Contrary to absolute valuation, which measures a given company's value based on its internal financial metrics, relative valuation takes a comparative approach to uncovering what a company is truly worth. The basis for most relative valuation methods is assessing the performance of a company in relation to its competitors (or common ratios) in public markets.
Valuing a company can be a challenging task for investment professionals across financial services segments. To that end, relative valuation is one of the most common valuation tools used by investors to determine the value of a company or its individual shares. There are even M&A due diligence software tools that can also help to simplify the process.
Industry performance is one of the most important factors applied to relative valuation models, as the company's worth is determined based on indications from the wider market.
There are various popular relative valuation methods that have been applied across the financial services sector. These ratios form the basis of relative valuations, determining not only how a company might be valued to an investment management firm, but also to the wider stock-purchasing population.
Here we provide a full overview of the key dynamics associated with relative valuation models, including a discussion of the key ratios associated with conducting these analyses.
Relative valuations are typically split into two categories: comparable company analysis and precedent transaction analysis.
Both of these analyses place a significant level of stress on wider industry performance and apply equity valuation ratios to assist in the process of valuing a company.
Valuation ratios allow investors to compare the performance of a specific company to the wider industry and effectively determine whether it is over or undervalued.
The first step in applying a given valuation ratio to a specific company is creating an industry average. Whether you are conducting a comparable company or precedent transaction analysis, each applicable valuation ratio will be compared to the given average.
The distinction between these two types of valuation analyses is that comparable company analyses base the ratio on current public company performance, while precedent transaction analyses look at historical M&A transactions. Let's take a look at some of the main relative valuation ratios that are widely applied to comparable company analysis.
The P/E ratio is likely the most prominent relative valuation ratio. It is calculated by dividing the stock price of a company by its earnings per share during a given period of time.
P/E Ratio = Stock Price / Earnings Per Share
Companies that have a lower P/E ratio in relation to their competitors or the wider stock market are perceived to retain more value. This is because the price paid for owning a share in the company is generating a higher level of earnings than other companies.
Many times, companies with lower P/E ratios will see their share prices go up (although that is not always the case). If a given company has a P/E ratio of 15, while most other companies that operate in the same market have a ratio of 20, it would generally be seen as a better investment than other companies operating in the space.
Due to the simplicity of the P/E ratio and its effectiveness at measuring the relative valuation of competitors, it has become one of the most popular methods to measure a company's comparative value. Typically, a P/E ratio of 15 is seen as standard on the S&P 500.
There are various other prominent relative valuation ratios that are worth noting, as they provide investors with alternative multiples to compare different securities.
Investors also look at other valuation ratios such as price/book value per share, price/cash flow, price/sales, among others.
The process of applying these ratios varies when you are comparing public and private companies. Using comparable company analysis to value a private company requires investors to access financial information about the company or make assumptions based on industry trends and past transactions.
As previously mentioned, precedent transaction analysis looks to previous M&A transactions to measure a company's value in comparison to similar firm's that have been sold. During these analyses, investors will look to create ratios based on averages from previous transactions.
Typically, investors look at two main ratios when conducting a precedent transaction analysis:
Precedent transaction analyses have the added benefit of applying historical value ratios to help value a company. However, the drawback is that they represent transactions that occurred in the past and may not represent the current market for a given security.
Whether conducting a comparable company analysis or precedent transaction analysis, both types of relative valuation approaches present similar benefits to investors that are attempting to value a company. Some of the key advantages include:
Unfortunately, there are also limitations to relative valuation processes with some contending that it is impossible to get a clear picture of a company's value without analysing its intrinsic financials. Other disadvantages include:
Despite these drawbacks, relative valuations represent one of the most prominent forces in determining a company's value and in making investment decisions for both institutional investors and the general public.
Investment professionals employ relative valuation methods on a day-to-day basis to enhance their investigative and deal sourcing processes.
While many relative valuation ratios are easily accessible publicly, investors that want to value a private company must create their own models to understand whether a potential investment has a competitive advantage in a given sector.
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