value created by an investment or a
portfolio of investments. It is computed as the product of the "excess return" made on an
investment or investments and the capital invested in that investment or investments.
Economic value added is a simple extension of the net present value rule. The net present
value of the project is the present value of the economic value added by that project over
where EVAt is the economic value added by the project in year t and the project has a life
of n years and kc is the cost of capital.
This connection between economic value added and NPV allows us to link the
value of a firm to the economic value added by that firm. To see this, let us begin with a
simple formulation of firm value in terms of the value of assets in place and expected
Note that in a discounted cash flow model, the values of both assets in place and expected
future growth can be written in terms of the net present value created by each component.
Substituting the economic value added version of net present value into this equation, we
Thus, the value of a firm can be written as the sum of three components, the
capital invested in assets in place, the present value of the economic value added by these
assets and the expected present value of the economic value that will be added by future
46 This is true, though, only if the expected present value of the cash flows from depreciation is assumed to
be equal to the present value of the return of the capital invested in the project. A proof of this equality can
be found in Damodaran, A, 1999, Value Enhancement: Back to Basics, Contemporary Finance Digest, v2,
47 Brealey, R.A. and S. C. Myers, 2003, Principles of Corporate Finance (Seventh Edition), McGraw-Hill
48 Brealery, A., 2004, Investment Valuation, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Measuring Economic Value Added
The definition of EVA outlines three basic inputs we need for its computation -
the return on capital earned on investments, the cost of capital for those investments and
the capital invested in them. In measuring each of these, we will make many of the same
adjustments we discussed in the context of discounted cash flow valuation. Stewart
value added in their books on the topic.49
How much capital is invested in existing assets? One obvious answer is to use the
market value of the firm, but market value includes capital invested not just in assets in
place but in expected future growth50. Since we want to evaluate the quality of assets in
place, we need a measure of the capital invested in these assets. Given the difficulty of
estimating the value of assets in place, it is not surprising that we turn to the book value
of capital as a proxy for the capital invested in assets in place. The book value, however,
is a number that reflects not just the accounting choices made in the current period, but
also accounting decisions made over time on how to depreciate assets, value inventory
and deal with acquisitions. The older the firm, the more extensive the adjustments that
have to be made to book value of capital to get to a reasonable estimate of the market
value of capital invested in assets in place. Since this requires that we know and take into
account every accounting decision over time, there are cases where the book value of
capital is too flawed to be fixable. Here, it is best to estimate the capital invested from the
ground up, starting with the assets owned by the firm, estimating the market value of
these assets and cumulating this market value. To evaluate the return on this invested
capital, we need an estimate of the after-tax operating income earned by a firm on these
investments. Again, the accounting measure of operating income has to be adjusted for
operating leases, R&D expenses and one-time charges to compute the return on capital.
The third and final component needed to estimate the economic value added is the cost of
capital. In keeping with arguments both in the investment analysis and the discounted
cash flow valuation sections, the cost of capital should be estimated based upon the
49 Stewart , G. B. (1991), The Quest for Value. The EVA Management Guide. Harper Business; Young,
S.D and S.F. OByrne, 2000, EVA and Value-Based Management, McGraw Hill,
50 As an illustration, computing the return on capital at Google using the market value of the firm, instead
of book value, results in a return on capital of about 1%. It would be a mistake to view this as a sign of poor
investments on the part of the firm's managers.
market values of debt and equity in the firm, rather than book values. There is no
contradiction between using book value for purposes of estimating capital invested and
using market value for estimating cost of capital, since a firm has to earn more than its
market value cost of capital to generate value. From a practical standpoint, using the book
value cost of capital will tend to understate cost of capital for most firms and will
understate it more for more highly levered firms than for lightly levered firms.
Understating the cost of capital will lead to overstating the economic value added.
In a survey of practices of firms that used economic value added, Weaver (2001)
notes that firms make several adjustments to operating income and book capital in
computing EVA, and that the typical EVA calculation involves 19 adjustments from a
menu of between 9 and 34 adjustments. In particular, firms adjust book value of capital
and operating income for goodwill, R&D and leases, before computing return on
Variants on Economic Value Added
There are several variants on economic value added that build on excess returns.
investors and thus is based on net income and cost of equity, rather than after-tax
operating income and cost of capital
Many of the papers that we referenced in the context of earnings-based valuation
models, especially by Ohlson, are built on this theme. We will examine these models
in the context of accounting based valuations later in this paper.52
differences. The first is that the return earned on investments is computed not based
on accounting earnings but on after-tax cash flow. The second is that both returns and
the cost of capital are computed in real terms rather than nominal terms. Madden
51 Weaver, S. C., 2001, Measuring Economic Value Added: A Survey of the Practices of EVA Proponents,
Journal of Applied Finance, Fall/Winter, pp. 7-17.
(1998) provides an extensive analysis of the CFROI approach and what he perceives
as its advantages over conventional accounting-based measures.53
While proponents of each measure claim its superiority, they agree on far more than they
disagree on. Furthermore, the disagreements are primarily in which approach computes
the excess return earned by a firm best, rather than on the basic premise that the value of
a firm can be written in terms of its capital invested and the present value of its excess
return cash flows.
Equivalence of Excess Return and DCF Valuation Models
It is relatively simple to show that the discounted cash flow value of a firm should
match the value that you obtain from an excess return model, if you are consistent in your
assumptions about growth and reinvestment. In particular, excess return models are built
around a link between reinvestment and growth; in other words, a firm can generate
higher earnings in the future only by reinvesting in new assets or using existing assets
more efficiently. Discounted cash flow models often do not make this linkage explicit,
even though you can argue that they should. Thus, analysts will often estimate growth
rates and reinvestment as separate inputs and not make explicit links between the two.
Illustrating that discounted cash flow models and excess return models converge
when we are consistent about growth and reinvestment is simple. The equivalence of
discounted cash flow firm valuations and EVA valuations is shown in several papers:
Fernandez (2002), Hartman (2000) and Shrieves and Wachowicz (2000).54 In a similar
provide proof that equity excess return models converge on equity discounted cash flow
52 Ohlson, J. 1995, Earnings, Book values and Dividends in Security Valuation, Contemporary Accounting
Research, v11, 661-687.
53 Madden. B.L., 1998, CFROI Cash Flow Return on Investment Valuation: A Total System Approach to
Valuing a Firm, Butterworth-Heinemann.
54 Fernandez, P., 2002, Three Residual Income Valuation Models and Discounted Cash Flow Valuation,
Working Paper, IESE Business School; Hartman, J. C., 2000, On the Equivalence of Net Present Value and
Economic Value Added as Measures of a Project's Economic Worth, The Engineering Economist, v45,
158-165.; Shrieves, R.E. and J.M. Wachowicz, 2000, Free Cash Flow, Economic Value Added and Net
Present Value: A Reconciliation of Variations of Discounted Cash Flow Valuation, Working Paper,
University of Tennessee.
55 Feltham, G. and J. Ohlson, 1995, Valuation and Clean Surplus Accounting of Operation and Financial
The model values can diverge because of differences in assumptions and ease of
estimation. Penman and Sourgiannis (1998) compared the dividend discount model to
excess return models and concluded that the valuation errors in a discounted cash flow
model, with a ten-year horizon, significantly exceeded the errors in an excess return
model.56 They attributed the difference to GAAP accrual earnings being more
informative than either cash flows or dividends. Francis, Olson and Oswald (1999)
concurred with Penman and also found that excess return models outperform dividend
discount models.57 Courteau, Kao and Richardson (2001) argue that the superiority of
excess return models in these studies can be attributed entirely to differences in the
terminal value calculation and that using a terminal price estimated by Value Line
(instead of estimating one) results in dividend discount models outperforming excess
Adjusted Present Value Models
In the adjusted present value (APV) approach, we separate the effects on value of
debt financing from the value of the assets of a business. In contrast to the conventional
approach, where the effects of debt financing are captured in the discount rate, the APV
approach attempts to estimate the expected dollar value of debt benefits and costs
separately from the value of the operating assets.
Basis for APV Approach
In the APV approach, we begin with the value of the firm without debt. As we
add debt to the firm, we consider the net effect on value by considering both the benefits
Activities, Contemporary Accounting Research, v11, 689-731; Penman, S.H., 1998, A Synthesis of Equity
Valuation Techniques and the Terminal Value Calculation for the Dividend Discount Model, Review of
the discounted cash flow model and the residual income model. Contemporary Accounting Research, v18,
56 Penman, S. and T. Sougiannis. 1998. A Comparison of Dividend, Cash Flow, and Earnings Approaches
to Equity Valuation, Contemporary Accounting Research, v15, 343-383.
