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EBITDA – Definition

EBITDA stands as the prevalent yardstick for evaluating a company’s earnings within the middle market. This metric streamlines comparative analyses for buyers seeking swift valuations.

The bedrock of many valuation methodologies lies in a multiple of earnings, with EBITDA reigning as the prime measure. Once the EBITDA of a business is identified, its value is honed by applying an appropriate multiplier.

To delineate the essence of EBITDA:

EBITDA = Earnings (Net Income) Before Interest (I) + Taxes (T) + Depreciation (D) + Amortization (A)

EBITDA captures the profitability stemming from a business’s core operations, precluding the influence of debt-related costs (Interest), tax burdens, and non-cash expenses (Depreciation & Amortization). It effectively eliminates the sway of financial obligations (Interest) and accounting judgments (Depreciation & Amortization), which often exhibit variability.

Deconstructing EBITDA: Unveiling Its Elements

(E) Earnings: This encapsulates the net income achieved by the business, encompassing all operating outlays (like insurance, rent, and payroll).

(B) Before: Signifying “Earnings Before”…

(I) Interest: This category embodies interest derived from debt financing, including loans facilitated by financial institutions. Varying capital structures across companies lead to distinct debt levels, consequently yielding differing interest payments and net incomes. EBITDA facilitates seamless business comparison by disregarding each business’s unique capital structure, which often changes post-acquisition. EBITDA assimilates interest payments because they generally cease post-acquisition (albeit with rare exceptions).

(T) Taxes: Encompassing city, county, state, and federal income taxes. The diverse factors influencing income taxes and their likelihood of alteration post-acquisition warrant their inclusion in the EBITDA calculation. Note: Only income taxes are added back; sales or excise taxes are not considered.

(D) Depreciation: Representing a non-cash expenditure. The method of depreciation hinges on each company’s approach. While actual cash flow hinges on tangible capital expenditures rather than depreciation, the latter is added back.

(A) Amortization: Embracing non-cash outlays, this entails the “write-down” or “depreciation” (technically) of intangible assets, such as patents or trademarks.

Exploring Essential Aspects

  • Navigating EBITDA’s Role in Valuation: Is EBITDA Your Ideal Valuation Metric?
  • Unraveling Earnings Metrics: Beyond EBITDA, Insights into Alternatives and Their Impact on Business Valuation
  • Calculating EBITDA: A Pragmatic Guide Tailored to Your Business’s Dynamics
  • Unveiling EBITDA’s Advantages: A Comprehensive Assessment and Its Intersection with Buyer Considerations
  • Confronting EBITDA’s Limitations: Scrutinizing Drawbacks and EBITDA’s Alignment with Cash Flow Realities
  • Warren Buffett’s Perspective: Gaining Insights into the Esteemed Investor’s Stance on EBITDA
  • Elevating Business Worth: Proven Strategies for Amplifying Your Business’s Valuation
  • Beyond EBITDA: Exploring a Spectrum of Metrics Employed by Discerning Buyers
  • EBITDA vs. Cash Flow: Deciphering the Distinct Facets of Financial Evaluation
  • Valuation Metrics Choice: EBITDA or Adjusted EBITDA – Navigating the Decision
  • Embracing EBITDA: Delve Deeper into the Metric That Resonates with Us – EBITDA, EBITDA, EBITDA!


The Cornerstone of Comparative Analysis: EBITDA serves as the quintessential tool for buyers aiming to expedite side-by-side evaluations of distinct businesses.

