Recently I presented “Valuing Micro and Small Businesses in the Shadow of COVID-19″ as a webinar training for Business Valuation Resource members. As always, I provided time at the end of the session for questions from attendees. This group had some very thoughtful questions. I thought perhaps others would benefit from our discussion.
What do you mean by “poor financials?” Do you mean a lot of personal stuff is run through the business? Or a general ledger that doesn’t balance and off balance sheet assets / liabilities?
Each of those issues creates poor financials plus many more. Many micro and small business owners manage by walking around. They have a few leading indicators they watch (maybe sales, collections, production). From those, plus being in the middle of the business, they know how they are doing. This knowledge does not translate well for us, as we are not in the middle. Therefore, we have to work harder to really understand what is going on and how to adjust the deficient financials so they are reasonable and workable.
What sources of data do I use for the local economy?
I use the Federal Reserve Beige Book, published for each district. It is anecdotal information but I find it useful.
Another one I will use for cyclical and real estate related is State Board of Realtors sales data. Often this can be obtained at a local level, if that is more meaningful for your company. The data here impacts everything from construction, remodeling, furniture sales, equipment sales, etc. in a local or state market.
Also, the quarterly BizBuySell Insight Report offers data on many market areas with prior reports available for many years to allow comparisons. The number of sales can be used as an indicator of the difficulty or ease of selling a small business.
Local information can be gleaned from many sources. Many federal agencies, states, universities, and state oriented non-profits publish data that might be indicated for the Company and industry you are valuing.
I have been spending more time analyzing debt service (for example: Can they pay back the debt? If so when will they achieve a profit given high debt levels? Will they need more debt to stay afloat?). Do you have any thoughts on that?
Certainly for high debt companies, or companies with lumpy cash flows, (of a few large clients or projects that have endpoints like construction contractors that do a few large projects each year) understanding the balance sheet is very important. Current assets on the balance sheet (particularly cash reserves) provide resiliency and the ability to meet payments when times are tough.
Another thing that needs to be reviewed with companies with debt is the terms of the debt. Many small companies use lines of credit like long term financing. Also, even long term loans often contain clauses allowing the lender to recall the entire amount due, if covenants like minimum earnings are not met. The result can be a company that is meeting minimum cash flows to survive falls into default on their loans creating serious going concern issues.
In most cases (but not all), we do not have data to make a final determination on going concern issues. But a company that has a reasonable level of going concern issues is going to have a steep discount versus companies with a clear path forward.
I saw a few companies with low, negative earnings (-30% to 50% and high revenues multiples in the range of 3-4x. This looks funny for a service company. Since I don’t have historic data or projected data how can I make sense of the pricing relationship?
Without more data, I’m not sure. And perhaps you can’t. Some technology codes do have the types of companies desired by Google, Apple and the like and these may contain synergies that frankly I don’t completely understand how to assess.
Assuming there are enough comparables, I recommend several things though before you throw up your arms in defeat.
- Try sorting the data several ways. Use different cash flow minimums and minimum and maximum revenues and see if the results look different. Sometimes I get an understanding of the data doing this and it is easy within the DealStats .
- Assuming your firm is profitable sort with a minimum cash flow that is somewhat near your cash flow (i.e. if your company as a 15% SDE profitability (SDE/Revenues) and a minimum revenue sort of $1,000,000 then perhaps you require an SDE of $75,000. Since your company is profitable, these comparables will be more like your company.
- Always chart the companies by cash flow profitability (Cash flow being used/Revenues). This will usually provide clear trends that are different from what might be implied by the charts shown in the various databases.
Three more webinars on the “Valuing Small Businesses in the Shadow of COVID-19″ topic are scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
If you are interested in participating, please visit our Upcoming Events page.
“The Art of Business Valuation, Accurately Valuing a Small Business” covers many aspects of small business valuation and market sales including working with business brokers, increasing sales value, descriptions of a well-run sales process, due diligence including a checklist and guidance on SBA loans.
If you value or use valuations of businesses with revenues under $10 million, you need this book on your desk. The book published by Wiley is available through your favorite bookseller.
Finally the author, Greg Caruso, JD, CPA, CVA, is always available to assist with exit planning, brokerage, and to prepare or review business valuations with an emphasis on increasing value and likely transaction values and terms.