57 Francis, J., P. Olsson, and D. Oswald. 2000. Comparing the Accuracy and Explainability of Dividend,
Free Cash Flow and Abnormal Earnings Equity Value Estimates. Journal of Accounting Research, v38, 45-
58 Courteau, L., J. Kao and G.D. Richardson, 2001, The Equivalence of Dividend, Cash Flow and Residual
Earnings Approaches to Equity Valuation Employing Ideal Terminal Value Calculations, Contemporary
benefits (because interest expenses are tax deductible) on the plus side and increases
bankruptcy risk (and expected bankruptcy costs) on the minus side. The value of a firm
can be written as follows:
The first attempt to isolate the effect of tax benefits from borrowing was in Miller and
Modigliani (1963), where they valued the present value of the tax savings in debt as a
perpetuity using the cost of debt as the discount rate.59 The adjusted present value
approach, in its current form, was first presented in Myers (1974) in the context of
examining the interrelationship between investment and financing decisions. 60
Implicitly, the adjusted present value approach is built on the presumption that it
is easier and more precise to compute the valuation impact of debt in absolute terms
rather than in proportional terms. Firms, it is argued, do not state target debt as a ratio of
market value (as implied by the cost of capital approach) but in dollar value terms.
Measuring Adjusted Present Value
In the adjusted present value approach, we estimate the value of the firm in three
steps. We begin by estimating the value of the firm with no leverage. We then consider
the present value of the interest tax savings generated by borrowing a given amount of
money. Finally, we evaluate the effect of borrowing the amount on the probability that
the firm will go bankrupt, and the expected cost of bankruptcy.
The first step in this approach is the estimation of the value of the unlevered firm.
This can be accomplished by valuing the firm as if it had no debt, i.e., by discounting the
expected free cash flow to the firm at the unlevered cost of equity. In the special case
where cash flows grow at a constant rate in perpetuity, the value of the firm is easily
59 Modigliani, F. and M. Miller (1963), Corporate Income Taxes and the Cost of Capital: A Correction,
American Economic Review, v53, 433-443.
Capital Budgeting, Journal of Finance, v29,1-25.
cost of equity and g is the expected growth rate. In the more general case, we can value
the firm using any set of growth assumptions we believe are reasonable for the firm. The
inputs needed for this valuation are the expected cashflows, growth rates and the
unlevered cost of equity.
The second step in this approach is the calculation of the expected tax benefit
from a given level of debt. This tax benefit is a function of the tax rate of the firm and is
discounted to reflect the riskiness of this cash flow.
Tax Rate * Interest Rate * Debt
There are three estimation questions that we have to address here. The first is what tax
rate to use in computing the tax benefit and whether than rate can change over time. The
second is the dollar debt to use in computing the tax savings and whether that amount can
vary across time. The final issue relates to what discount rate to use to compute the
present value of the tax benefits. In the early iterations of APV, the tax rate and dollar
debt were viewed as constants (resulting in tax savings as a perpetuity) and the pre-tax
cost of debt was used as the discount rate leading to a simplification of the tax benefit
Subsequent adaptations of the approach allowed for variations in both the tax rate and the
dollar debt level, and raised questions about whether it was appropriate to use the cost of
debt as the discount rate. Fernandez (2004) argued that the value of tax benefits should be
computed as the difference between the value of the levered firm, with the interest tax
savings, and the value of the same firm without leverage.61 Consequently, he arrives at a
much higher value for the tax savings than the conventional approach, by a multiple of
61 Fernandez, P., P., 2004, The value of tax shields is not equal to the present value of the tax shields,
Journal of Financial Economics, v73, 145-165.
that Fernandez is wrong and that the value of the tax shield is the present value of the
interest tax savings, discounted back at the cost of debt.62
The third step is to evaluate the effect of the given level of debt on the default risk
of the firm and on expected bankruptcy costs. In theory, at least, this requires the
estimation of the probability of default with the additional debt and the direct and indirect
the present value of the bankruptcy cost, the present value of expected bankruptcy cost
can be estimated.
PV of Expected Bankruptcy cost
This step of the adjusted present value approach poses the most significant estimation
problem, since neither the probability of bankruptcy nor the bankruptcy cost can be
estimated directly. There are two basic ways in which the probability of bankruptcy can
be estimated indirectly. One is to estimate a bond rating, as we did in the cost of capital
approach, at each level of debt and use the empirical estimates of default probabilities for
each rating. The other is to use a statistical approach to estimate the probability of
bankruptcy cost can be estimated, albeit with considerable error, from studies that have
looked at the magnitude of this cost in actual bankruptcies. Research that has looked at
the direct cost of bankruptcy concludes that they are small63, relative to firm value. In
fact, the costs of distress stretch far beyond the conventional costs of bankruptcy and
employees, customers, suppliers and lenders react. Firms that are viewed as distressed
lose customers (and sales), have higher employee turnover and have to accept much
tighter restrictions from suppliers than healthy firms. These indirect bankruptcy costs can
be catastrophic for many firms and essentially make the perception of distress into a
62 Cooper, I.A. and K.G. Nyborg, 2006, The value of tax shields is equal to the present value of the tax
shields, Journal of Financial Economics, v81, 215-225.
63 Warner, J.N., 1977, Bankruptcy Costs: Some Evidence, Journal of Finance, v32, 337-347. In this study
of railroad bankruptcies, the direct cost of bankruptcy was estimated to be about 5%.
reality. The magnitude of these costs has been examined in studies and can range from
10-25% of firm value.64
Variants on APV
While the original version of the adjusted present value model was fairly rigid in
its treatment of the tax benefits of debt and expected bankruptcy costs, subsequent
variations allow for more flexibility in the treatment of both. Some of these changes can
be attributed to pragmatic considerations, primarily because of the absence of
information, whereas others represented theoretical corrections.
One adaptation of the model was suggested by Luehrman (1997), where he
presents an example where the dollar debt level, rather than remain fixed as it does in
conventional APV, changes over time as a fraction of book value.65 The interest tax
savings reflect the changing debt but the present value of the tax savings is still computed
using the cost of debt.
Another variation on adjusted present value was presented by Kaplan and Ruback
(1995) in a paper where they compared the discounted cash flow valuations of companies
to the prices paid in leveraged transactions.66 They first estimated what they termed
capital cash flows which they defined to be cash flows to both debt and equity investors
and thus inclusive of the tax benefits from interest payments on debt. This is in contrast
with the conventional unlevered firm valuation, which uses only operating cash flows and
does not include interest tax savings. These capital cash flows are discounted back at the
unlevered cost of equity to arrive at firm value. In effect, the compressed adjusted present
value approach differs from the conventional adjusted present value approach on two
dimensions. First, the tax savings from debt are discounted back at the unlevered cost of
equity rather than the cost of debt. Second, the expected bankruptcy costs are effectively
64 For an examination of the theory behind indirect bankruptcy costs, see Opler, T. and S. Titman, 1994,
Financial Distress and Corporate Performance. Journal of Finance 49, 1015-1040. For an estimate on how
large these indirect bankruptcy costs are in the real world, see Andrade, G. and S. Kaplan, 1998, How
Costly is Financial (not Economic) Distress? Evidence from Highly Leveraged Transactions that Become
Distressed. Journal of Finance. 53, 1443-1493. They look at highly levered transactions that subsequently
became distressed snd conclude that the magnitude of these costs ranges from 10% to 23% of firm value.
65 Luehrman, T. A., 1997, Using APV: A Better Tool for Valuing Operations, Harvard Business Review,
ignored in the computation. Kaplan and Ruback argue that this approach is simpler to
use than the conventional cost of capital approach in levered transactions because the
leverage changes over time, which will result in time-varying costs of capital. In effect,
they are arguing that it is easier to reflect the effects of changing leverage in the cash
flows than it is in debt ratios. Gilson, Hotchkiss and Ruback (2000) use the compressed
APV approach to value bankrupt firms that are reorganized and conclude that while the
approach yields unbiased estimates of value, the valuation errors remain large.67 The key
limitation of the compressed APV approach, notwithstanding its simplicity, is that it
ignores expected bankruptcy costs. In fact, using the compressed adjusted present value
approach will lead to the conclusion that a firm is always worth more with a higher debt
ratio than with a lower one. Kaplan and Ruback justify their approach by noting that the
values that they arrive at are very similar to the values obtained using comparable firms,
but this cannot be viewed as vindication.
