Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business

February 2017 9780231542746 Hardcover (296 pages)

Dr. Aswath Damodaran

Columbia University Press

How can a company that has never turned a profit have a multibillion dollar valuation? Why do some start-ups attract large investments while others do not? Aswath Damodaran, finance professor and experienced investor, argues that the power of story drives corporate value, adding substance to numbers and persuading even cautious investors to take risks. In business, there are the storytellers who spin compelling narratives and the number-crunchers who construct meaningful models and accounts. Both are essential to success, but only by combining the two, Damodaran argues, can a business deliver and sustain value.

Through a range of case studies, Narrative and Numbers describes how storytellers can better incorporate and narrate numbers and how number-crunchers can calculate more imaginative models that withstand scrutiny. Damodaran considers Uber's debut and how narrative is key to understanding different valuations. He investigates why Twitter and Facebook were valued in the billions of dollars at their public offerings, and why one (Twitter) has stagnated while the other (Facebook) has grown. Damodaran also looks at more established business models such as Apple and Amazon to demonstrate how a company's history can both enrich and constrain its narrative. And through Vale, a global Brazil-based mining company, he shows the influence of external narrative, and how country, commodity, and currency can shape a company's story. Narrative and Numbers reveals the benefits, challenges, and pitfalls of weaving narratives around numbers and how one can best test a story's plausibility.

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Table of Contents


Preface
1. A Tale of Two Tribes
2. Tell Me a Story
3. The Elements of Storytelling
4. The Power of Numbers
5. Number-Crunching Tools
6. Building a Narrative
7. Test-Driving a Narrative
8. From Narratives to Numbers
9. Numbers to Value
10. Improving and Modifying Your Narrative—the Feedback Loop
11. Narrative Alterations—the Real World Intrudes
12. News and Narratives
13. Go Big—the Macro Story
14. The Corporate Life Cycle
15. The Managerial Challenge
16. The Endgame

Notes

Index

Damodaran's success in combining storytelling with traditional financial analysis and valuation is unprecedented. The book has the potential to be a cornerstone of both traditional valuation and business "pitching" as it shows how individuals from each world can benefit from co-opting tools from the other. The author takes us on his personal journey into the realization that numbers need a narrative in order to make them persuasive.
-- Paul Johnson, Nicusa Investment Advisors

Professor Damodaran's point-counterpoint case studies make valuation a good read. Self-critical in his contemporary examples, he wisely cautions the reader that quality valuation requires both the right and the left side of one's brain—the number cruncher and the storyteller.
-- Thomas E. Copeland, University of San Diego

Damodaran, instructor to many on valuation, clearly demonstrates that quantitative valuation formulas are not sufficient: they must be applied with a more qualitative narrative about the business. But qualitative analysis has its dangers, not the least that we insert our own biases into the narrative. Damodaran nicely weaves stories into the more formal quantitative analysis, with check and balances that yield a more confident valuation.
-- Stephen Penman, author, Accounting for Value

No one has contributed more to the craft of valuation than Aswath Damodaran. In Narrative and Numbers, he correctly shows that you can't understand the stock without the story. After Damodaran's eye-opening tour, you will forever appreciate the vital contribution of human nature to number-crunching.
-- Michael Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse

Damodaran takes us to the place where Joseph Campbell, Warren Buffett, and the best quantitative analyses of Nassim Taleb intersect, and his journey uncovers new value and risk missed by analysts who bias themselves by relying solely on storytelling or number-crunching. It's a hero's journey best supported by humility—and this first-person account of Aswath's own evolving narratives, analyses, and valuations of Alibaba, Amazon, Uber, Theranos, Ferrari, and more. He may have started as a quant, but Damodaran's now one of the most balanced analysts—and wonderful business and financial storytellers—writing and teaching today.
-- David Foster, CEO, Business Valuation Resources