If you are valuing a small business, you have run across the need to establish the discount rate. This is part of risk assessment, a key element in any business valuation. In addition to the well known Build-Up model, you also have the capital asset pricing model, or CAPM, to calculate the discount rates.

CAPM has been used by financial analysts for decades to value publicly traded companies. One new element that CAPM introduces is the concept of systematic business risk. If you take a look at the CAMP formula, this systematic risk is captured by a factor called beta. Beta shows how well the company’s financial returns track the overall equities market.

Beta is usually calculated from the total returns of the company being valued. These returns include two components:

  • Dividends
  • Rise and fall in the market value of company stock

For public companies, both of these components are well known. The situation is different if you are valuing a private company. Most likely, the market value of its stock is not measured regularly. This has been the stumbling block for using the CAPM model in private company valuations.

There are a couple of approaches you can take if you want to use CAPM to value a small privately owned business.

Estimating a proxy beta

If the company operates in an industry where public companies compete, you can pick a number of guideline companies for your analysis. Now calculate the beta for your target private firm by establishing a statistical composite, such as the median beta for the industry group. If your company closely resembles the guideline firms used in the calculation, you can argue that the beta estimate is valid.

Note, however, that the proxy beta is based on returns of other companies, rather than the firm being valued. It may be a close approximation of the real figure, but falls short of the direct factor calculation as is done for public companies.

In some industries dominated by private businesses, there may not be enough guideline company data to run such proxy beta calculations.

Using results of business valuation directly

You can use other valuation methods to estimate the market value of the company. An example would be the market based valuations or the multiple of discretionary earnings method. These methods are well suited for private company valuation and do not require that you calculate the discount rate.

You can run a number of such preliminary valuations, estimate the market value of the company’s stock, and use the results to calculate the company’s beta. Once the beta is known, you can refine your business valuation by applying other methods such as the discounted cash flow that require the discount rate as one of the inputs.

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