One of the key elements in business valuation of any size is risk assessment. Whether you use the direct capitalization methods, such as the Multiple of Discretionary Earnings technique, or the Discounted Cash Flow method, you need to calculate the capitalization and discount rates to capture that risk.

Business valuation and risk measurement

The Build-Up model is perhaps the most common way to calculate the discount rates. If you take a look at the build-up formula, you will notice that the company size risk premium is one key element. Generally, the smaller the company, the riskier it is and the higher the corresponding size risk premium number.

Small companies are riskier than larger competitors

So how do the company sizes affect their risk in this economy? The spread may be surprising to some. In fact, for small public companies with market capitalization below $50M the size risk premium exceeds 13.9%.

On the other hand, larger mid-market firms with market cap above $500M have a size risk premium falling below 2.84%.

Business value is affected by company size

This means that, for example, the equity discount rate for a $50M company in the construction industry can be around $26.7%. For a $500M counterpart, the discount rate is just 15.65%.

If both companies show minimal earnings growth in 2011, each $1,000,000 in net cash flow of the small company is worth about $3.75M compared to $6.39M for the larger firm, a 71% difference in business value!

Business risk rises quickly for smaller firms

What is interesting is that the size risk premium does not vary smoothly with company size. In fact, the relationship looks more like a hockey stick with a break point somewhere around $150M in market capitalization.

Size matters: Key business value enhancing factors for bigger firms

What makes the larger companies seem so much less risky in the eyes of business people today? Here is our short list:

  • Market and product diversification of larger companies reduces their risk.
  • Larger companies have succeeded in building very strong balance sheets to manage their financial risk better.
  • Bigger businesses have a much easier time attracting capital – both debt and equity.

Business Valuation for Firms of any Size


Sharon says:

How does one determine the size premia for a privately-held company? I know that Ibbotson’s SBBI yearbook has size premia based on market cap but for a non-public company how is the size determined?

Harry says:

The Ibbotson SBBI Valuation Edition yearbook, now replaced by the Duff and Phelps Valuation Handbook, is indeed one key source of company size risk premia.

The data are used for building up discount rates for private companies. You will need to estimate the equity value of the private firm as a proxy for its market capitalization.

In addition, private company discount rates usually include an additional element known as the company specific risk premium (CSRP). Note that this so-called unsystematic risk is not observable in the public capital markets.

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