A Shifting Economy Means Shifting Valuations
The economy underwent a huge transformation as the country adjusted to a new way of life according to the unwritten rules of a worldwide pandemic. And just when we thought things might start to settle down, it is shifting again. For companies and investors, one of the most significant of those changes will be the disappearance of the revenue multiple.
A revenue multiple measures the value of the equity of a business relative to the revenues that it generates. It’s the idea that companies can trade based on revenue and not on profit. Simply, it is a metric used often during times of excess money—times in which we recently experienced. The incredible amounts of money that went through the market over the past few years and the resulting high valuations created more strategies based on revenue growth only.
In the first quarter of this year, companies with high revenue growth, unique technology or customer list have closed deals based on 5 to 6 times revenue. Most of these companies had minimal infrastructure and/or no earnings. This is how valuations and sales have been going. But times are changing …
Today, with all that is happening in the economy, a much-needed shift is occurring in trading. This shift is taking us from a prioritization of revenue to a prioritization of profit. The result? Creating a dramatic drop in value for thousands of companies throughout the country.
Is the Past Repeating Itself?
The current changes in the economy are not unlike the events of the Dotcom Boom that occurred in the late 1990s. During that time, the popularization of the internet led to a massive swell in the stock prices of technology companies. In 2000, the bubble burst (as it generally does) and certain technology companies saw stock prices plummet before their eyes, causing several to close their doors permanently.
The Dotcom Boom had a variety of causes. One of them was obviously the popularization of the internet, but there were several other external factors that created the intense drop in capital. To begin, the years prior to the burst saw record-low interest rates, adding to the public’s ability to spend. Once the utility of the internet was realized, investors rushed to the stock market, eager to invest in the new technology.
There was also a sense of extreme pride in helping these companies cultivate the future. And with low interest rates, investors invested millions in startups with no track record and, sometimes, not even a business plan. Right or wrong, these startups somehow made it to the stock market where the public was able to invest in them. And it made sense that what followed was the increased valuation of many tech companies. But when it all burst and those companies went under, thousands of people who believed in the future without worrying enough about the present lost everything.
The Economy Today
What we are experiencing today is eerily similar to the Dotcom Boom, but there are some key differences. Leading up to the pandemic, interest rates were also very low, and money was being poured into the economy in the form of stimulus checks and PPP. People were spending their days at home, and not spending their money on vacations or expensive dinners or concerts. And for those who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs during the pandemic, it was time to invest. Yet, other factors were brewing that would impact it all.
We saw the Great Resignation, where millions of American workers voluntarily left their jobs in search of better pay and working conditions, creating a labor shortage we haven’t seen in decades. Now, thousands of companies across the country desperately in need of labor are paying more to get new employees in and to keep the ones they have. This trend is ongoing and is unlike anything the U.S. has ever seen. We have also seen supply chain issues like never before—delays and empty store shelves, leading to skyrocketing prices for what is available.
With all types of companies feeling the pain of the labor shortage and the supply chain challenges, the economy has been affected at nearly every level. After all, less labor means less revenue and less revenue means less profit, putting many companies at risk in future valuations. Additionally, as interest rates inch upward in the government’s attempt to curb the record inflation, consumers are becoming more conservative with their money.
Shifting to Earnings and Profit
While this shift in the investment world will undoubtedly cause increased inflation as companies raise prices to make profit, it’s a shift that must occur. We must focus on earnings and profit rather than revenue. With decreased spending and no solution for the labor shortage in sight, CFOs are challenged with making the numbers add up and are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the bills. And if they do not have the books and records in order to know what the profit is, it will be incredibly difficult to manage through this valuation shift.
Understanding what causes these fluctuations and shifts, and comparing them to instances of the past can be beneficial to navigating economic changes in the future. Thinking about how your company is able to address the issues at hand may be the key to avoiding going under as the market experiences yet another crucial shift.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, including advising on systems and process updates. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.