Ruback (2000) provides a more extensive justification of the capital cash flow
tax savings have the same risk as the debt (and thus get discounted back at the cost of
debt) may be justifiable for a fixed dollar debt but that it is more reasonable to assume
that interest tax savings share the same risk as the operating assets, when dollar debt is
expected to change over time. He also notes that the capital cash flow approach assumes
that debt grows with firm value and is thus closer to the cost of capital approach, where
free cash flows to the firm are discounted back at a cost of capital. In fact, he shows that
when the dollar debt raised each year is such that the debt ratio stays constant, the cost of
capital approach and the capital cash flows approach yield identical results.
66 Kaplan, S.N. and R.S. Ruback, 1995, The Valuation of Cash Flow Forecasts, Journal of Finance, v50,
67 Gilson, S.C., E. S. Hotchkiss and R. Ruback, 1998, Valuation of Bankrupt Firms, Review of Financial
Studies, v13, 43-74. The one modification they introduce is that the tax savings from net operating loss
carryforwards are discounted back at the cost of debt.
68 Ruback, R.S., 2000, Capital Cash Flows: A Simple Approach to Valuing Risky Cash Flows, Working
Paper, Harvard Business School.
Cost of Capital versus APV Valuation
To understand when the cost of capital approach, the adjusted present value
approach and the modified adjusted present value approach (with capital cash flows)
yield similar and different results, we consider the mechanics of each approach in table 1:
Table 1: Cost of Capital, APV and Compressed APV
Cost of Capital
flow Free Cash Flow to Free Cash Flow to Free Cash Flow to
Discount Rate used
average Unlevered cost of Weighted
of cost of equity and equity
of cost of equity and
after-tax cost of debt
pre-tax cost of debt
Tax Savings from Shows up through Added on separately Shows up through
the discount rate
as present value of cash flow
tax savings (using
Dollar debt levels
Determined by debt Fixed dollar debt
ratios used in cost of
capital. If debt ratio
increase or decrease.
stays fixed, dollar
debt increases with
Discount rate for tax Discounted
at Discounted at pre- Discounted
from unlevered cost of tax cost of debt
unlevered cost of
Reflected as higher Can be computed Can be computed
costs of equity and separately,
debt, as default risk upon likelihood of upon likelihood of
distress and the cost distress and the cost
of such distress. (In of such distress. (In
In an APV valuation, the value of a levered firm is obtained by adding the net
effect of debt to the unlevered firm value.
The tax savings from debt are discounted back at the cost of debt. In the cost of capital
approach, the effects of leverage show up in the cost of capital, with the tax benefit
incorporated in the after-tax cost of debt and the bankruptcy costs in both the levered beta
and the pre-tax cost of debt. Inselbag and Kaufold (1997) provide examples where they
get identical values using the APV and Cost of Capital approaches, but only because they
infer the costs of equity to use in the latter.69
Will the approaches yield the same value? Not necessarily. The first reason for the
differences is that the models consider bankruptcy costs very differently, with the
adjusted present value approach providing more flexibility in allowing you to consider
indirect bankruptcy costs. To the extent that these costs do not show up or show up
inadequately in the pre-tax cost of debt, the APV approach will yield a more conservative
estimate of value. The second reason is that the conventional APV approach considers the
tax benefit from a fixed dollar debt value, usually based upon existing debt. The cost of
capital and compressed APV approaches estimate the tax benefit from a debt ratio that
may require the firm to borrow increasing amounts in the future. For instance, assuming a
market debt to capital ratio of 30% in perpetuity for a growing firm will require it to
borrow more in the future and the tax benefit from expected future borrowings is
incorporated into value today. Finally, the discount rate used to compute the present
value of tax benefits is the pre-tax cost of debt in the conventional APV approach and the
unlevered cost of equity in the compressed APV and the cost of capital approaches. As
we noted earlier, the compressed APV approach yields equivalent values to the cost of
capital approach, if we allow dollar debt to reflect changing firm value (and debt ratio
assumptions) and ignore the effect of indirect bankruptcy costs. The conventional APV
approach yields a higher value than either of the other two approaches because it views
the tax savings from debt as less risky and assigns a higher value to it.
Which approach will yield more reasonable estimates of value? The dollar debt
assumption in the APV approach is a more conservative one but the fundamental flaw
with the APV model lies in the difficulties associated with estimating expected
bankruptcy costs. As long as that cost cannot be estimated, the APV approach will
69 Inselbag, I. and H. Kaufold, 1997, Two DCF approaches for valuing companies under alternative
financing strategies and how to choose between them, Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, v10, 114-122.
continue to be used in half-baked form where the present value of tax benefits will be
added to the unlevered firm value to arrive at total firm value.
Liquidation and Accounting Valuation
The value of an asset in the discounted cash flow framework is the present value
of the expected cash flows on that asset. Extending this proposition to valuing a business,
it can be argued that the value of a business is the sum of the values of the individual
assets owned by the business. While this may be technically right, there is a key
difference between valuing a collection of assets and a business. A business or a
company is an on-going entity with assets that it already owns and assets it expects to
invest in the future. This can be best seen when we look at the financial balance sheet (as
opposed to an accounting balance sheet) for an ongoing company in figure 4:
Figure 4: A Simple View of a Firm
Generate cashflows today
Expected Value that will be
Investments yet to
created by future investments
Note that investments that have already been made are categorized as assets in place, but
investments that we expect the business to make in the future are growth assets.
A financial balance sheet provides a good framework to draw out the differences
between valuing a business as a going concern and valuing it as a collection of assets. In
a going concern valuation, we have to make our best judgments not only on existing
investments but also on expected future investments and their profitability. While this
may seem to be foolhardy, a large proportion of the market value of growth companies
comes from their growth assets. In an asset-based valuation, we focus primarily on the
assets in place and estimate the value of each asset separately. Adding the asset values
together yields the value of the business. For companies with lucrative growth
opportunities, asset-based valuations will yield lower values than going concern
Book Value Based Valuation
There are some who contend that the accounting estimate of the value of a
business, as embodied by the book value of the assets and equity on a balance sheet,
represents a more reliable estimate of value than valuation models based on shaky
assumptions about the future. In this section, we examine book value as a measure of the
value of going concern and then extend the analysis to look at book value based valuation
models that are also use forecasted earnings to estimate value. We end the section with a
short discussion of fair value accounting, a movement that has acquired momentum in
The original ideals for accounting statements were that the income statements
would provide a measure of the true earnings potential of a firm and that the balance
sheet would yield a reliable estimate of the value of the assets and equity in the firm.
Daniels (1934), for instance, lays out these ideals thus:70
asset figure of the balance sheet is indicative, and is intended to be so, of the
In the years since, accountants have wrestled with how put this ideal into practice. In the
process, they have had the weigh how much importance to give the historical cost of an
asset relative to its estimated value today and have settled on different rules. For fixed
assets, they have largely concluded that the book value should be reflective of the
original cost of the asset and subsequent depletion in and additions to that asset. For
current assets, they have been much more willing to consider the alternative of market
value. Finally, they have discovered new categories for assets such as brand name where
neither the original cost nor the current value is easily accessible.
While there are few accountants who would still contend that the book value of a
company is a good measure of its market value, this has not stopped some investors from
implicitly making that assumption. In fact, the notion that a stock is under valued if is
market price falls below its book value is deeply entrenched in investing. It is one of the
screens that Ben Graham proposed for finding undervalued stocks71 and it remains a
rough proxy for what is loosely called value investing.72 Academics have fed into this
belief by presenting evidence that low price to book value stocks do earn higher returns
than the rest of the market.73
Is it possible for book value to be a reasonable proxy for the true value of a
business? For mature firms with predominantly fixed assets, little or no growth
opportunities and no potential for excess returns, the book value of the assets may yield a
reasonable measure of the true value of these firms. For firms with significant growth
opportunities in businesses where they can generate excess returns, book values will be
very different from true value.
Book Value plus Earnings
In the context of equity valuation models, we considered earnings based models
that have been developed in recent years, primarily in the accounting community. Most
of these models are built on a combination of book values and expected future earnings
and trace their antecedents to Ohlson (1995) and Feltham and Ohlson (1995), both works
basic model states the true value of equity as a function of its book value of equity and
the excess equity returns that the firm can generate in the future. As a consequence, it is
termed a residual income model and can be derived from a simple dividend discount
70 Daniels, M.B., !
19 34, Principles of Asset Valuation, The Accounting Review, v9, 114-121.
71 Graham, B., 1949, The Intelligent Investor, HarperCollins,
72 Morningstar categorizes mutual funds into growth and value, based upon the types of stocks that they
invest in. Funds that invest in low price to book stocks are categorized as value funds.
