Valuation is always a topic of great interest to transportation company owners. Many companies today are successful because they made the difficult decisions necessary to operate through the Great Recession. While demand has increased in recent years, challenges persist due to regulation, driver shortage and excess industry capacity. How has a company’s value been impacted by the up-and-down movements of the economy? More importantly to business owners, what is the most effective way to build a higher company value?
Buyers and sellers of trucking companies must consider a long list of factors when determining value. Some of these factors take into account the financial condition of the company – think of these as the quantitative factors. But several important qualitative factors, such as driver quality, customer relationships and management experience, also affect value and cannot easily be measured. These qualitative factors often separate the most valuable companies from the pack.
Three general methods of valuation are most commonly used to translate these quantitative and qualitative factors into a company’s overall value:
1. Income Method
Buyers need to estimate the future cash flow that can be generated by a trucking company. Understanding the company’s historical cash flow performance provides the basis for developing a meaningful forecast. Is it possible to have a perfect ‘crystal ball’ when forecasting? Of course not. But analyzing the potential cash flow capacity of the company can help buyers (and sellers) understand the opportunities and risks ahead.
2. Market Method
The value of publicly traded transportation companies is determined every day in the stock market. Real-time market information also has an impact on the value of smaller, privately held trucking companies. However, these stock market valuations are not perfect guides for the value of privately held companies due to the larger size and diversified operations of public companies.
There are many transportation companies that are privately held and not publicly traded. Transaction data on the sale prices for privately held trucking companies can provide a guidepost for “valuation multiples.” These multiples may be calculated based on a number of factors such as revenues, earnings, cash flow or book value. Transactions occur at a broad range of valuation multiples however, so proceed with caution when using a valuation multiple as anything more than an approximate indication of value. As an example, data from Pratt’s Stats, a leading private company transaction database, is highlighted in the below chart.
Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) is a common measure of a company’s profits. What was the range of EBITDA valuation multiples observed by Pratt’s Stats over the past five years? The lowest valuation multiple was 1.0 times EBITDA, and the highest valuation multiple was 27.7 times EBITDA. As the saying goes: results may vary!
3. Asset Method
Do not forget the most fundamental way of looking at the company’s value: the net value of assets minus liabilities. When looking at value in this manner, be sure to consider the market value of transportation equipment, and the costs associated with selling equipment. This net total is called “Adjusted Book Value.” Owners desire to sell their companies for a value at least as much as this Adjusted Book Value, making this amount a potential “floor” value, or the lower-end of your valuation range. The value premium paid for a company above the Adjusted Book Value is commonly referred to as “Intangible Value,” or “Goodwill.”
Value Drivers: How Does an Owner Grow Company Value?
Positive Cash Flow
Profits are good, but cash flow pays the bills. Efficient operations will convert net income (as shown on the profit & loss statement) to cash flow. Converting receivables to cash and efficiently managing the level of capital equipment are keys to positive cash flow.
Develop Tangible and Intangible Assets
While it is easy to focus on tangible assets such as cash, working capital and equipment, the development of intangible assets cannot be overlooked. Any purchaser of the company will care about issues such as driver quality, long-standing customer relationships and the know-how that comes from an experienced management team.
The valuation multiples discussed in this article relate to the debt-free value of a business. Trucking companies often must use financing to purchase equipment, and in today’s low-interest rate environment, the cost of capital for this debt financing can be attractive. But beware of using too much debt to finance the company. A balance between debt and equity must be maintained for a healthy balance sheet.