  • EBITDA: A Guiding Principle: This metric operates as a practical rule of thumb, providing an approximate glimpse into the cash flow accessible to potential buyers. The underlying objective of computing EBITDA is to foster direct, apples-to-apples juxtapositions between businesses, irrespective of industry disparities.
  • Rough Estimate of Cash Flow: EBITDA functions as a preliminary gauge of free cash flow—a projection of the funds accessible for debt repayment, interest coverage, and the financing of essential assets (commonly referred to as “capital expenditures”). Upon EBITDA computation, buyers delve into a multifaceted spectrum of considerations, encompassing growth trajectory, gross margins, customer distribution, and an array of financial and non-financial nuances.
  • Early-Stage Earnings Assessment: EBITDA’s primary application unfolds during the initial evaluation of a company as a potential acquisition target. As investigations delve deeper, buyers pivot to more tailored earnings metrics, incorporating adjustments to factor in interest payments and capital expenditures. But hold on, there’s more. This practice is so prevalent within private equity circles that it has birthed a distinct metric—EBITDA-CAPEX, a variant of EBITDA that subtracts capital expenditure costs.
  • Versatility in Valuation: EBITDA extends its influence across both income-based and market-based valuation methodologies. Its role ranges from underpinning the valuation of businesses through multiples in various income-based techniques to serving as a benchmark for comparing multiples among analogous businesses that have recently undergone transactions.

Example EBITDA Formula & Calculation

Net Income (Earnings, or “E”) = $700,000

EBITDA = Net income (Earnings), plus:

Plus Interest (I): $400,000

Plus Taxes (T): $300,000

Plus Depreciation (D): $200,000

Plus Amortization (A): $100,000

EBITDA = $1,700,000

($700,000 (E) + $400,000 (I) + $300,000 (T) + $200,000 (D) + $100,000 (A))

Benefits of EBITDA

Embraced Across the Board: EBITDA stands as the universally preferred earnings metric among buyers, sellers, investment bankers, M&A advisors, business brokers, and all stakeholders active within the middle market.

Streamlined Computation: The simplicity of calculating EBITDA is a compelling advantage, curbing the likelihood of errors and streamlining comparative analyses.

Strategic Variable Exclusion: EBITDA strategically omits variables that hold minimal post-acquisition impact for buyers—think interest or taxes. It equally rids the equation of non-cash expenses (like Depreciation & Amortization), empowering buyers to gauge and then deduct these expenses based on actual outlay timing rather than mere tax deduction.

Facilitates Comparative Insight: Given its ubiquity and straightforward computation, EBITDA effortlessly enables a direct comparison of business earnings across the board. This readiness for comparison seamlessly dovetails into leveraging similar transactions for effective business valuation.

Downsides of EBITDA

Guiding Principle: EBITDA operates as a straightforward guiding principle. Buyers, as part of their comprehensive assessment, will undoubtedly delve beyond EBITDA calculations. It’s crucial to understand that EBITDA isn’t a mystical solution. While a high EBITDA holds significance, it’s imperative to recognize that an appealing acquisition proposition encompasses factors beyond EBITDA alone.

Inexact Cash Flow Reflection: EBITDA doesn’t provide a complete depiction of cash flow post-acquisition for buyers, due to the ensuing reasons:

  • Depreciation: Reinstating depreciation for firms with substantial devaluation and ongoing capital expenditures generates an inflated earnings measure. EBITDA proves misleading for entities with significant fixed (depreciable) assets.
  • Amortization: Akin to depreciation, amortization faces similar issues, particularly for entities boasting considerable amortizable intellectual property (e.g., pharmaceutical firms). Yet, this scenario is less prevalent in the middle market.
  • Neglecting Working Capital: EBITDA overlooks working capital necessities, sidestepping the inclusion of working capital infusions that might be essential for buyers, especially concerning high-growth enterprises.
  • Tax Implications: EBITDA fails to factor in the influence of income taxes. In theory, a tax-exempt state’s company (e.g., South Dakota) could possess higher value than a business operating in a jurisdiction with corporate income taxes. Nevertheless, this hinges on the company’s tax strategy.

Insights from Warren Buffett Regarding EBITDA: Warren Buffett has expressed his viewpoints on EBITDA on multiple occasions, stating: “We won’t invest in companies that emphasize EBITDA. If you classify companies into those relying on EBITDA as a metric and those that don’t, I believe you’ll uncover more instances of deception in the former category. Look at corporations like Wal-Mart, GE, and Microsoft — they refrain from utilizing EBITDA in their annual reports. Does management genuinely believe that capital expenditures are funded by the tooth fairy?

