EBITDA, which stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, is a formula to measure a company’s financial health and ability to generate cash flow. When business owners understand and apply EBITDA, they can uncover their business’s value while assessing their company’s performance. EBITDA is also commonly used by businesses that are looking to sell. [Related article: Cash Flow Strategies for Survival]
We’ll explore EBITDA, how it’s used, and its components to help you understand and utilize this valuable analysis tool.
EBITDA is a business analysis metric developed in the 1970s by John C. Malone, the former president and CEO of cable and media giant Tele-Communications Inc. With this formula, you can project a company’s long-term profitability and gauge its ability to repay future financing.
EBITDA can also generate valuable comparisons between different companies and industries. If you want to sell your business or court new investors, calculating your EBITDA can help you identify your company’s financial health or determine its valuation.
There are limits to EBITDA’s usefulness, however, making it crucial to understand the circumstances under which this metric can be helpful.
When calculating EBITDA, you’re measuring your company’s net income with costs associated with interest expenses, taxes, depreciation and amortization added back in.
Analyzing a company’s financial health using EBITDA became popular in the 1980s at the height of the leveraged buyout era. During this time, it was common for investors to financially restructure distressed companies, and EBITDA was primarily used as a yardstick of whether a business could afford to pay back the interest associated with restructuring.
Today, EBITDA is used to do the following:
“EBITDA is one of – if not the most – important measures that investors consider when a company is being bought or sold,” said Joseph Ferriolo, director at Wise Business Plans. “If I was going to invest, my primary concern would be ensuring that the business had an audited, up-to-date EBITDA analysis.”
When you’re comparing the profitability of one business to another, EBITDA can help you calculate a business’s cash flow. If a company’s EBITDA is negative, it has poor cash flow.
Still, a positive EBITDA doesn’t automatically mean a business has high profitability. When comparing your business to a company with an adjusted EBITDA, it’s important to note which factors might be excluded from the balance sheet. Your goal is to make an apples-to-apples comparison to obtain an accurate analysis. Make sure you have all of that information before making any conclusions about the data.
EBITDA is useful in the following business activities.
EBITDA is just one way to measure profitability and determine your business’s worth. Instead of using it as a stand-alone metric, incorporate multiple accounting methods to get the complete picture.
To make proper use of EBITDA, you need to understand each component of the formula.
EBITDA doesn’t consider key elements that can factor into a company’s financial health, including intellectual property, such as copyrights and patents that might expire, and assets like expensive machines and tools that lose value over time.
Once you have numbers for each component, you can calculate your business’s EBITDA. The formula looks like this:
Revenue – expenses (excluding tax, interest, depreciation and amortization) = EBITDA
In other words, EBITDA equals net income plus interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization expenses.
Ron Auerbach, a professor at City University of Seattle, provided an example. Let’s say company A has the following financial information.
If you’re starting your EBITDA calculation with your net income instead of revenue, you would use this formula:
Net income + taxes + depreciation + amortization + interest = EBITDA
$1.8 million + $132,500 + $180,300 + $260,000 = $2,372,800
The EBITDA would be $2,372,800.
If your accounting software doesn’t include an EBITDA report option and you’d rather not calculate it from scratch, you can use an online template. Check out the following links to get started:
If you’d rather not use an online template, learn how to choose the best accounting software to report your EBITDA for you.
Many companies do not use EBITDA as a measurement, as it is not one of the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). GAAP rules apply when companies release a financial statement to shareholders or other external sources.
Critics cite several other reasons why EBITDA isn’t the best tool to measure a company’s financial health:
The reason why a company uses EBITDA is a crucial indicator of whether it’s using the formula in good faith. Startups, especially those that require heavy upfront investment to realize future growth, are likely to use EBITDA for good reasons. EBITDA is also effective for comparing a business against competitors, industry trends and macroeconomic trends. But if a struggling business suddenly starts relying on EBITDA when it never has before, the formula is likely not being used appropriately.
No matter how you slice and dice your company’s financials, honesty in dealings with investors and potential buyers is essential to preserve your professional reputation. “The most important question for investors and analysts is to ensure that the company’s financials have been recently and thoroughly audited by a CPA,” Ferriolo said. [Related article: When Should You Hire a CPA?]
Misusing formulas like EBITDA to obscure shortcomings in your business is certain to ruin relationships and damage your brand. Always deal in good faith and use EBITDA and other financial metrics as intended, rather than as tools to make your business appear healthier than it truly is.
An accounting method to calculate a more realistic profit picture for a company is an EBITDA margin. To determine your business’s EBITDA margin, you must first calculate its EBITDA and then divide that number by total revenue.
EBITDA ÷ total revenue = EBITDA margin
For example, let’s say Company A has an EBITDA of $500,000 along with a total revenue of $5 million.
$500,000 ÷ $5,000,000 = 10%
The total EBITDA margin will be around 10%.
The EBITDA margin shows how much operating expenses are eating into a company’s gross profit. In the end, the higher the EBITDA margin, the less risky a company is considered financially.
An EBITDA over 10 is considered good. Over the last several years, the EBITDA has ranged between 11 and 14 for the S&P 500. You may also look at other businesses in your industry and their reported EBITDA as a way to see how your company is measuring up.
EBITDA is an effective tool when used correctly and in conjunction with other accounting metrics. It can help business owners and associates make wise decisions about their company’s direction. Prospective investors and buyers who want to know more about a company’s future profitability will find it helpful; this metric makes it easier to compare two or more companies in the same industry.
With EBITDA, all parties can have a deeper understanding of how the company might be expected to perform in the short and long term.
Erica Sandberg, Adam Uzialko and Katherine Arline contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.