73 Fama, E.F. and K.R. French, 1992, The Cross-Section of Expected Returns, Journal of Finance, v47,
74 Ohlson, J. 1995, Earnings, Book values and Dividends in Security Valuation, Contemporary Accounting
Research, v11, 661-687.; Feltham and Ohlson, 1995, Valuation and Clean Surplus Accounting for
Operating and Financial Activities, Contemporary Accounting Research, v11, 689-731.
Now substitute in the full equation for book value (BV) of equity as a function of the
starting book equity and earnings and dividends during a period (clean surplus
Substituting back into the dividend discount model, we get
- Cost of Equity * BV of Equity )
Thus the value of equity in a firm is the sum of the current book value of equity and the
present value of the expected excess returns to equity investors in perpetuity
The enthusiasm with which the Ohlson residual income model has been received
by accounting researchers is puzzling, given that it is neither new nor revolutionary.
Walter(1966)75 and Mao (1974)76 extended the dividend discount model to incorporate
excess returns earned on future investment opportunities. In fact, we used exactly the
same rationale to relate enterprise value to EVA earlier in the paper. The only real
difference is that the Ohlson model is an extension of the more limiting dividend discount
model, whereas the EVA model is an extension of a more general firm valuation model.
residual income models yield identical valuations of companies, if we make consistent
assumptions.77 One explanation for the enthusiasm is that the Ohlson model has allowed
accountants to argue that accounting numbers are still relevant to value. After all, Lev
(1989) had presented evidence on the declining significance of accounting earnings
7575 Walter, J.E., 1966, Dividend Policies and Common Stock Prices, Journal of Finance, v11, 29-41.
, where E and D are the
expected earnings and dividends in the next period, ROE is the expected return on equity in perpetuity on
retained earnings and ke is the cost of equity. Note that the second term in the numerator is the excess return
generated on an annual basis and that dividing by the cost !
o f equity yields its present value in perpetuity.
76 Mao, J.C.T., 1974, The Valuation of Growth Stocks: The Investment Opportunities Approach, Journal of
Finance, v21, 95-102. The key difference is that rather than build off book value of equity, as Ohlson did,
Mao capitalized current earnings (as a perpetuity) and added the present value of future excess returns to
and the residual income model. Contemporary Accounting Research, v18, 311-35.
numbers by noting a drop in the correlation between market value and earnings.78 In the
years since, a number of studies have claimed to find strong evidence to back up the
Ohlson model. For instance, Frankel and Lee (1996)79, Hand and Landsman (1998)80 and
Dechow, Hutton and Sloan (1999)81 all find that the residual income model explains 70-
80% of variation in prices across stocks. The high R-squared in these studies is deceptive
since they are not testing an equation as much as a truism: the total market value of
equity should be highly correlated with the total book value of equity and total net
income. Firms with higher market capitalization will tend to have higher book value of
equity and higher net income, reflecting their scale and this has little relevance for
whether the Ohlson model actually works.82 A far stronger and more effective test of the
model is whether changes in equity value are correlated with changes in book value of
equity and net income and the model does no better on these tests than established
Fair Value Accounting
In the last decade, there has been a strong push from both accounting rule makers
been a return to the original ideal that the book value of the assets on a balance sheet and
the resulting net worth for companies be good measures of the fair value of these assets
The move towards fair value accounting has not been universally welcomed even
within the accounting community. On the one hand, there are some who believe that this
is a positive development increasing the connection of accounting statements to value and
78 Lev, B. 1989. On the usefulness of earnings: Lessons and directions from two decades of empirical
research, Journal of Accounting Research, v
27 (Supplement): 153-192.
79 Frankel, R. and C.M.C. Lee. 1998. Accounting Valuation, Market Expectations, and Crosssectional
Stock Returns. Journal of Accounting Economics, v25: 283-319.
80 Hand, J.R.M. and W.R. Landsman. 1999. Testing the Ohlson Model: v or not v, that is the Question.
Working Paper, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
81 Dechow, P., A. Hutton, R. Sloan, 1999. An Empirical Assessment of the Residual Income Valuation
Model. Journal of Accounting and Economics 26 (1-3)1-34.
82 Lo, K. and Lys, T., 2005, The Ohlson Model: Contribution to Valuation Theory, Limitations and
Empirical Applications, Working Paper, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
providing useful information to financial markets.83 There are others who believe that fair
value accounting increases the potential for accounting manipulation, and that financial
statements will become less informative as a result.84 In fact, it used to be common place
for firms in the United States to revalue their assets at fair market value until 1934, and
the SEC discouraged this practice after 1934 to prevent the widespread manipulation that
was prevalent.85 While this debate rages on, the accounting standards boards have
adopted a number of rules that favor fair value accounting, from the elimination of
purchase accounting in acquisitions to the requirement that more assets be marked to
market on the balance sheet.
The question then becomes an empirical one. Do fair value judgments made by
accountants provide information to financial markets or do they just muddy up the
waters? In a series of articles, Barth concluded that fair value accounting provided useful
information to markets in a variety of contexts.86 In contrast, Nelson (1996) examines fair
value accounting in banking, where marking to market has been convention for a much
longer period, and finds the reported fair values of investment securities have little
incremental explanatory power when it comes to market values.87 In an interesting test of
the effects of fair value accounting, researchers have begun looking at market reactions in
the aftermath of the adoption of SFAS 141 and 142, which together eliminated pooling,
amortizing goodwill. Chen, Kohlbeck and Warfield (2004) find that stock prices react
negatively to goodwill impairments, which they construe to indicate that there is
83 Barth, M., W. Beaver and W. Landsman. 2001. The relevance of the value-relevance literature for
financial accounting standard setting: another view. Journal of Accounting and Economics 31: 77-104
84 Holthausen, R. and R. Watts. 2001. The relevance of the value-relevance literature for financial
accounting standard setting. Journal of Accounting and Economics, v31, 3-75.
85 Fabricant, S. 1938. Capital Consumption and Adjustment, National Bureau of Economic Research.
86 Barth, M.E., 1994. Fair Value Accounting: Evidence from Investment Securities and theMarket
M. Whalen. 1995. Fair value accounting: effects on banks' earnings volatility, regulatory capital, and value
W.H. Beaver, and W.R. Landsman. 1996. Value relevance of banks fair value disclosures under SFAS 107,
financial, tangible, and intangible assets: Associations with share prices and non-market-based value
87 Nelson, K.K., 1996, Fair Value Accounting for Commercial Banks: An Empirical Analysis of SFAS
107, The Accounting Review, v71, 161-182.
information in these accounting assessments.88 Note, though, that this price reaction can
be consistent with a number of other interpretations as well and can be regarded, at best,
as weak evidence that fair value accounting assessments convey information to markets.
We believe that fair value accounting, at best, will provide a delayed reflection of
what happens in the market. In other words, goodwill be impaired (as it was in many
technology companies in 2000 and 2001) after the market value has dropped and fair
value adjustments will convey little, if any, information to financial markets. If in the
process of marking to market, some of the raw data that is now provided to investors is
replaced or held back, we will end up with accounting statements that neither reflect
market value nor invested capital.
One special case of asset-based valuation is liquidation valuation, where we value
assets based upon the presumption that they have to be sold now. In theory, this should be
equal to the value obtained from discounted cash flow valuations of individual assets but
the urgency associated with liquidating assets quickly may result in a discount on the
value. The magnitude of the discount will depend upon the number of potential buyers
for the assets, the asset characteristics and the state of the economy.
The research on liquidation value can be categorized into two groups. The first
group of studies examines the relationship between liquidation value and the book value
of assets, whereas the second takes apart the deviations of liquidation value from
discounted cash flow value and addresses directly the question of how much of a cost you
bear when you have to liquidate assets rather than sell a going concern.
value, a number of liquidation rules of thumb are structured around book value. For
instance, it is not uncommon to see analysts assume that liquidation value will be a
specified percentage of book value. Berger, Ofek and Swary (1996) argue and provide
evidence that book value operates as a proxy for abandonment value in many firms.89
88 Chen, C., M. Kohlbeck and T. Warfield, 2004, Goodwill Valuation Effects of the Initial Adoption of
SFAS 142, Working Paper, University of Wisconsin- Madison.
89 Berger, P., E. Ofek and I. Swary, 1996, Investor Valuation of the Abandonment Option, Journal of
Financial Economics, v42, 257-287.
