Valuation approaches for distressed firms (Detailed Analysis)

Valuation approaches for distressed firms: A distressed asset is any asset that is put on sale at well below its expected value because the asset owner is forced to sell. Stressed assets are like someone in ICU. If you don’t decide, it will damage not only the corporate debtor but also lenders themselves.

WHEN IS A COMPANY SAID TO BE IN DISTRESS?

A company is said to be in distress when the company is unable to meet, or has difficulty paying off, its financial obligations to its creditors, typically due to high fixed costs, illiquid assets, or revenues being sensitive to economic downturns. Such distress can lead to operational distress as increasing costs of borrowings take a toll on the operations of the company as well.

Distress can be broadly categorized into economic and financial distress. Economic distress is broad-based and afflicts most companies operating in the economy and is normally outside the control of the company.

Factors causing economic distress include – General economic recession, technological or cultural shifts, and sometimes, wars or other geo-political confrontations. Some of the factors are temporary, while others may bring a permanent change in the business landscape. Economic distress often leads to financial distress.

Firms in financial distress cannot meet, or have difficulty paying off their financial obligations to their creditors. Some of the characteristics of financially distressed companies are stagnant or declining revenue, shrinking margin, high leverage, ballooning interest costs, working capital blockage and high customer and employee attrition.

It is critical to identify the nature of distress. The optimal course of action for companies facing irreversible economic distress is liquidation of assets. However, for companies with good prospects but temporarily suffering due to high debt burden, financial restructuring is advised, and estimating the enterprise value is a critical step during financial restructuring.

Given the foregoing, the premise for valuing a distressed company can be either liquidation value or enterprise value. Enterprise value considers the “highest and best use” of assets, while liquidation value is the value realized by selling assets on a piecemeal basis.

Estimation of Enterprise Value of a Firm Under Distress

Enterprise Value for distressed firms = Liquidation value (LV) + Going concern premium (GCP)

  • The viability of the company’s product
  • Relationships with vendors
  • The price of key raw materials
  • The company’s future market share
  • Unfunded pension liabilities
  • Regulatory changes
  • Economy wide factors

However, the valuation of distressed companies includes numerous additional elements of uncertainty as well. Examples include:

  • The ability to retain employees
  • The ability to reorganize
  • The structure of the reorganized entity
  • The ability to divest underperforming assets
  • Litigation risk resulting from the company’s distress
  • Access to capital markets post-reorganization
  • Cost of funds post-reorganization
  • The possibility that the company may be liquidated

There are three basic approaches to valuation – Income, Market and Cost. The Cost approach estimates the cost of recreating or replacing the assets of an enterprise.

Since, for an operating business, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in general, the cost approach is not the preferred method for estimating the enterprise value of going concerns.

Similarly, traditional methods under the Income and Market approaches are more suited for healthy companies and need to be modified when used for valuation of distressed companies. There are several ways to incorporate the risk of bankruptcy while estimating the enterprise value of the firm under different valuation approaches.

Market Approach

While arriving at the enterprise value of a company under distress, it is essential to select the right set of comparable companies, as there might be very few companies under similar situation operating in the same industry. Moreover, the distressed company’s recent historical revenue and earnings might not be meaningful. Hence, a sustainable or normalized metric must be ascertained on which the multiple should be applied.

Income Approach

The following challenges are often faced while using the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method for arriving at the enterprise value of distressed companies:

Uncertainty Over Future Cash Flows Distressed companies typically have a very volatile past, which makes projecting future cash flows quite challenging. Hence, scenario analysis and simulation with respect to key business variables such as revenue growth and profitability are commonly used for valuing such companies.

Life of the Enterprise Some of the guiding factors to estimate life of the enterprise include nature of distress, resources required for turnaround and appetite for such assets in the market

  • If the nature of distress is permanent (more often economic), it is advisable to shut the business down and therefore, a limited period life is more likely.
  • If the nature of distress is temporary and the cost of maintaining the asset or turnaround cost is higher, then liquidation is the most likely scenario and accordingly, a limited life should be considered.
  • Similarly, in an industry with surplus capacity, sometimes assets capable of revival are also shut down

Discount Rate

The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is commonly used to estimate cost of capital. The following points should be considered when estimating a discount rate to arrive at enterprise value:

Beta – Instead of using historically regressed beta, a bottom-up beta should be used which is based on a peer group operating in the same industry and then re-levering the betas based on the financial and operating risks suitably.

Cost of Debt – Due to the higher current borrowing rate the cost of debt can be estimated based on a synthetic rating, which in turn can be estimated based on the financial characteristics of the company.

Tax Rate – It is suggested that the effect of this be included while estimating post tax cost of debt by using different post tax cost of debt at different points of time during the projected period.

One of the most basic methods of valuing a company is to add up the book value of the assets and subtract the book value of the liabilities. However, the result can be highly misleading, as the assets were recorded at their original cost, which may have no correlation with the fair market value of those assets. For example, the value of the property, plant, and equipment may be understated, as the replacement cost may be far higher than the original cost. Furthermore, estimates of depreciation would have reduced the asset values on the balance sheet. Inventory, which is valued at the lower of cost or market value may also not accurately reflect the true worth of the asset. On the other side of the balance sheet, the book value of the liabilities fails to record off balance sheet liabilities that should be taken into account when valuing a company.

Conclusion

The investor considers investing in securities of companies that are either in bankruptcy or are approaching bankruptcy. Typically, these companies have outstanding claims greater than the value of the assets and are experiencing difficulty in servicing their debt. There is a real possibility that the company will be liquidated or will be reorganized as a going concern.

The investor may be looking to acquire distressed debt or other securities in the hope that these securities will either increase in value following a liquidation or reorganization, or convert to equity ownership. These two possible outcomes, liquidation or reorganization, require different valuation methods to calculate.

Valuation in general is a combination of science and art, more so in the case of distressed companies. Hence, it is paramount that the right mix of framework, methodology and assumption is considered to arrive at the appropriate valuation, which balances the theoretical and practical aspects. Arriving at a reasonable enterprise value is essential to suggest the appropriate financial restructuring and to ensure the appropriate pay-offs to secured, unsecured and operational creditors and to equity holders. This, in turn, is critical to achieve the best resolution for the subject business.