Analysts I’ve worked with in the past have accused me of taking an overly-skeptical view toward financial analysis/valuation of potential deals. Guilty as charged, I suppose, although I’d quibble with the “overly” part.
As I’ve noted before, one of the inherent limitation of financial modeling is that its reliability as a predictive tool decreases with the level of uncertainty involved. Stable, slow-growing businesses are easy to model reliably; new or fast-growing ones, not so much. It’s a matter of “garbage-in, garbage-out”: if you’re guessing at future input levels (which you have to be doing for something new), your output will not necessarily conform with reality. That’s OK – often a best guess is fine – but decision-makers need to be able to differentiate between these two scenarios and discount the value of the model accordingly. I don’t see that done often enough.
Also on the subject of models: I am always amused that, more times than not, the bankers or brokers peddling distressed or declining businesses feel compelled to include a page showing three or five years of historical financials along with the corresponding period of projections. Imagine the revenue graph – the historical numbers trend downward, reaching their nadir at the time the business is being sold. Miraculously, at that point the trend reverses and heads upward from there in the projections. Sometimes there is an explanation for how this bit of magic is supposed to come about, more often not. I haven’t come up with a good name for this little bit of modeling desperation, but I’m partial to the “golden horseshoe.” Any other thoughts?