Charlie Munger: How To Value A Business Or Company

Charlie Munger: How To Value A Business Or Company

One of the best resources for investors are the Daily Journal Annual meetings chaired by Charles Munger. These meetings are full of valuable investing insights for investors. One example is the 2016 Annual Meeting in which Munger was asked, “What do you use to value a business or a company? How do you use the discount rate to calculate intrinsic value?

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Here is his response:

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Charlie Munger: Obviously, it’s relevant what the return you get on your bonds is, that affects the value of other assets in the general climate. Obviously, your opportunity costs should cover your own investment decision making. If you happen to have a rich uncle who will sell you his business for percent of what it’s worth, you don’t want to think about some other investment.

If the opportunity cost is so great, considering everything else, you should forget about it. And most people don’t pay enough attention to opportunity cost. Bridge players know about opportunity cost. Poker players know about opportunity cost. But in an MBA faculty members and other important people, they hardly know their ass from a plate of hot squash.

Questioner: When you try to arrive at a valuation number using the discount rate, does it mean that between the two rates––

Charlie Munger We don’t use numeric formulas that way. We take into account a whole lot of factors. It’s a multi-factor thing. And there are tradeoffs between factors. It’s just like a bridge hand. You have to think of a lot of different things at once. There’s never going to be a formula that will make you rich just by going through some horrible process. If that were true, every mathematical nerd who gets A’s in algebra would be rich. . . .

So you have to be comfortable thinking about a lot of things at once, and correctly thinking about a lot of things at once. And we don’t have a formula that will help you. And all that stuff is relevant. Opportunity cost of course is crucial. And of course the risk-free rate is a . . . factor . . .

Questioner: Do you use the same rate for different types of businesses?

Charlie Munger: No, of course not. Different businesses get different treatments. They all are viewed in terms of value, and they’re weighed one against another. But a person will pay more for a good business than for a lousy one.

We really don’t want any lousy businesses anymore. We used to make money betting on reinventing lousy businesses and kind of wringing money out of them, but that is a really painful, difficult way to make money, especially if you’re already rich. We don’t do much of it anymore. Sometimes we do it by accident, because one of our businesses turns lousy, and in that case it’s like dealing with your relatives you can’t get rid of. We deal with those as best we can, but we’re out looking for new ones.

You can find a partial transcript of the 2016 Daily Journal Annual Meeting here.

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The Acquirer’s Multiple® is the valuation ratio used to find attractive takeover candidates. It examines several financial statement items that other multiples like the price-to-earnings ratio do not, including debt, preferred stock, and minority interests; and interest, tax, depreciation, amortization. The Acquirer’s Multiple® is calculated as follows: Enterprise Value / Operating Earnings* It is based on the investment strategy described in the book Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations, written by Tobias Carlisle, founder of The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from The Magic Formula® Earnings Yield because The Acquirer’s Multiple® uses operating earnings in place of EBIT. Operating earnings is constructed from the top of the income statement down, where EBIT is constructed from the bottom up. Calculating operating earnings from the top down standardizes the metric, making a comparison across companies, industries and sectors possible, and, by excluding special items–earnings that a company does not expect to recur in future years–ensures that these earnings are related only to operations. Similarly, The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from the ordinary enterprise multiple because it uses operating earnings in place of EBITDA, which is also constructed from the bottom up. Tobias Carlisle is also the Chief Investment Officer of Carbon Beach Asset Management LLC. He's best known as the author of the well regarded Deep Value website Greenbackd, the book Deep Value: Why Activists Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations (2014, Wiley Finance), and Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors (2012, Wiley Finance). He has extensive experience in investment management, business valuation, public company corporate governance, and corporate law. Articles written for Seeking Alpha are provided by the team of analysts at, home of The Acquirer's Multiple Deep Value Stock Screener. All metrics use trailing twelve month or most recent quarter data. * The screener uses the CRSP/Compustat merged database “OIADP” line item defined as “Operating Income After Depreciation.”
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  1. So cryptic – why would he divulge how he values companies in a public forum. They have the X Factor in valuing companies – no real incentive to share methodology

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