Business Valuation Guide

How to build up the discount rate

The equity discount rate represents the cost of equity capital invested in a business purchase, such as the buyer’s down payment. A key input into the Discounted Cash Flow business valuation method, the discount rate consists of two components:

  • Risk free rate of return.
  • Premium for risk assumed in owning and operating a business.

The risk free rate of return is what you would expect from an investment that has no risk of default. Government backed securities, such as the 20 year US Treasury coupon bonds, are generally believed to be risk free. Hence, their yield is commonly used as the risk free rate in building up the discount rate.

Equity risk premium elements

The key elements of the risk premium comprise:

  • Risk premium to account for equity investment. This risk reflects the uncertainty as to the amount and timing of dividend distributions and gains realized from public company stock appreciation.
  • Risk premium which accounts for the company size. Generally, smaller company size is associated with higher investment risk. Hence small company investors demand higher returns.
  • Risk premium specific to the industry in which the business operates. High risk industries would result in higher industry risk premia.
  • Company specific risk premium which accounts for the unique attributes of the business itself. Business risk factors that lead to higher premium values include unstable earnings, high leverage, customer or product concentration.

Discount rate build up formula

Calculation of the equity discount rate thus uses the following formula:

D = Rf + Pe + Ps + Pi + Pc

where Rf is the risk free rate of return, Pe is the premium for equity investment, Ps is the premium for small company size, Pi is the industry specific risk premium, and Pc is the premium for risk associated with the firm itself.

Building up your discount rate

Here then is the typical procedure used to build up the equity discount rate for business valuation:

  • Start with a risk-free return, e.g. the long-term US long-term Treasury bond yield at 1.7% annually.
  • Add risk premium for publicly traded equity investment, e.g. 4.3%.
  • Add a size premium for investing in a small privately owned business, e.g. 11.5%.
  • Add a premium for the industry the business operates in, e.g. 5%.
  • Add a premium to account for the risk of investing in the subject business, e.g. 10%. This represents the company specific risk premium or CSRP.

In this example, the total equity discount rate is 32.5%.

What about the country risk? If you are doing your business valuation in a stable developed economy such as North America, EU, or Australia, the country risk is zero. On the other hand, businesses in a financially stressed country like Argentina face a country risk premium as high as 17.7%! Why? Investors abhor economic instability and demand much higher returns on their money in such geographies.

Worksheets to calculate your discount rate

ValuAdder includes financial recasting worksheets to help you calculate the discount rate for debt free or leveraged company scenarios.