Stocks

Why and How to Use Enterprise Value in Evaluating Stocks

When Joel Greenblatt described the Magic Formula Investing (MFI) strategy in his book The Little Book that Beats the Market, one of the most useful decisions he made was to use a company's enterprise value instead of market capitalization when calculating the earnings yield used to find cheap stocks. While most investors rely on metrics such as price-to-earnings (P/E, the inverse of earnings yield) and price-to-book (P/B), they would be better served concentrating on the enterprise value to earnings (EV/E) or enterprise value to book (EV/B). But why? What value does using enterprise value give us over using market capitalization to calculate these valuation metrics? And how do we get enterprise value as used by MFI?

Let's start by examining the "how" first, as it will help to explain the "why". The MFI formula for calculating enterprise value is:

Enterprise Value = Market Capitalization + Total Debt - Excess Cash

Most of this is straightforward. Market Capitalization is simply share price * number of shares, and is widely available. Total debt is all long and short term debt obligations from the balance sheet. The last operand, "Excess Cash", deserves a little explanation as it requires a bit of calculation. The idea is to use only the portion of the company's cash holdings that is not required to meet short term liabilities, should the need arise. Therefore, the calculation looks like:

Excess Cash = Total Cash - (Current Liabilities - Current Assets - Total Cash)

If Current Non-Cash Assets cover Current Liabilities, then Excess Cash is just the cash holdings with no adjustments. I know this is a bit confusing but it makes sense with a little thought. For example, if you have $500 in cash but need to pay a $100 credit card bill tomorrow, really you only have $400 in excess cash that you can freely spend.

So that's the "how" part. Now, the "why" part. Clearly, using enterprise value instead of market capitalization to calculate valuation statistics provides significant value, because it penalizes companies with a lot of debt and low cash balances, while rewarding companies with low debt and lots of cash. These low-debt, high-cash companies are higher quality as they can more easily survive an economic downturn or business problems, and have more flexibility in how to reward shareholders. With lots of cash and little debt, the company can pursue growth through new business lines or acquisitions, and can afford to buy back more shares or pay a higher dividend. On the other hand, those with high debt and low cash suffer the loss of profits through interest payments, and are also at risk of bankruptcy if business goes south and they can no longer afford to cover interest obligations.

Perhaps the usefulness of enterprise value is best illustrated by example. Let's take two recent Magic Formula stocks, one that has a lot of cash and little debt, the other with lots of debt and little cash. First, let's use the traditional Market Capitalization valuation:

MetricBarrett Business (BBSI)Deluxe (DLX)
Price-to-Earnings12.123.51

Using P/E, there is little question that Deluxe looks substantially cheaper than Barrett. In fact, most stock screens would never even turn up Barrett as a very cheap stock, as 12x earnings is currently right about at the market multiple. However, using Enterprise Value tells a different story:

MetricBarrett Business (BBSI)Deluxe (DLX)
EV-to-Earnings5.9612.65

The tables completely turn! Why is this? The reason is simple. Barrett Business Services is a very financially sound company, with over $46 million in excess cash on the balance sheet, and no debt. Given a market capitalization of $90 million, this takes enterprise value under $50 million, and makes the company's current valuation as a going concern very low. On the other hand, Deluxe has a cash shortfall of $150 million (it relies on ongoing free cash flow to cover short-term liabilities), plus nearly $900 million in debt. While the market capitalization of about $400 million looks low against Deluxe's earnings, enterprise value balloons the cost of this company to over $1.4 billion dollars, quite a significant change! If you would have used enterprise value screening techniques in the first place, you never would have had to dig into Deluxe's balance sheet to discover it's weak financial status... the stock screen would have already done it for you!

By using enterprise value instead of market cap, Greenblatt's Magic Formula screen mechanically throws out many apparently cheap stocks, but with very weak balance sheets. Deluxe had to meet a much lower price standard than Barrett to earn it's way into the MFI screen.

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Disclosure: Steve owns no stocks referenced here.

Joel Greenblatt and MagicFormulaInvesting.com are not associated in any way with this website. Neither Mr. Greenblatt or MagicFormulaInvesting.com endorse this website's investment opinions, strategy, or products. Investment recommendations on this website are not chosen by Mr. Greenblatt, nor are they based on Mr. Greenblatt's proprietary investment model, and are not chosen by MagicFormulaInvesting.com. Magic Formula® is a registered trademark of MagicFormulaInvesting.com, which has no connection to this website. The information on this website is for informational purposes only and solely represents the views and opinions of the author. No warranty is provided or implied as to the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of this information. This information may not be construed as investment advice of any kind, nor can it be relied upon as the basis for stock trades. Alexander Online Properties LLC, the proprietor of this website, is not responsible in any way for losses or damages resulting from the use of this information. Alexander Online Properties LLC is not a registered investment advisor. All logos are trademarked properties of their respective companies.

