The logic of a direct comparison approach lies in the idea that similar assets should sell for similar prices, a principle well established in other markets. 1 In real estate, for example, the market value of a house could be estimated by finding recent selling prices for substantially similar houses in comparable neighborhoods. Finding sales of comparable businesses, however, is difficult. Transactions are few, and comprehensive data sources do not exist. Thus, a true direct comparison approach cannot generally be used in business valuation.
However, a form of direct comparison exists when some measure or ratio serves as the link between the business valuation in question and other businesses. For example, professional practices like Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms often sell for a multiple of billings, perhaps two to three times annual billings. For example, the average price–earnings (P/E) ratio of similar public firms in the industry might be used. If such firms sell for 12 times earnings, we can apply that same measure to a business being valued. The capitalized earnings approach discussed later is a version of this technique. As with the discounted future returns approach discussed later, one needs to select a particular cash flow or income measure, such as gross revenues. One also needs to select the “other variable”— number of years’ billings, P/E ratio, and the like—that will link the business being valued to other businesses.
Direct comparison techniques serve as a quick way of estimating business value, with little need for extensive estimation. However, because the comparison typically reflects an average of other businesses, this technique does not do a good job of incorporating distinctive features of the business being valued.