Valuation – The School Bell Rings! It’s Time For Class! by Aswath Damodaran,
As most teachers do, I mark time in academic rather than in calendar years and as September dawns, it is New Year’s eve for me and a new class is set to begin. In just under a week, on September 7, 2016, I will walk into a classroom and face up to a roomful of students, not quite ready for summer to end, and start teaching, as I have every year since 1984. This semester, I will be back to teaching Valuation to MBAs at Stern, and as I have in semesters past, I invite you to join me on this journey, as we look at the mix of art, science and magic that makes valuation such a fascinating discipline.
I have always believe that to teach a class well, you have to start with a story and that the class is an extended serialization of the story. I also believe that to teach well, you have to, at least over time, make that story your own and mold the class to reflect it. In fact, the valuation class that I will be teaching this Fall has its seeds in the very first valuation class that I taught in 1986, but the differences reflect not only how much the world has changed since then, but also how my own thinking on valuation has evolved. The class remains a work in progress, where each time I teach it, I learn something new as well as recognize how much I have left to learn.
I could give you an extended essay on what this class is about, but I would repeating what I said at the start of the Fall 2015 semester in this post. In short, I said this class is not an extended accounting class (where you forecast entire financial statements for extended periods), or a modeling class (where you become an Excel Ninja) or a theory class (since there is so little of it in valuation to begin with). Instead, here are the broad themes that underlie this class, all captured in the picture below:
If you find this picture a little daunting, I did do a Google talk that encapsulated these themes into about an hour-long session.
In particular, this class is less about the tools and techniques of valuation and more about developing a foundation that you can use to build your own investment philosophy. I know that faith is a word that is seldom used and often viewed with suspicion by many in the valuation community, but it is at the heart of this class, both in terms of how you build up faith in your own capacity to value assets and businesses and how you hold on to that faith when the market price moves away from your value. Since I still struggle on both of these fronts, I cannot give you a template for success but I will be open about my own insecurities both about my own valuations and about markets.
Since my objective in the class is that by the end of it, you should be able to attach a number to just about any asset, I will roam the spectrum. I will start with the basics of intrinsic value, partly because it is where I am most comfortable and partly because it provides me with ways of dealing with other approach. The mechanics of estimating discount rates, cash flows, growth and terminal value are not just simple, but easily mechanized. It is the specifics that we will wrestle with in this class:
- On risk free rates, usually the least troublesome and more easily obtained input in valuation, we will talk about why risk free rates vary across currencies, what to do about currencies that have negative risk free rates and whether normalizing risk free rates (as many practitioners have taken to doing) is a good idea or a bad one.
- On risk premiums and discount rates, we will wrestle with questions of what risks should and should not be incorporated into discount rates and the different methods of bringing them in. In the process, we will examine how best to estimate equity risk premiums and default spreads, and why even if you don’t like betas or portfolio theory, you should should still be able to estimate discount rates and do intrinsic valuation.
- On cash flows, we will focus on why accounting inconsistencies (on dealing with R&D, leases and other items) can lead to misstated earnings and how to fix those inconsistencies, examine what should and should not be included in reinvestment (capital expenditures and working capital) and what to do about stock based compensation.
- On growth, we will start with the easy cases (where historical earnings growth is a good predictor of future growth) but quickly move on to more difficult cases (of companies in transition) and to what some view as impossible cases (like estimating growth in a start-up)>
- On terminal value, the big number in every DCF, that can very quickly hijack otherwise well-done valuations, we will develop simple rules for keeping the number in check and put to sleep many myths surrounding it.
We will apply intrinsic valuation to value companies across the life cycle, in different sectors and across different markets. We will value small and large companies, private and public, developed and emerging and discuss how to value movie franchises (like Star Wars), phenomena (Pokemon Go) and sports teams. We will talk about why start ups can and should be valued in the face of daunting uncertainty and how probabilistic tools (simulations and decision trees) can help.
About half way through the class, we will turn our attention to pricing assets/businesses, where rather than build up to a value from a company’s fundamentals, we price it, based on how the market is pricing similar companies. Put simply, we will shine a light on the practice of using pricing multiples (PE, EV/EBITDA, EV/Sales) and comparable companies not with the intent of improving how it is done. We will also talk about why, even when you are careful and take care of the details, your pricing of a company can be very different form its value.
In the last segment of the class, we will stretch our valuation muscles by talking about how option pricing models can sometime be used to estimate the additional value in a business, such as undeveloped reserves for a natural resource company or expansion potential for a young growth firm, and sometimes to value equity in deeply distressed companies. We will close by looking at acquisition valuation, where good sense seems to be in short supply, and how understanding value can be critical to corporate managers.
Want to sit in?
If you are intrigued or interested, you are welcome to sit in on the class (online and unofficially). While my immediate attention will be reserved for the Stern MBAs who will be registered in this class, you will have access to all of the resources that they do, starting with the lectures but also extending to lecture notes, quizzes/exams and even emails. The bad