Iterating the Weighted Average Cost of Capital Reviewed by Momizat on . When Valuators Use a Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to Determine a Discount Rate, the Rate Needs to Be “Iterated.” Here’s Why. When an expert determine When Valuators Use a Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to Determine a Discount Rate, the Rate Needs to Be “Iterated.” Here’s Why. When an expert determine Rating: 0
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Iterating the Weighted Average Cost of Capital

When Valuators Use a Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to Determine a Discount Rate, the Rate Needs to Be “Iterated.” Here’s Why.

When an expert determines a discount rate for a controlling interest in a valuation using the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC), that discount rate needs to be iterated. Since market values of debt and equity in a closely held company are not publicly traded and known, as Richard Claywell explains, the iteration process is necessary.  It’s the only way to demonstrate the validity of using an industry average capital structure.  Without iteration your discount rate—and proposed company value—may not stand up in court.  Here’s why.

I recently attended the deposition of an expert that had determined the value of a company and he used the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to determine the discount rate for a controlling interest shareholder.  The business valuation expert did not iterate the discount rate.  Iterating means to repeat a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target, or result.  The expert was asked if he had iterated the WACC to determine the discount rate.  The attorney asked “You’ve never performed an iteration on a Weighted Average Cost of Capital analysis?”  The expert responded “Correct.” 

The process of iterating consists of estimating the debt and equity structure of a company and then subtracting the debt to arrive at the invested capital of the company.  If the invested capital is reasonably close to the book value, further iterations are not necessary.  If the invested capital is not close to the book value, further iterations will be necessary until the market value and book value of invested capital are reasonably close.  If this process is not performed, there will be an error in the conclusion of value.

“For a controlling interest, the beginning debt should be based on the market value of debt and equity. Since the closely held company is not publicly traded, the market values of the debt and equity are not known. These both need to be estimated through an iterative process.”

If a minority interest is being valued, the shareholder does not have the ability to change the capital structure of the company.  Therefore, the actual debt structure should be used without iterating the WACC.1

For a controlling interest, the beginning debt should be based on the market value of debt and equity.  Since the closely held company is not publicly traded, the market values of the debt and equity are not known.  These both need to be estimated through an iterative process.  When a controlling interest is to be valued, an argument can be made to use an industry average capital structure.  If the industry average capital structure is used, the valuator must demonstrate that the company being valued can achieve the industry averages. When the capital structure of the closely held company changes over time due to increases/decreases in profitability and cash flows, the WACC should change accordingly.  If an iterative process is not used, the WACC does not consider the changes in the capital structure.

The valuation professional should understand the simplicity and complexities of using the WACC for both a controlling and non-controlling interest.  If the WACC is not iterated when the changes in capital structure require it, the WACC will be incorrect and the value of the company will be either over or under stated.


J. Richard Claywell, CPA/ ABV, CVA,  CM&AA, CFFA, ASA, ABAR, does business valuation, estate management and trust, family business, trust, and other work.  Reach him at richard@biz-valuation.com

1 Pratt Shannon P., Grabowski Roger J., Cost of Capital Applications and Examples, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Third Edition, p. 274.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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Comments (5)

  • Jeremy

    What if the BV of equity is negative?

  • H Lewis

    A common approach would be to use an industry capital structure.

  • Craig Helgerson

    I’m on my intellectual “tippy-toes” and I’m still not sure I understand your point. You are clearly approaching a valuation from a different perspective than what I built discernment software from (could you please Google “discernment software” and download a copy of my valuation tool to see if I am even close? I invested over 6,000 hours into building a bulletproof tool for valuing a business in real time with the ability of doing a budget that will value the business at the end of the next fiscal year. It also pays off all debt (by reaching into the amortization tables) and provides a constant “Bottom Line Wealth” for each shareholder.

  • Manish Kumar

    If the goal is to iterate the WACC such that book value of invested value (a GAP number) is the same as PV of cash flows using such WACC, they why bother doing the exercise, why not just take the book value of invested capital as the enterprize value?

  • Tyler

    Does anyone else realize that this article addresses invested capital as reduction of debt? Furthermore, the only thing that adjustments in a capital structure Valuation should be market value of equity, the debt is comprised as a summation of the debt tranches as of the valuation date. While I agree the iteration process is a must have, I question the article’s overall validity.

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