Lang, Stulz and Walkling (1989) use book value as a proxy for the replacement cost of
The relationship between liquidation and discounted cash flow value is more
difficult to discern. It stands to reason that liquidation value should be significantly lower
than discounted cash flow value, partly because the latter reflects the value of expected
growth potential and the former usually does not. In addition, the urgency associated with
the liquidation can have an impact on the proceeds, since the discount on value can be
considerable for those sellers who are eager to divest their assets. Kaplan (1989) cited a
Merrill Lynch estimate that the speedy sales of the Campeau stake in Federated would
bring about 32% less than an orderly sale of the same assets.91 Holland (1990) estimates
the discount to be greater than 50% in the liquidation of the assets of machine tool
manufacturer.92 Williamson (1988) makes the very legitimate point that the extent of the
discount is likely to be smaller for assets that are not specialized and can be redeployed
elsewhere.93 Shleifer and Vishny (1992) argue that assets with few potential buyers or
buyers who are financially constrained are likely to sell at significant discounts on market
In summary, liquidation valuation is likely to yield more realistic estimates of
value for firms that are distressed, where the going concern assumption underlying
conventional discounted cash flow valuation is clearly violated. For healthy firms with
significant growth opportunities, it will provide estimates of value that are far too
In relative valuation, we value an asset based upon how similar assets are priced
in the market. A prospective house buyer decides how much to pay for a house by
looking at the prices paid for similar houses in the neighborhood. A baseball card
90 Lang, L.H.P., R.M. Stulz and R.Walking. 1989. Managerial Performance, Tobin's Q, and The Gains
from Successful Tender Offers. Journal of Financial Economics, v29, 137-154.
Financial Economics, v25, 191-212.
92 Holland, M., 1990, When the Machine Stopped, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA.
93 Williamson, O.E., 1988, Corporate Finance and Corporate Governance, Journal of Finance, v43, 567-
94 Shleifer, A., and R. W. Vishny, 1992, Liquidation Values and Debt Capacity: A Market Equilibrium
collector makes a judgment on how much to pay for a Mickey Mantle rookie card by
checking transactions prices on other Mickey Mantle rookie cards. In the same vein, a
potential investor in a stock tries to estimate its value by looking at the market pricing of
Embedded in this description are the three essential steps in relative valuation.
The first step is finding comparable assets that are priced by the market, a task that is
easier to accomplish with real assets like baseball cards and houses than it is with stocks.
All too often, analysts use other companies in the same sector as comparable, comparing
a software firm to other software firms or a utility to other utilities, but we will question
whether this practice really yields similar companies later in this paper. The second step
is scaling the market prices to a common variable to generate standardized prices that are
comparable. While this may not be necessary when comparing identical assets (Mickey
Mantle rookie cards), it is necessary when comparing assets that vary in size or units.
Other things remaining equal, a smaller house or apartment should trade at a lower price
than a larger residence. In the context of stocks, this equalization usually requires
converting the market value of equity or the firm into multiples of earnings, book value
or revenues. The third and last step in the process is adjusting for differences across
assets when comparing their standardized values. Again, using the example of a house, a
newer house with more updated amenities should be priced higher than a similar sized
older house that needs renovation. With stocks, differences in pricing across stocks can
be attributed to all of the fundamentals that we talked about in discounted cash flow
valuation. Higher growth companies, for instance, should trade at higher multiples than
lower growth companies in the same sector. Many analysts adjust for these differences
qualitatively, making every relative valuation a story telling experience; analysts with
better and more believable stories are given credit for better valuations.
Basis for approach
There is a significant philosophical difference between discounted cash flow and
relative valuation. In discounted cash flow valuation, we are attempting to estimate the
intrinsic value of an asset based upon its capacity to generate cash flows in the future. In
Approach, Journal of Finance, v47, 143-66.
relative valuation, we are making a judgment on how much an asset is worth by looking
at what the market is paying for similar assets. If the market is correct, on average, in the
way it prices assets, discounted cash flow and relative valuations may converge. If,
however, the market is systematically over pricing or under pricing a group of assets or
an entire sector, discounted cash flow valuations can deviate from relative valuations.
Harking back to our earlier discussion of discounted cash flow valuation, we
argued that discounted cash flow valuation was a search (albeit unfulfilled) for intrinsic
value. In relative valuation, we have given up on estimating intrinsic value and
essentially put our trust in markets getting it right, at least on average. It can be argued
that most valuations are relative valuations. Damodaran (2002) notes that almost 90% of
equity research valuations and 50% of acquisition valuations use some combination of
multiples and comparable companies and are thus relative valuations.95
Standardized Values and Multiples
When comparing identical assets, we can compare the prices of these assets.
Thus, the price of a Tiffany lamp or a Mickey Mantle rookie card can be compared to the
price at which an identical item was bought or sold in the market. However, comparing
assets that are not exactly similar can be a challenge. After all, the price per share of a
stock is a function both of the value of the equity in a company and the number of shares
outstanding in the firm. Thus, a stock split that doubles the number of units will
market, we need to standardize the values in some way by scaling them to a common
variable. In general, values can be standardized relative to the earnings firms generate, to
the book values or replacement values of the firms themselves, to the revenues that firms
generate or to measures that are specific to firms in a sector.
the earnings that asset 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, yielding a
current PE, earnings over the last 4 quarters, resulting in a trailing PE, or an expected
earnings per share in the next year, providing 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.
often provide a very different estimate of value of for the same business. As we noted
earlier, 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 or capital (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
accounting rules and principles. An alternative approach, which is far less affected by
accounting choices, is to use the ratio of the value of a business to the revenues it
generates. For equity investors, this ratio is the price/sales ratio (PS), where the
market value of equity is divided by the revenues generated by the firm. For firm
value, this ratio can be modified as the enterprise value/to sales ratio (VS), where the
numerator becomes the market value of the operating assets 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 to
compare firms in different markets, with different accounting systems at work, than it
is to compare earnings or book value multiples.
for firms in any sector and across the entire market, there are some multiples that are
specific to a sector. For instance, when internet firms first appeared on the market in
the later 1990s, they had negative earnings and negligible revenues and book value.
95 Damodaran, A., 2002, Investment Valuation (Second Edition), John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Analysts looking for a multiple to value these firms divided the market value of each
lower market value per customer hit were viewed as under valued. More recently,
cable companies have been judged by the market value per cable subscriber,
regardless of the longevity and the profitably of having these subscribers. While there
are conditions under which sector-specific multiples can be justified, they are
dangerous for two reasons. First, since they cannot be computed for other sectors or
for the entire market, sector-specific multiples can result in persistent over or under
valuations of sectors relative to the rest of the market. Thus, investors who would
never consider paying 80 times revenues for a firm might not have the same qualms
sense of what high, low or average is on this measure. Second, it is far more difficult
to relate sector specific multiples to fundamentals, which is an essential ingredient to
into higher revenues and profits? The answer will not only vary from company to
company, but will also be difficult to estimate looking forward.
There have been relatively few studies that document the usage statistics on these
multiples and compare their relative efficacy. Damodaran (2002) notes that the usage of
multiples varies widely across sectors, with Enterprise Value/EBITDA multiples
dominating valuations of heavy infrastructure businesses (cable, telecomm) and price to
book ratios common in financial service company valuations.96 Fernandez (2001)
presents evidence on the relative popularity of different multiples at the research arm of
EV/EBITDA multiples are the most frequently employed.97 Liu, Nissim and Thomas
(2002) compare how well different multiples do in pricing 19,879 firm-year observations
between 1982 and 1999 and suggest that multiples of forecasted earnings per share do
best in explaining pricing differences, that multiples of sales and operating cash flows do
96 Damodaran, A, 2002, Investment Valuation, Second Edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
97 Fernandez, P., 2001, Valuation using multiples. How do analysts reach their conclusions?, Working
Paper, IESE Business School.
worst and that multiples of book value and EBITDA fall in the middle.98 Lie and Lie
(2002) examine 10 different multiples across 8,621 companies between 1998 and 1999
and arrive at similar conclusions.99
Determinants of Multiples
In the introduction to discounted cash flow valuation, we observed that the value
growth in these cash flows and the uncertainty associated with these cash flows. Every
multiple, whether it is of earnings, revenues or book value, is a function of the same three
higher growth rates, less risk and greater cash flow generating potential should trade at
higher multiples than firms with lower growth, higher risk and less cash flow potential.
The specific measures of growth, risk and cash flow generating potential that are
used will vary from multiple to multiple. To look under the hood, so to speak, of equity
and firm value multiples, we can go back to fairly simple discounted cash flow models
for equity and firm value and use them to derive the multiples. In the simplest discounted
cash flow model for equity, which is a stable growth dividend discount model, the value
where DPS1 is the expected dividend in the next year, ke is the cost of equity and gn is the
expected stable growth rate. Dividi !
ng both sides by the earnings, we obtain the
discounted cash flow equation specifying the PE ratio for a stable growth firm.
