EBITDA is a cash flow measure that ignores changes in working capital. EBITDA minus Depreciation, and Amortization (DA) equals Operating Income. Operating Income is profit before interest and taxes. Of course, Interest and taxes need to be paid.
While depreciation and amortization expenses do not need to be paid in cash, assets - especially tangible assets - do need to be replaced over time. EBITDA is not a measure of profit in any sense. EBITDA is a measure of cash generation by a business where the uses of that cash may be more or less discretionary depending on the nature of the business.
The EBITDA of a TV station is largely discretionary. Owners may use much of the EBITDA generated by a TV station as they see fit. The EBITDA of a railroad is largely non-discretionary. Owners must use much of the EBITDA generated by a railroad to replace the physical assets of the railroad or the business will literally fall apart over time.
EBITDA can be thought of as the cash a business generates that is available to:
Add more inventory
Add more receivables
Replace property, plant, and equipment
Add more property, plant, and equipment
And finally: pay owners
EBITDA is widely used in financial analysis because Depreciation and Amortization are not present day cash expenses.. Depreciation and amortization are the spreading out of the costs of assets over the time in which those assets provide benefits. Todays depreciation and amortization expenses relate to assets bought in the past. The assets being expensed may or may not need to be replaced in the future. And the cost to replace the assets may be more or less than it was in the past. For this reason, the depreciation and amortization expenses a company records in the present year may have no relationship to the actual cash costs needed to maintain its assets in future years.
A companys depreciation expense depends on both its expectations about the assets it owns and its choice of accounting methods. Two companies owning identical assets may have different depreciation expenses because they have different expectations about the useful lives of those assets and because they make different accounting choices.
Analysts use EBITDA to remove this element of personal choice from a companys accounting statements. The use of EBITDA is an attempt to make the results of different companies more comparable and uniform.
Although depreciation is not a cash cost it is a real business cost because the company has to pay for the fixed assets when they purchase them. Both Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger hate the idea of EDITDA because in this calculation, depreciation is not counted as an expense.
EBITDA over Revenue is a good metric for comparing the operating efficiencies between companies because EBITDA is less vulnerable to companies accounting choices. For this reason, EBITDA is used in ranking the Predictability of Companies. Also price/EBITDA is sometimes used in valuations.
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