Share valuation

Apr 01, 2019
While anyone can present themselves as an expert on share valuations, integrity is the hallmark of the professional.

A Picasso painting may be valued at €50 million; your house valued at €1 million. These valuations have no underlying measurement, save the willingness – through supply and demand – of interested parties to own the asset. The valuation of shares is different, however, in that there are underlying practice and measurement norms.
Valuation permeates all aspects of business. It is the measure of capital value on stock markets across the world; the mainspring of wealth and its creation; and the store of value for the economic well-being of a nation. It’s your pension fund.

In 2010, Chartered Accountants Ireland published The Valuation of Businesses and Shares by the author of this article. A second edition followed in 2016. Since publication, readers have enquired as to numerous aspects of valuation. This article is a stock-take of these enquiries.

The hallmark of the professional valuer

A major category of enquiry is share valuation related to legal wrangling of one kind or another. This includes shareholders disputes, marital separations, acquisitions or investments gone wrong, the interpretation of share rights and entitlements, and so on. Some are complicated or have poor paperwork. In my experience, the accepted practice in share valuations is poorly understood.

In all circumstances – without exception – integrity (meaning objectivity, independence and impartiality) is the hallmark of the professional valuer. Regrettably, I have seen numerous instances of ‘hired gun’ valuations where the intention is to please the client by presenting an unjustifiably high or low valuation to suit the circumstances.

Happily, in my experience the valuer in these circumstances has rarely been a Chartered Accountant. There are no statutory guidelines or restrictions as to presenting oneself as an expert on share valuations. Quite a few individuals and organisations present themselves as experts. Some are competent; many are not. The financial crash starkly illustrated how few investment advisers understood valuation.

The nonsensical role of EBITDA

Another category of enquiry relates to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). A consistent misnomer, commonly misunderstood or misdirected, is the use of EBITDA in valuations whereby valuations are based on a multiple of EBITDA. The use of EBITDA in valuations is often presented as some form of sophisticated expertise. It is, in fact, nonsensical. Please refer to my article on EBITDA in the August 2017 edition of Accountancy Ireland.

For the sake of good order, should any reader feel aggrieved as to my dismissal of EBITDA, please write to me quoting even one textbook approval of EBITDA, any academic study supporting it, or indeed any evidence at all as to the validity of EBITDA as a method of valuation. I will publish it.

Valuing different classes of shares

A regular category of enquiry – probably the most common – relates to the valuation of different classes of shares. There are many disagreements as to which shares have what value in companies with several classes of shares. There may be different entitlements as to dividends, voting rights and/or assets on a winding up. There may be share options or loan conversion rights which, if exercised, would alter or diminish the rights of existing shareholders. Sometimes, because of restricted rights, a particular class of share is valueless or heavily discounted. The ensuing row is that this likely outcome was not understood by the investor at the outset; leading to allegations of misrepresentation. The allocation of a company’s value across different classes of shares is usually a difficult exercise. It would be better if this aspect was given proper consideration through simpler share structures in the first place.

The ‘grievance’ valuation

The final issue that regularly appears is the ‘grievance valuation’. An aggrieved shareholder demands that the valuation is set at an unjustifiably high level to including compensation or punishment for the alleged grievance. One or both parties in a dispute may be difficult personalities, with rational thought and reasonable behaviour proving remote in the circumstances.

Familiar refrains, as expressed to the writer, include: “I have worked there for X years and you say my shares are only worth X euro”; “This was my father’s business and you are insulting him (or his memory) with this valuation”; and “John Doe is a crook and your valuation is letting him away with it.”

One can only explain patiently that the valuation and the value of the grievance, if any, are separate matters. A willingness to listen and explain confirms the hallmark of the professional valuer – back to what was said about integrity at the outset of this article.

Des Peelo is author of The Valuation of Businesses and Shares, 2nd edition, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.