As you probably know, the Internal Revenue Service is the tax arm of the US Treasury Department. Unsurprisingly, valuation of businesses and other assets is of interest to the IRS. Through the years, the service has published a number of interpretations that have come to be widely supported in professional business appraisals.
These revenue rules, as they are called, do not have the force of law, representing instead the position the IRS takes toward business valuation best practices. As an example, regulatory guidelines may be used in the context of gift and estate tax laws that require appraisers to use specific valuation approaches or methods when valuing privately owned companies.
Some of the IRS publications are merely pronouncements with administrative authority. Again, they do not have the binding force of the law. Examples of these are the revenue rulings, private letter rulings, technical advice and general counsel memorandums.
As time went by, many of these publications were tested by courts in legal disputes. The case law that emerged lent support to some, but not all, IRS pronouncements. Some of the best known and supported IRS publications that stood the test of time are these:
Revenue Ruling 59-60
This publication is perhaps the best known IRS statement on valuation of private company ownership interests.
Deals with the fair market valuation of business intangible assets, including goodwill. The exposition of the so-called formula method is part of this paper.
Updates the Revenue Ruling 59-60 with specifics on intangible asset valuation.
Introduces the concept of lack of marketability and the restricted stock studies as a method to calculate the discounts for lack of marketability. If you are valuing a privately owned company whose stock is less marketable that shares of public companies, this is a very important point to consider.
Provides exposition of discounts for lack of control when valuing partial ownership interests in private companies. If you need to figure out the value of a partner’s share of business, the importance of control in business value estimation is something you should review carefully.
The private letter rulings (PLRs) and technical advice memorandums (TAMs) are the usual way the IRS responds to specific taxpayer inquiries. They are widely used for gift and estate tax valuations.
In general, you will find that many professional business valuations in the USA cite the IRS revenue rulings and other publications to enhance the credibility of appraisal. Remember, however, that the IRS guidelines are less compelling when valuation is done for non-tax purposes such as business sale situations.
If you are considering using the income based methods in your business valuation, you have two main choices: capitalization or discounting. In simple terms, the difference boils down to how you intend to treat the expected changes in business earnings going forward.
In using the discounted cash flow method, you specify the anticipated earnings explicitly in the calculation. On the other hand, the capitalization valuation implies that the business earnings will change at a constant rate in the future. This assumption is rarely met in the real world.
Capitalization also misses the timing of earnings changes. If your target company is likely to experience a rapid growth in earnings, especially early on, it’s best to use the discounting technique to capture it in your valuation.
On a general note, consider some situations that favor one choice of the valuation method over the other:
Steady, evenly growing earnings
If the rate at which the business earnings change is nearly constant then the capitalization of earnings is appropriate for valuation. The accuracy of your results likely would not improve if you used the more complex discounted cash flow technique.
Uneven change in business earnings expected
If you can generate a reliable earnings forecast with significant swings in the cash flow over the years, discounting will produce a more accurate result.
Significant change in earnings, uncertain timing
If your company’s cash flow is expected to change widely and timing of these changes is hard to predict, business risk is increased. The result is a higher discount rate. But since your earnings forecast is less reliable, the capitalization method is just as accurate in this situation.
Rapid business earnings growth over a short period
If your target company is experiencing a growth spurt that you can clearly forecast, use the discounted cash flow method. Once the company’s earnings settle into a more sustainable growth mode, you can make the assumption of constant growth rate in perpetuity. This is a perfect scenario for using the discounted cash flow valuation.
Want to dig deeper into the differences? Check out the capitalization versus discounting math.
If you ask a business appraiser, you will hear: business value is in the eyes of the beholder. In formal jargon, business valuation results depend on the standard of value you use.
One of these standards is known as the intrinsic value. As the name implies, this is the measure of value one figures out by focusing on the fundamental characteristics that create value in a company. Note that this is very different than the fair market value that is often used by business people when comparing a company to other firms.
Intrinsic value is the price of business ownership that is determined by a valuation analyst following an in-depth or fundamental review of the company’s earning power, assets, and other value drivers.
In layman’s terms, the company’s intrinsic value is its true or real value, something that is revealed after careful consideration of all the value creating factors. An analyst setting out to figure out the company’s real worth will study its products, customer base, competitive position, relationships with suppliers, capital resources, management, skilled staff, among others.
When fair market value and intrinsic value converge
What happens if many serious investors do this analysis and arrive at pretty much the same value number? Now the intrinsic value becomes the company’s market value as these leading investors cast their votes by buying or selling company’s stock at a certain price.
Business valuation – foundation of sound investment
Figuring out intrinsic value for any business is no easy task. It is named fundamental analysis for a reason. If you really want to know what a company is worth, you roll up your sleeves and delve into a rigorous study of all the important elements that create or destroy value in the firm. Your investment decision is then guided by your conclusions: is the company’s stock priced higher, lower or in line with your findings?
Weeding out the hype
This lets you weed out market hype and inflated prices and zero in on value priced companies worth your while. The serious investor is rewarded with insight into promising companies before the market sentiment catches up. You get to hit pay dirt before the gold rush sets in.
Note that the legal definition of intrinsic value may differ from the economic concept. When in doubt and facing a legal challenge, check with your attorney on how the case law or local statutes see it.