Many business owners and managers use strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to frame their strategic planning. Valuators may also use it to help evaluate a company’s performance — as well as its future prospects.
SWOT analysis starts by spotlighting internal strengths and weaknesses that affect value. Strengths are competitive advantages or core competencies that generate value, such as a strong sales force or exceptional quality.
Conversely, weaknesses are factors that limit a company’s performance. Generally, weaknesses are evaluated in comparison with competitors. Examples might include weak customer service or negative brand image.
Valuators generally tie a company’s strengths and weaknesses to customer requirements and expectations. A characteristic affects future cash flow — and therefore, value — if customers perceive it as either strength or weakness. The characteristic doesn’t affect value if customers don’t care about it.
The big picture
The next step in SWOT analysis is to predict future opportunities and threats. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could generate return if the company acts on them. Threats are external factors that could prevent the company from achieving its goals.
When differentiating strengths from opportunities (or weaknesses from threats), the question is whether the issue would exist without the company. If the answer is yes, the issue is external to the company and, therefore, an opportunity (or a threat). Changes in demographics or government regulations are examples of threats or opportunities a business might encounter.
SWOT analysis is a logical way to frame a discussion of business operations in a written valuation report. SWOT analysis is typically presented in a matrix. (See the table “SWOT analysis matrix.”) The analysis can serve as a powerful appendix to a valuation report or courtroom exhibit, providing tangible support for seemingly ambiguous, subjective assessments regarding risk and return.
In a valuation context, strengths and opportunities generate returns, which translate into increased cash flow projections. Strengths and opportunities can lower risk via higher pricing multiples or reduced cost of capital. Threats and weaknesses have the opposite effect. A valuator needs, however, to avoid double-counting these effects in the risk and the return as well as the expected growth components of his or her analysis.
An attorney may want to consider framing trial or deposition questions in terms of a SWOT analysis. Attorneys can use this framework to demonstrate that an expert witness truly understands the business — or, conversely, that the opposing expert does not understand the subject company.
Businesses can repurpose the SWOT analysis section of a valuation report to spearhead strategic planning discussions. They can build value by identifying ways to capitalize on opportunities with strengths.
Or they can brainstorm ways to convert weaknesses into strengths — or threats into opportunities. For example, if a competitor threatens to lower prices, a company can in turn lower its prices or reposition its products as luxury goods via a differentiation strategy. The latter may be a better option if the company’s strengths include a strong brand image and superior quality.
Part of valuing a business is evaluating the internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external (opportunities and threats) factors that affect value. But risk and return are in the eye of the beholder. Buyers and sellers — or plaintiffs and defendants — rarely agree on these subjective assessments. SWOT analyses provide a logical framework for bridging the gap.
SWOT analysis matrix
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