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Comments

Posted by cookedc on 2009-03-09 21:17:23

Steve,

Overall, very helpful article on enterprise value. Thanks for posting it.

EV/E should be EV/B in the first paragraph, four lines from bottom.

Also, the excess cash formula looks fishy. If current liabilities equals current assets, then the formula gives excess cash equaling total cash times two.

On another topic, I and many other long-time value investors could sure use some words of encouragement. I'm wondering how low many of these stock prices will go. It seems to be getting rediculous to see such good companies trading for p/e of 8 or so (MSFT, EBAY, HPQ). And what do you think of the sellof in some of the medical supply companies. Wow, some of these I've been admiring for years and they're selling for deep discounts (JNJ, SYK, ZMH, MDT). Not to mention some higher p/e firms that have been taken down in price, but should do very well over the next five years (HOLX, ISRG).

David

Posted by Steve on 2009-03-10 04:54:17

Thanks for pointing out the mistype. It's been fixed.

Also, the excess cash formula was simplified for readability. A real, "fool-proof" formula would look like:

Excess Cash = Total Cash - MAX(0; (Current Liabilities - Current Assets - Total Cash))

I was considering writing a "pep-talk" post. All we have to go on is market history, and historically the very best times (over the long run) to buy have been during recessions.

Posted by jonathan on 2009-03-31 13:18:28

Still wrong. For example, cash is $2, liabilities=$2 and assets=$0, and excess cash should be $0. You have it as $2-MAX($0,$2-$0-$2)=$2.

Based on your text description, you mean:

Excess Cash = Total Cash + MIN(0,Current Assets-Current Liabilities)

or (equivalently):

Excess Cash = Total Cash - MAX(0,Current Liabilities-Current Assets)

Posted by Steve on 2009-03-31 14:09:38

Yes, that's right. In the above one, my formula should actually have been:

Excess Cash = Total Cash - MAX(0; (Current Liabilities - Current Assets + Total Cash))

but since Total Cash appears on both sides of the equation it's equivalent to your second formula. Thanks for clearing it up.

Posted by ealec on 2010-12-08 13:15:07

what if the value of Current Liabilities is much higher than the value of Current Assets:

Excess Cash = Total Cash - MAX(0; (Current Liabilities - Current Assets + Total Cash))

Excess Cash = 20 - MAX(0; (100 - 90 + 20)) = -10

would the value of Excess cash be = 0???? as we dont have any excess cash but a lack of it

Posted by Steve on 2010-12-08 13:17:18

Yes that's correct. Excess cash can indeed be negative.

Posted by ahmed on 2012-05-04 04:03:53

Hello !

I just joined MagicDiligence and happy to post my first comments. It is such a wonderful website with great informative stuff and value articles.

Steve, you say in the article that the companies, which have huge debts get punished. I couldn't understand this. Doesn't huge debt and low cash increase the Enterprise Value?

Can you please clarify this for me?

Secondly, the excess cash example, can you please elaborate with an example as you have done in other articles?

Many thanks

Posted by Steve on 2012-05-04 06:37:22

Sure, and thanks for joining!

You are right, lots of debt and low cash increase the enterprise value. But this, in turn, makes the company more expensive by the way the screen work (which makes it less attractive as an investment).

For example, take two companies, both at $1 billion ($1,000 million) market cap.

Company A has $100 million in cash and $500 million in debt. Enterprise value = ($1,000 - $100 + $500) = $1,400 enterprise value.

Company B has $500 million in cash and $100 million in debt. Enterprise value = ($1,000 -$500 + $100) = $600 enterprise value.

Company B is actually significantly cheaper to purchase on an enterprise value basis, even though both of the firms are valued the same in the market.

Hope this helps!

Posted by ahmed on 2012-08-27 05:18:51

Hi Steve !

Hope you find this in the best of your health and spirits. I have a little confusion and would be thankful if you clear me up.

In the above post, the formula for EXCESS CASH is this:

Excess Cash = Total Cash - MAX(0; (Current Liabilities - Current Assets + Total Cash)

My first question is: (1) The current assets in the formula include Cash or not ? or they represent non-cash current assets?

(2) What does negative excess cash mean according to the formula?

(3) Does excess cash has any relationship with Free Cashflow to Equity (for dividends)?

Thank you very much.

Have a nice day ! :)

Posted by Steve on 2012-08-27 06:30:35

Hello Ahmed! So let me address the questions one-by-one:

(1) Yes, current assets includes cash here.

(2) A negative excess cash balance would make the enterprise value larger. In effect, negative excess cash acts as extra debt when calculating enterprise value. There is a penalty for it.

(3) No. It is just a way to take into account the strength of a balance sheet with the stock's valuation.

Hope this helps!

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