The key determinants of the PE ratio are the expected growth rate in earnings per share,
the cost of equity and!
the payout ratio. Other things remaining equal, we would expect
higher growth, lower risk and higher payout ratio firms to trade at higher multiples of
earnings than firms without these characteristics. In fact, this model can be expanded to
98 Liu, J., D. Nissim, and J. Thomas. 2002. Equity Valuation Using Multiples. Journal of Accounting
Research, V 40, 135-172.
99 Lie E., H.J. Lie, 2002, Multiples Used to Estimate Corporate Value. Financial Analysts Journal, v58, 44-
allow for high growth in near years and stable growth beyond.100 Researchers have long
recognized that the PE for a stock is a function of both the level and the quality of its
growth and its risk. Beaver and Morse (1978) related PE ratios to valuation
fundamentals101, as did earlier work by Edwards and Bell (1961).102 Peasnell (1982)
made a more explicit attempt to connect market values to accounting numbers.103
Zarowin (1990) looked at the link between PE ratios and analyst forecasts of growth to
conclude that PE ratios are indeed positively related to long term expected growth.104
Leibowitz and Kogelman (1990, 1991, 1992) expanded on the relationship between PE
ratios and the excess returns earned on investments, which they titled franchise
opportunities, in a series of articles on the topic, noting that for a stock to have a high PE
ratio, it needs to generate high growth in conjunction with excess returns on its new
investments.105 Fairfield (1994) provides a generalized version of their model, allowing
for changing return on equity over time.106 While these papers focused primarily on
growth and returns, Kane, Marcus and Noe (1996) examine the relationship between PE
and risk for the aggregate market and conclude that PE ratios decrease as market
Dividing both sides of the stable growth dividend discount model by the book
value of equity, we can estimate the price/book value ratio for a stable growth firm.
100 Damodaran, A., 2002, Investment Valuation, John Wiley and Sons, New York. The expanded versions
of the models are available in the chapter on PE ratios.
101 Beaver, W. and D. Morse, 1978, What do P/E ratios mean?, Financial Analysts Journal, v34, 65-76.
102 Edwards, E. and P. Bell, 1961, The Theory and Measurement of Business Income, University of
California Press, Berkeley.
103 Peasnell, K., 1982, Some Financial Connections between Economic Values and Accounting Numbers,
Journal of Business Finance and Accounting, v9, 361-381.
104 Zarowin, P. 1990. What determines earnings-price ratios: revisited, Journal of Accounting, Auditing,
and Finance, v5: 439-57.
105 Leibowitz, M.L. and S. Kogelman, 1990, Inside the PE Ratio: The Franchise Factor, Financial Analysts
Journal, v46, 17-35; Leibowitz, M.L. and S. Kogelman, 1991, The Franchise Factor for Leveraged Firms,
Financial Analysts Journal, v47, 29-43.; Leibowitz, M.L. and S. Kogelman, 1992, Franchise Value and the
Growth Factor, Financial Analysts Journal, v48, 16-23.
106 Fairfield, P., 1994, P/E, P/B and the present value of future dividends, Financial Analysts Journal, v50,
107 Kane, A., A.J. Marcus and J. Noh, The P/E Multiple and Market Volatility, Financial Analysts Journal,
where ROE is the return on equity and is the only variable in addition to the three that
determine PE ratios (growth rate, cost of equity and payout) that affects price to book
equity. The strong connection between price to book and return on equity was noted by
Wilcox (1984), with his argument that cheap stocks are those that trade at low price to
book ratios while maintaining reasonable or even high returns on equity.108 The papers
we referenced in the earlier section on book-value based valuation approaches centered
on the Ohlson model can be reframed as a discussion of the determinants of price to book
ratios. Penman (1996) draws a distinction between PE ratios and PBV ratios when it
comes to the link with return on equity, by noting that while PBV ratios increase with
ROE, the relationship between PE ratios and ROE is weaker.109
Finally, dividing both sides of the dividend discount model by revenues per share,
the price/sales ratio for a stable growth firm can be estimated as a function of its profit
margin, payout ratio, risk and expected growth.
The net margin is the new variable that is added to the process. While all of these
computations are !
ba sed upon a stable growth dividend discount model, we will show that
the conclusions hold even when we look at companies with high growth potential and
with other equity valuation models. While less work has been done on revenue multiples
than on book value or earnings multiples, Leibowitz (1997) extends his franchise value
argument from PE ratios to revenue multiples and notes the importance of what profit
We can do a similar analysis to derive the firm value multiples. The value of a
firm in stable growth can be written as:
108 Wilcox, J., 1984, The P/B-ROE Valuation Model, Financial Analysts Journal, 58-66.
109 Penman, S.H., 1996, The Articulation of Price-Earnings and Market-to-Book Ratios and the Evaluation
of Growth, Journal of Accounting Research, v34, 235-259.
110 Leibowitz, M.L., 1997, Franchise Margins and the Sales-Driven Franchise Value, Financial Analysts
Journal, v53, 43-53.
Dividing both sides by the expected free cash flow to the firm yields the Value/FCFF
multiple for a stable growth firm.
capital and its expected stable!
growth rate. Since the free cash flow the firm is the after-
tax operating income netted against the net capital expenditures and working capital
needs of the firm, the multiples of EBIT, after-tax EBIT and EBITDA can also be
In short, multiples are determined by the same variables and assumptions that
underlie discounted cash flow valuation. The difference is that while the assumptions are
explicit in the latter, they are often implicit in the use of the former.
When multiples are used, they tend to be used in conjunction with comparable
firms to determine the value of a firm or its equity. But what is a comparable firm? A
comparable firm is one with cash flows, growth potential, and risk similar to the firm
being valued. It would be ideal if we could value a firm by looking at how an exactly
identical firm - in terms of risk, growth and cash flows - is priced. Nowhere in this
definition is there a component that relates to the industry or sector to which a firm
belongs. Thus, a telecommunications firm can be compared to a software firm, if the two
are identical in terms of cash flows, growth and risk. In most analyses, however, analysts
enough firms in the industry to allow for it, this list is pruned further using other criteria;
for instance, only firms of similar size may be considered. The implicit assumption being
made here is that firms in the same sector have similar risk, growth, and cash flow
profiles and therefore can be compared with much more legitimacy. This approach
becomes more difficult to apply when there are relatively few firms in a sector. In most
markets outside the United States, the number of publicly traded firms in a particular
sector, especially if it is defined narrowly, is small. It is also difficult to define firms in
the same sector as comparable firms if differences in risk, growth and cash flow profiles
across firms within a sector are large. The tradeoff is therefore a simple one. Defining an
industry more broadly increases the number of comparable firms, but it also results in a
more diverse group of companies. Boatman and Baskin (1981) compare the precision of
PE ratio estimates that emerge from using a random sample from within the same sector
and a narrower set of firms with the most similar 10-year average growth rate in earnings
and conclude that the latter yields better estimates.111
There are alternatives to the conventional practice of defining comparable firms
as other firms in the same industry. One is to look for firms that are similar in terms of
valuation fundamentals. For instance, to estimate the value of a firm with a beta of 1.2, an
expected growth rate in earnings per share of 20% and a return on equity of 40%112, we
would find other firms across the entire market with similar characteristics.113 Alford
(1992) examines the practice of using industry categorizations for comparable firms and
compares their effectiveness with using categorizations based upon fundamentals such as
risk and growth.114 Based upon the prediction error from the use of each categorization,
he concludes that industry based categorizations match or slightly outperform
fundamental based categorization, which he views as evidence that much of the variation
in multiples that can be explained by fundamentals can be also explained by industry. In
contrast, Cheng and McNamara (2000) and Bhojraj and Lee (2002) argue that picking
comparables using a combination of industry categorization and fundamentals such as
total assets yields more precise valuations than using just the industry classification.115
111 Boatman, J.R. and E.F. Baskin, 1981, Asset Valuation in Incomplete Markets, The Accounting
112 The return on equity of 40% becomes a proxy for cash flow potential. With a 20% growth rate and a
40% return on equity, this firm will be able to return half of its earnings to its stockholders in the form of
dividends or stock buybacks.
113 Finding these firms manually may be tedious when your universe includes 10000 stocks. You could
draw on statistical techniques such as cluster analysis to find similar firms.
114 Alford, A.W., 1992, The Effect of the set of Comparable Firms on the Accuracy of the Price Earnings
Valuation Method, Journal of Accounting Research, v30, 94-108.
115 Cheng, C. S. A. and R. McNamara, 2000, The valuation accuracy of the price-earnings and price-book
benchmark valuation methods, Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, v15, 349-370; Bhojraj, S.
and C. M. C. Lee (2002): Who is my peer? A valuation-based approach to the selection of comparable
My Line? A Comparison of Industry Classification Schemes for Capital Market Research. Journal of
Accounting Research, v41, 745-774.
