Justifying hockey-stick projections

BVWireIssue #229-3
October 20, 2021

management forecasts
forecast, discounted cash flow (DCF), management projections, projections

Valuation experts frequently receive from management what may appear to be an unrealistic forecast that starts off modestly but shoots up in future years as if by magic. These hockey-stick projections may be perfectly valid, but it’s up to the analyst to scrutinize them. If the valuation ends up in litigation, the analyst will surely be questioned about them.

In a blog post, Chris Mercer (Mercer Capital) recalls having a hockey-stick projection from a bank that currently had low earnings. It appeared that the bank could not possibly achieve that level of performance found in the bank’s own current capital plan for the next five years, which had been prepared for regulatory review in the normal course of business. Mercer was accused of unrealistically relying on the bank’s capital plan.

In response, Mercer referred the attorney to an exhibit in the valuation report that compared the previous five years’ performance with the earnings and returns of the capital plan. “There, it was clear that the projected returns (on assets and equity) were within the levels achieved by the bank in the previous few years, and below the current level of the bank’s peer group,” Mercer writes. “Value today is a function of expectations for future performance—and the expectations used were in line with past performance, management’s stated plans, management’s business plan, and the performance of similar banks.”

This situation illustrates the importance of professional skepticism, especially when reviewing management’s prospective financial information (PFI). Common procedures include, but are not limited to, a comparison of prior forecasts to actual results, comparison of PFI to industry expectations, checking the PFI against other internally prepared financial information for consistency, a comparison of entity PFI to historical trends, an understanding of who prepared the PFI and how often it is prepared, and math and logic checks.

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