littlebook The Little Book of Valuation

Financial Service Companies: Value Drivers

Equity Risk

In keeping with the way we have estimated the cost of equity for firms so far in this book, the cost of equity for a financial service firm has to reflect the portion of the risk in the equity that cannot be diversified away by the marginal investor in the stock. This risk is estimated using a beta (in the capital asset pricing model) or betas (in a multi-factor or arbitrage pricing model).  There are three estimation notes that we need to keep in mind, when making estimates of the cost of equity for a financial service firm:

1.     Use bottom-up betas: In our earlier discussions of betas, we argued against the use of regression betas because of the noise in the estimates (standard errors) and the possibility that the firm has changed over the period of the regression. We will continue to hold to that proposition, when valuing financial service firms. In fact, the large numbers of publicly traded firm in this domain should make estimating bottom up betas much easier.

2.     Do not adjust for financial leverage: When estimating betas for non-financial service firms, we emphasized the importance of unlevering betas (whether they be historical or sector averages) and then relevering them, using a firmÕs current debt to equity ratio. With financial service firms, we would skip this step for two reasons. First, financial service firms tend to be much more homogeneous in terms of capital structure – they tend to have similar financial leverage primarily due to regulations. Second, and this is a point made earlier, debt is difficult to measure for financial service firms. In practical terms, this will mean that we will use the average levered beta for comparable firms as the bottom-up beta for the firm being analyzed.

3.     Adjust for regulatory and business risk: If we use sector betas and do not adjust for financial leverage, we are in effect using the same beta for every company in the sector. As we noted earlier, there can be significant regulatory differences across markets, and even within a market, across different classes of financial service firms. To reflect this, we would define the sector narrowly; thus, we would look the average beta across large money center banks, when valuing a large money center bank, and across small regional banks, when valuing one of these. We would also argue that financial service firms that expand into riskier businesses – securitization, trading and investment banking – should have different (and higher betas) for these segments, and that the beta for the company should be a weighted average.

4.     Consider the relationship between risk and growth: Through the book, we have emphasized the importance of modifying a companyÕs risk profile to reflect changes that we are assuming to its growth rate. As growth companies mature, betas should move towards one. We see no need to abandon that principle, when valuing banks. We would expect high growth banks to have higher betas (and costs of equity) than mature banks.  In valuing such banks, we would therefore start with higher costs of equity but as we reduce growth, we would also reduce betas and costs of equity.

Quality of growth

To ensure that assumptions about dividends, earnings and growth are internally consistent, we have to bring in a measure of how well the retained equity is reinvested; the return on equity is the variable that ties together payout ratios and expected growth. Using a fundamental growth measure for earnings:

Expected growth in earnings = Return on equity * (1 – Dividend Payout ratio)

For instance, a bank that payout out 60% of its earnings as dividends and earns a return on equity of 12% will have an expected growth rate in earnings of 4.8%.  When we introduced the fundamental equation in chapter 2, we also noted that firms can deliver growth rates that deviate from this expectation, if the return on equity is changing.

Expected GrowthEPS

Thus, if the bank is able to improve the return on equity on existing assets from 10% to 12%, the efficiency growth rate in that year will be 20%. However, efficiency growth is temporary and all firms ultimately will revert back to the fundamental growth relationship.

            The linkage between return on equity, growth and dividends is therefore critical in determining value in a financial service firm. At the risk of hyperbole, the key number in valuing a bank is not dividends, earnings or growth rate, but what we believe it will earn as return on equity in the long term. That number, in conjunction with payout ratios, will help in determining growth. Alternatively, the return on equity, together with expected growth rates, can be used to estimate dividends. This linkage is particularly useful, when we get to stable growth, where growth rates can be very different from the initial growth rates. To preserve consistency in the valuation, the payout ratio that we use in stable growth, to estimate the terminal value, should be:

Payout ratio in stable growth

The risk of the firm should also adjust to reflect the stable growth assumption. In particular, if betas are used to estimate the cost of equity, they should converge towards one in stable growth.

Regulatory Buffers

The cashflow to equity is the cashflow left over for equity investors after debt payments have been made and reinvestment needs met. With financial service firms, the reinvestment generally does not take the form of plant, equipment or other fixed assets. Instead, the investment is in regulatory capital; this is the capital as defined by the regulatory authorities, which, in turn, determines the limits on future growth.

FCFEFinancial Service Firm = Net Income – Reinvestment in Regulatory Capital

To estimating the reinvestment in regulatory capital, we have to define two parameters. The first is the book equity capital ratio that will determine the investment; this will be heavily influenced by regulatory requirements but will also reflect the choices made by a bank.  Conservative banks may choose to maintain a higher capital ratio than required by regulatory authorities whereas aggressive banks may push towards the regulatory constraints. For instance, a bank that has a 5% equity capital ratio can make $100 in loans for every $5 in equity capital. When this bank reports net income of $15 million and pays out only $5 million, it is increasing its equity capital by $10 million. This, in turn, will allow it to make $200 million in additional loans and presumably increase its growth rate in future periods. The second is the profitability of the activity, defined in terms of net income. Staying with the bank example, we have to specify how much net income the bank will generate with the additional loans; a 0.5% profitability ratio will translate into additional net income of $1 million on the additional loans.