Controlling for Differences across Firms
No matter how carefully we construct our list of comparable firms, we will end up
with firms that are different from the firm we are valuing. The differences may be small
on some variables and large on others and we will have to control for these differences in
a relative valuation. There are three ways of controlling for these differences.
1. Subjective Adjustments
Relative valuation begins with two choices - the multiple used in the analysis and
the group of firms that comprises the comparable firms. In many relative valuations, the
multiple is calculated for each of the comparable firms and the average is computed. One
issue that does come up with subjective adjustments to industry average multiples is how
best to compute that average. Beatty, Riffe and Thompson (1999) examine multiples of
earnings, book value and total assets and conclude that the harmonic mean provides
better estimates of value than the arithmetic mean.116 To evaluate an individual firm, the
analyst then compare the multiple it trades at to the average computed; if it is
significantly different, the analyst can make a subjective judgment about whether the
If, in the judgment of the analyst, the difference on the multiple cannot be explained by
the fundamentals, the firm will be viewed as over valued (if its multiple is higher than the
average) or undervalued (if its multiple is lower than the average). The weakness in this
approach is not that analysts are called upon to make subjective judgments, but that the
judgments are often based upon little more than guesswork. All too often, these
judgments confirm their biases about companies.
2. Modified Multiples
In this approach, we modify the multiple to take into account the most important
compare PE ratios across companies with very different growth rates often divide the PE
ratio by the expected growth rate in EPS to determine a growth-adjusted PE ratio or the
PEG ratio. This ratio is then compared across companies with different growth rates to
find under and over valued companies. There are two implicit assumptions that we make
116 Beatty, R.P., S.M. Riffe, and R. Thompson, 1999, The method of comparables and tax court
when using these modified multiples. The first is that these firms are comparable on all
the other measures of value, other than the one being controlled for. In other words, when
comparing PEG ratios across companies, we are assuming that they are all of equivalent
risk. If some firms are riskier than others, you would expect them to trade at lower PEG
ratios. The other assumption generally made is that that the relationship between the
multiples and fundamentals is linear. Again, using PEG ratios to illustrate the point, we
are assuming that as growth doubles, the PE ratio will double; if this assumption does not
hold up and PE ratios do not increase proportional to growth, companies with high
growth rates will look cheap on a PEG ratio basis. Easton (2004) notes that one of the
weaknesses of the PEG ratio approach is its emphasis on short term growth and provides
a way of estimating the expected rate of return for a stock, using the PEG ratio, and
concludes that PEG ratios are effective at ranking stocks.117
3. Statistical Techniques
Subjective adjustments and modified multiples are difficult to use when the
relationship between multiples and the fundamental variables that determine them
becomes complex. There are statistical techniques that offer promise, when this happens.
In this section, we will consider the advantages of these approaches and potential
In a regression, we attempt to explain a dependent variable by using independent
variables that we believe influence the dependent variable. This mirrors what we are
attempting to do in relative valuation, where we try to explain differences across firms on
a multiple (PE ratio, EV/EBITDA) using fundamental variables (such as risk, growth and
cash flows). Regressions offer three advantages over the subjective approach:
a. The output from the regression gives us a measure of how strong the relationship is
between the multiple and the variable being used. Thus, if we are contending that
higher growth companies have higher PE ratios, the regression should yield clues to
both how growth and PE ratios are related (through the coefficient on growth as an
117 Easton, P., 2004, PE Ratios, PEG Ratios and Estimating the Implied Expected Rate of Return on Equity
Capital, The Accounting Review, v79, 79-95.
independent variable) and how strong the relationship is (through the t statistics and R
b. If the relationship between a multiple and the fundamental we are using to explain it
is non-linear, the regression can be modified to allow for the relationship.
c. Unlike the modified multiple approach, where we were able to control for differences
on only one variable, a regression can be extended to allow for more than one
variable and even for cross effects across these variables.
In general, regressions seem particularly suited to our task in relative valuation, which is
to make sense of voluminous and sometimes contradictory data. There are two key
questions that we face when running sector regressions:
run the risk of having small sample sizes, which undercut the usefulness of the
regression. Defining sectors broadly entails fewer risks. While there may be large
differences across firms when we do this, we can control for those differences in the
the focus in statistics exercises is increasing the explanatory power of the regression
(through the R-squared) and including any variables that accomplish this, the focus of
regressions in relative valuations is narrower. Since our objective is not to explain
away all differences in pricing across firms but only those differences that are
explained by fundamentals, we should use only those variables that are related to
those fundamentals. The last section where we analyzed multiples using DCF models
should yield valuable clues. As an example, consider the PE ratio. Since it is
determined by the payout ratio, expected growth and risk, we should include only
those variables in the regression. We should not add other variables to this regression,
even if doing so increases the explanatory power, if there is no fundamental reason
why these variables should be related to PE ratios.
Searching for comparable firms within the sector in which a firm operates is fairly
restrictive, especially when there are relatively few firms in the sector or when a firm
operates in more than one sector. Since the definition of a comparable firm is not one that
is in the same business but one that has the same growth, risk and cash flow
characteristics as the firm being analyzed, we need not restrict our choice of comparable
firms to those in the same industry. The regression introduced in the previous section
controls for differences on those variables that we believe cause multiples to vary across
firms. Based upon the variables that determine each multiple, we should be able to
regress PE, PBV and PS ratios against the variables that should affect them. As shown in
the last section, the fundamentals that determine each multiple are summarized in table 2:
Table 2: Fundamentals Determining Equity Multiples
Price Earnings Ratio
Expected Growth, Payout, Risk
Price to Book Equity Ratio
Expected Growth, Payout, Risk, ROE
Price to Sales Ratio
Expected Growth, Payout, Risk, Net Margin
Expected Growth, Reinvestment Rate, Risk, ROC, Tax
EV to Capital Ratio
Expected Growth, Reinvestment Rate, Risk, ROC
Expected Growth, Reinvestment Rate, Risk, Operating
It is, however, possible that the proxies that we use for risk (beta), growth (expected
growth rate in earnings per share), and cash flow (payout) are imperfect and that the
relationship is not linear. To deal with these limitations, we can add more variables to the
regression - e.g., the size of the firm may operate as a good proxy for risk.
comparison across firms in the same sector, described in the previous section, is that it
does quantify, based upon actual market data, the degree to which higher growth or risk
should affect the multiples. It is true that these estimates can contain errors, but those
errors are a reflection of the reality that many analysts choose not to face when they make
subjective judgments. Second, by looking at all firms in the market, this approach allows
us to make more meaningful comparisons of firms that operate in industries with
relatively few firms. Third, it allows us to examine whether all firms in an industry are
under- or overvalued, by estimating their values relative to other firms in the market.
In one of the earliest regressions of PE ratios against fundamentals across the
market, Kisor and Whitbeck(1963) used data from the Bank of New York for 135 stocks
to arrive at the following result.118
in EPS changes)
Cragg and Malkiel (1968) followed up by estimating the coefficients for a regression of
the price-earnings ratio on the growth rate, the payout ratio and the beta for stocks for the
time period from 1961 to 1965.119
They concluded that while such models were useful in explaining PE ratios, they were of
determinants of PE ratios in an earlier section.
The regressions were updated in Damodaran (1996, 2002) using a much broader
sample of stocks and for a much wider range of multiples.120 The results for PE ratios
from 1987 to 1991 are summarized below.
118 Kisor, M., Jr., and V.S. Whitbeck, 1963, A New Tool in Investment Decision-Making, Financial
Analysts Journal, v19, 55-62.
119 Cragg, J.G., and B.G. Malkiel, 1968, The Consensus and Accuracy of Predictions of the Growth of
Corporate Earnings, Journal of Finance, v23, 67-84.
120 Damodaran, A., 1996 & 2004, Investment Valuation, John Wiley and Sons (first and second editions).
These regressions look at all stocks listed on the COMPUSTAT database and similar regressions are run
using price to book, price to sales and enterprise value multiples. The updated versions of these regressions
Note the volatility in the R-squared over time and the changes in the coefficients on the
independent variables. For instance, the R squared in the regressions reported above
declines from 0.93 in 1987 to 0.32 in 1991 and the coefficients change dramatically over
time. Part of the reason for these shifts is that earnings are volatile and the price-earnings
ratios reflect this volatility. The low R-squared for the 1991 regression can be ascribed to
the recession's effects on earnings in that year. These regressions are clearly not stable,
and the predicted values are likely to be noisy. In addition, the regressions for book value
and revenue multiples consistently have higher explanatory power than the regressions
for price earnings ratios.
