Fudging with “Adjustments”

From Verdad’s “Private Equity Fundamentals” (a good albeit somewhat technical read):

The sample of companies we looked at is nearly unprofitable on an EBITDA basis, mostly cash flow negative, and extraordinarily leveraged (mostly with floating-rate debt that is now costing nearly 12%). These companies trade at a dramatic premium to public markets on a GAAP basis, only reaching comparability after massive amounts of pro-forma adjustments. And these are the companies that most likely reflect the better outcomes in private equity. The market and SPAC boom of 2021 presented a window for private equity and venture capital firms to take companies public, and private investors took public what they thought they could. Presumably, what remains in the portfolios was what could not be taken public.

Resolving these challenges will be difficult. Growth seems more challenging in a wobbly economy, and the tailwind of rising multiples has disappeared. Private equity sponsors will likely need to have difficult conversations with their lenders and focus on operational execution to manage costs as they navigate a less friendly macro environment. From a quantitative perspective, the fundamentals of sponsor-backed companies look frightening.

GAAP stands for “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.” EBITDA stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.” These companies often report adjusted “pro-forma” measures to make themselves look better:

It’s a nice summary of the house of cards.


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