When valuing a company as a going concern, there are three main valuation methods used by industry practitioners: (1) DCF analysis, (2) comparable company analysis, and (3) precedent transactions.  These are the most common methods of valuation used in investment banking, equity research, private equity, corporate development, mergers & acquisitions (M&A), leveraged buyouts (LBO), and most areas of finance.

Overview of Valuation Methods

As shown in the diagram above, when valuing a business or asset, there are three broad categories that each contain their own methods. The Cost Approach looks at what it costs to build something and this method is not frequently used by finance professionals to value a company as a going concern. Next is the Market Approach, this is a form of relative valuation and frequently used in the industry. It includes Comparable Analysis Precedent Transactions.  Finally, the discounted cash flow (DCF) approach is a form of intrinsic valuation and is the most detailed and thorough approach to valuation modeling.

Method 1: Comparable Analysis (“Comps”)

Comparable company analysis (also called “trading multiples” or “peer group analysis” or “equity comps” or “public market multiples”) is a relative valuation method in which you compare the current value of a business to other similar businesses by looking at trading multiples like P/E, EV/EBITDA, or other ratios. Multiples of EBITDA are the most common valuation method. The “comps” valuation method provides an observable value for the business, based on what companies are currently worth. Comps are the most widely used approach, as they are easy to calculate and always current.

Method 2: Precedent Transactions

Precedent transactions analysis is another form of relative valuation where you compare the company in question to other businesses that have recently been sold or acquired in the same industry. These transaction values include the take-over premium included in the price for which they were acquired.

Method 3: DCF Analysis

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) analysis is an intrinsic value approach where an analyst forecasts the business’ unlevered free cash flow into the future and discounts it back to today at the firm’s Weighted Average Cost of Captial (WACC).

A DCF analysis is performed by building a financial model in Excel and requires an extensive amount of detail and analysis.  It is the most detailed of the three approaches, requires the most assumptions, and often produces the highest value. However, the effort required for preparing a DCF model will also often result in the most accurate valuation. A DCF model allows the analyst to forecast value based on different scenarios, and even perform a sensitivity analysis.

For larger businesses, the DCF value is commonly a sum-of-the-parts analysis, where different business units are modeled individually and added together.