Limitations of Statistical Techniques
Statistical techniques are not a panacea for research or for qualitative analysis.
They are tools that every analyst should have access to, but they should remain tools. In
particular, when applying regression techniques to multiples, we need to be aware of both
the distributional properties of multiples that we talked about earlier in the paper and the
relationship among and with the independent variables used in the regression.
simple reason; most multiples are restricted from taking on values below zero but can
be very large positive values.121 This can pose problems when using standard
regression techniques, and these problems are accentuated with small samples, where
the asymmetry in the distribution can be magnified by the existence of a few large
are online at http://www.damodaran.com. The growth rate over the previous 5 years was used as the
expected growth rate and the betas were estimated from the CRSP tape.
121 Damodaran, A., 2006, Damodaran on Valuation (Second Edition), John Wiley and Sons, New York.
The distributional characteristics of multiples are described in chapter 7.
independent of each other. Consider, however, the independent variables that we have
growth and risk. Across a sector and over the market, it is quite clear that high growth
companies will tend to be risky and have low payout. This correlation across
power of the regression.
EV/EBITDA multiples across time problematic. By the same token, a multiple
regression where we explain differences in a multiple across companies at a point in
time will itself lose predictive power as it ages. A regression of PE ratios against
growth rates in early 2005 may therefore not be very useful in valuing stocks in early
never be higher than 70% and it is common to see them drop to 30 or 35%. Rather
than ask the question of how high an R-squared has to be to be meaningful, we would
focus on the predictive power of the regression. When the R-squared decreases, the
ranges on the forecasts from the regression will increase.
Reconciling Relative and Discounted Cash Flow Valuations
point in time. It is even possible for one approach to generate the result that the stock is
under valued while the other concludes that it is over valued. Furthermore, even within
relative valuation, we can arrive at different estimates of value depending upon which
multiple we use and what firms we based the relative valuation on.
The differences in value between discounted cash flow valuation and relative
valuation come from different views of market efficiency, or put more precisely, market
inefficiency. In discounted cash flow valuation, we assume that markets make mistakes,
that they correct these mistakes over time, and that these mistakes can often occur across
entire sectors or even the entire market. In relative valuation, we assume that while
markets make mistakes on individual stocks, they are correct on average. In other words,
when we value a new software company relative to other small software companies, we
are assuming that the market has priced these companies correctly, on average, even
though it might have made mistakes in the pricing of each of them individually. Thus, a
stock may be over valued on a discounted cash flow basis but under valued on a relative
basis, if the firms used for comparison in the relative valuation are all overpriced by the
market. The reverse would occur, if an entire sector or market were underpriced.
Kaplan and Ruback (1995) examine the transactions prices paid for 51 companies
in leveraged buyout deals and conclude that discounted cash flow valuations yield values
very similar to relative valuations, at least for the firms in their sample.122 They used the
compressed APV approach, described in an earlier section, to estimate discounted cash
flow values and multiples of EBIT and EBITDA to estimate relative values. Berkman,
Bradbury and Ferguson (2000) use the PE ratio and discounted cash flow valuation
models to value 45 newly listed companies on the New Zealand Stock Exchange and
conclude that both approaches explain about 70% of the price variation and have similar
accuracy.123 In contrast to these findings, Kim and Ritter (1998) value a group of IPOs
using PE and price to book ratios and conclude that multiples have only modest
predictive ability.124 Lee, Myers and Swaminathan (1999) compare valuations obtained
for the Dow 30 stocks using both multiples and a discounted cash flow model, based
upon residual income, and conclude that prices are more likely to converge on the latter
in the long term. While the evidence seems contradictory, it can be explained by the fact
the studies that find relative valuation works well look at cross sectional differences
across stocks, whereas studies that look at pricing differences that correct over time
conclude that intrinsic valuations are more useful.125
Directions for future research
As we survey the research done on valuation in the last few decades, there are
three key trends that emerge from the research. First, the focus has shifted from valuing
122 Kaplan, S.N. and R.S. Ruback, 1995, The Valuation of Cash Flow Forecasts: An Empirical Analysis,
Journal of Finance, v50, 1059-1093.
123 Berkman, H., M.E. Bradbury and J. Ferguson, 2000, The Accuracy of Price-Earnings and Discounted
Cash Flow Methods of IPO Equity Valuation, Journal of International Financial Management and
Accounting, v11, 71-83.
124 Kim, M. and J. R. Ritter (1999): Valuing IPOs, Journal of Financial Economics, v53, 409-437.
125 Lee, C.M.C., J. Myers and B.Swaminathan, 1999, What is the intrinsic value of the Dow?, Journal of
Finance, v54, 1693-1741.
stocks through models such as the dividend discount model to valuing businesses,
representing the increased use of valuation models in acquisitions and corporate
restructuring (where the financing mix is set by the acquirer) and the possibility that
financial leverage can change quickly over time. Second, the connections between
actions. In particular, the excess return models link value directly to the quality of
investment decisions, whereas adjusted present value models make value a function of
financing choices. Third, the comforting conclusion is that all models lead to equivalent
values, with consistent assumptions, which should lead us to be suspicious of new models
that claim to be more sophisticated and yield more precise values than prior iterations.
The challenges for valuation research in the future lie in the types of companies
that we are called upon to value. First, the shift of investments from developed markets to
emerging markets in Asia and Latin America has forced us to re-examine the
assumptions we make about value. In particular, the interrelationship between corporate
governance and value, and the question of how best to deal with the political and
economic risk endemic to emerging markets have emerged as key topics. Second, the
entry of young companies into public markets, often well before they have established
revenue and profit streams, requires us to turn our attention to estimation questions: How
best do we estimate the revenues and margins for a firm that has an interesting product
idea but no commercial products? How do we forecast the reinvestment needs and
estimate discount rates for such a firm? Third, with both emerging market and young
companies, we need to reassess our dependence on current financial statement values as
the basis for valuation. For firms in transition, in markets that are themselves changing,
we need to be able to allow for significant changes in fundamentals, be they risk
parameters, debt ratios and growth rats, over time. In short, we need dynamic valuation
models rather than the static ones that we offer as the default currently. Fourth, as the
emphasis has shifted from growth to excess returns as the driver of value, the importance
of tying corporate strategy to value has also increased. After all, corporate strategy is all
about creating new barriers to entry and augmenting or preserving existing ones, and
much work needs to be done at the intersection of strategy and valuation. Understanding
why a company earns excess returns in the first place and why those excess returns may
come under assault is a pre-requisit for good valuation. Finally, while the increase in
computing power and easy access to statistical tools has opened the door to more
sophisticated variations in valuation, it has also increased the potential for misuse of these
tools. Research on how best to incorporate statistical tools into the conventional task of
valuing a business is needed. In particular, is there a place for simulations in valuation
and if so, what is it? How about scenario analysis or neural networks? The good news is
that there is a great deal of interesting work left to be done in valuation. The bad news is
that it will require a mix of interdisciplinary skills including accounting, corporate
strategy, statistics and corporate finance for this research to have a significant impact.
Since valuation is key to so much of what we do in finance, it is not surprising
that there are a myriad of valuation approaches in use. In this paper, we examined three
different approaches to valuation, with numerous sub-approaches within each. The first is
discounted cash flow valuation, where the value of a business or asset is determined by
its cash flows and can be estimated in one of four ways: (a) expected cash flows can be
discounted back at a risk-adjusted discount rate (b) uncertain cash flows can be converted
into certainty equivalents and discounted back at a riskfree rate (c) expected cash flows
can be broken down into normal (representing a fair return on capital invested) and
excess return cash flows and valued separately and (d) the value of the asset or business
is first estimated on an all-equity funded basis and the effects of debt on value are
computed separately. Not surprisingly, given their common roots, these valuation
approaches can be shown to yield the same value for an asset, if we make consistent
assumptions. In practice, though, proponents of these approaches continue to argue for
their superiority and arrive at very different asset values, often because of difference in
the implicit assumptions that they make within each approach.
The second approach has its roots in accounting, and builds on the notion that
there are few who would claim that the book value is a good measure of the true value,
there are approaches that build on the book value and accrual earnings to arrive at
consistent estimates of value. In recent years, there has also been a push towards fair
value accounting with the ultimate objective of making balance sheets more informative
and value relevant.
The third approach to valuation is relative valuation, where we value an asset
based upon how similar assets are priced. It is built on the assumption that the market,
while it may be wrong in how it prices individual assets, gets it right on average and is
clearly the dominant valuation approach in practice. Relative valuation is built on
standardized prices, where we scale the market value to some common measure such as
earnings, book value or revenues, but the determinants of these multiples are the same
ones that underlie discounted cash flow valuation.