Analysis: Buffett maintains reservations about EBITDA as an accurate reflection of a company’s financial performance. It’s challenging to dispute the perspective of the world’s foremost investor. Nevertheless, EBITDA can be judiciously employed for initial profitability assessments and inter-company comparisons, given its capacity to eliminate financing nuances and accounting determinations. However, EBITDA is insufficient as the definitive cash flow measure. Buyers should meticulously modify calculations to accommodate specific differentiations arising from shifts in working capital demands, capital expenditures, financing, and tax obligations. Anticipate buyers to undertake these evaluations and take proactive measures to perform such computations beforehand. This approach optimizes post-sale cash flow for the buyer, ultimately maximizing your business’s value.

How to Increase the Value of Your Business

Priority Beyond Doubt: Amidst considering a plethora of factors, an unequivocal emphasis must be directed toward augmenting EBITDA. Each incremental dollar growth in EBITDA wields the power to elevate your business’s value by its corresponding multiple.

To illustrate, suppose your business is projected to command a 4.0 multiple upon sale. In this scenario, a $100,000 annual elevation in your EBITDA translates to a remarkable surge in your business’s value by $400,000 ($100,000 x 4.0 multiple = $400,000). This exemplifies the tangible influence of strategic EBITDA enhancement.

An Additional Strategy for Augmenting Business Value involves elevating its growth rate, leading to the adoption of “projected EBITDA” for valuation purposes rather than relying solely on the “current year’s EBITDA.” Typically, business value hinges on the most recent 12-month EBITDA (Trailing Twelve Months, or TTM). However, if your business showcases robust and unwavering growth, there exists an opportunity to negotiate a valuation based on a projection of EBITDA’s potential. This proactive approach can yield favorable outcomes.


Exploring Comparable Metrics:

  • LTM EBITDA: Reflects EBITDA over the Last Twelve Months (LTM)
  • TTM EBITDA: Represents Trailing Twelve Months (TTM) EBITDA
  • EBITDA Margin: Quantifies EBITDA as a percentage of revenue
  • EBITDA/Sales Ratio: Divides EBITDA by total sales or revenue
  • EBIT: Denotes Earnings Before Interest and Taxes, also known as “Operating Profit”
  • SDE: Signifies Seller’s Discretionary Earnings, the prevailing yardstick for earnings in small businesses

Valuation Timeframe:

Valuing a business typically centers around the EBITDA of the last complete fiscal year or the trailing twelve months (TTM). In some instances, a weighted average might be employed when results show year-to-year variability, particularly in longer, more predictable business cycles. Additionally, there’s room to consider projected current-year EBITDA if growth maintains predictability. For some buyers, an average of the past three years’ EBITDA might be used, potentially affecting valuation if the business’s growth trajectory is consistent.

EBITDA vs. Cash Flow:

EBITDA and cash flow are distinct concepts. Cash flow can be deduced from a “cash flow statement” or “statement of cash flows.” The term “cash flow” is often used broadly, encompassing SDE or EBITDA, or the general profitability of a business. When you encounter the term, it’s wise to clarify its meaning, as it might vary depending on the context.

Understanding Adjusted EBITDA:

Adjusted EBITDA incorporates specific adjustments, including:

  • Salary: Compensation adjustments to align with market rates, whether above or below.
  • Perks: Addition of owner perks, such as personal expenses, club memberships, or travel costs.
  • Professional Fees: Including one-time legal fees for personal matters like divorces.
  • Rent: Incorporating rent adjustments to match market rates.

In the lower middle-market, where a business may have a sole owner and extensive owner-related perks, Adjusted EBITDA gains prominence. This modification recognizes the unique financial landscape of such businesses.

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