December 5, 2023
Cash and Cash Equivalents

How to Use Enterprise Value to Compare Companies

Enterprise value (EV) is an indicator of how the market attributes value to a firm as a whole. Enterprise value is a term coined by analysts to discuss the aggregate value of a company as an enterprise rather than just focusing on its current market capitalization or market cap.

The market cap figure measures how much a public company is worth as determined by the stock market. It represents the total market value of all outstanding shares. When sizing up a company, investors get a better picture of the real value with enterprise value compared to market cap.

Why doesn’t the market cap properly represent a firm’s value? First, it leaves a lot of important factors out, such as a company’s debt and its cash reserves. Enterprise value is basically a modification of market cap, as it incorporates debt and cash for determining a company’s valuation.

Understanding Enterprise Value (EV)

Simply put, EV is the sum of a company’s market cap and its net debt. To compute the EV, total debt—both short- and long-term—is added to a company’s market cap, then cash and cash equivalents are subtracted.

Market capitalization is the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. For example, Apple (AAPL)—as of Feb. 18, 2022—has 16.32 billion shares outstanding. Its stock price is $167.30. Thus, its market cap is $2.7 trillion.

This number tells you what you would have to pay to buy every share of the company. Therefore, rather than telling you the company’s value, market cap simply represents the company’s price tag.

The Role of Debt and Cash

Why are debt and cash considered when valuing a firm? If the firm is sold to a new owner, the buyer has to pay the equity value—in acquisitions, the price is typically set higher than the market price—and must also repay the firm’s debts. Of course, the buyer gets to keep the cash available with the firm, which is why cash needs to be deducted.

Think of two companies that have equal market caps. One has no debt on its balance sheet, while the other one is heavily indebted. The debt-laden company will be making interest payments on the debt over the years. So, even though the two companies have equal market caps, it would cost more to purchase the company with more debt.

By the same token, imagine two companies with equal market caps of $250 million and no debt. One has negligible cash and cash equivalents (CCE) and the other has $250 million in cash. The first company would have an enterprise value of $250 million, while the second company’s EV would be $0.

Recall that EV represents the cost to purchase the company. Because the second company has $250 million in cash, the buyer could theoretically use the cash to immediately recover the entire purchase price, thus resulting in the $0 we see in the EV calculation.

If a company with a market cap of $250 million carries $150 million as long-term debt, an acquirer would ultimately pay a lot more than $250 million to buy the company in its entirety. With the $150 million in debt, the total acquisition price would be $400 million. Although debt increases the purchase price, cash decreases the price.

Enterprise Value Ratios

Frankly, knowing a company’s EV alone is not all that useful. You can learn more about a company by comparing EV to a measure of the company’s cash flow or earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT). Comparative ratios demonstrate nicely how EV works better than market cap for assessing companies with differing debt or cash levels or, in other words, differing capital structures.

It is important to use EBIT in the comparative ratio because EV assumes that, upon the acquisition of a company, its acquirer immediately pays debt and consumes cash, not accounting for interest costs or interest income. Even better is free cash flow (FCF), which helps avoid other accounting distortions.

Example of Enterprise Value Ratios

Let’s look at the price of two pretend stocks: Air Macklon and Cramer Airlines. At $45 per share, Macklon had a market cap of $13.5 billion and a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 10. But its balance sheet was burdened with nearly $30 billion in net debt. So Macklon’s EV was $43.5 billion, or nearly 13 times its $3.4 billion in EBIT.

By contrast, Air Cramer enjoyed a share price of $23 per share and a market cap of $6.1 billion, and a P/E ratio of 20, twice that of Air Macklon. But Cramer owed a lot less—its net debt stood at $3.5 billion, its EV was $9.6 billion, and its EV/EBIT ratio was only 10.

By market cap alone, Air Macklon looked like it was half the price of Cramer Airlines. But on the basis of EV, which takes into account important things like debt and cash levels, Cramer Airlines was priced much lower per share. As the market gradually discovered, Cramer represented a better buy, offering more value for its price.

What Does Enterprise Value (EV) Mean?

Enterprise value (EV) is a measure of a company’s total value. It can be thought of as an estimate of the cost to purchase a company. EV accounts for a company’s outstanding debts and liquid assets. EV is often used as a more comprehensive alternative to equity market capitalization. Equity market capitalization refers to the total value of all a company’s shares of stock.

How Do You Calculate Enterprise Value?

The simple formula for enterprise value (EV) is market capitalization plus market value of debt less cash and cash equivalents.

What Is EV Ratio?

Many times, a company’s EV is compared to another metric or is used to calculate another metric. For example, the acquirer’s multiple enterprise value divided by operating income. When comparing similar companies, a lower enterprise multiple would be a better value than a company with a higher enterprise multiple. The EV/EBITDA ratio is commonly used as a valuation metric to compare the relative value of different businesses.

What Does a High Enterprise Value Mean?

Enterprise value (EV) is a valuation concept that reflects an estimate of what it would cost to purchase a company. Suppose you compare the enterprise values of two companies in the same industry. If Company A has a much higher EV than Company B, that means the estimated purchase price of Company A is higher than Company B.

Is Enterprise Value the Same as Book Value?

Many metrics represent the total value of a company. Book value is the accounting value of the company as determined by the balance sheet of the company’s financial statements. However, the stated values on the balance sheet might be significantly different than the market value. Enterprise value (EV) best represents the total value of a company because it includes equity and debt capital, and is calculated using current market valuations.

The Bottom Line

The value of EV lies in its ability to compare companies with different capital structures. By using enterprise value instead of market capitalization to look at the value of a company, investors get a more accurate sense of whether or not a company is truly undervalued.

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