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What Is EBITDA?

This acronym, short for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, has become a key metric used by investors and analysts to gauge a company's financial performance. In this article, we'll delve into the meaning of EBITDA, its formula, and its historical origins.

Understanding EBITDA

EBITDA is not a metric defined by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), but rather a financial measure designed to provide insights into a company's core operating profitability. By excluding interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization expenses from net income, EBITDA aims to represent the cash profit generated by a company's operations.

Unlike net income, which can be influenced by various accounting adjustments and non-cash expenses, EBITDA offers a clearer view of a company's operating performance. It allows investors to assess corporate profitability without the impact of financing decisions, tax strategies, and depreciation schedules.

Calculating EBITDA

There are two primary formulas used to calculate EBITDA:

Formula 1: EBITDA = Net Income + Taxes + Interest Expense + Depreciation & Amortization

Formula 2: EBITDA = Operating Income + Depreciation & Amortization

The first formula considers net income and adds back taxes, interest expenses, depreciation, and amortization. The second formula starts with operating income (EBIT) and adds depreciation and amortization. Both approaches provide a measure of a company's cash-generating capacity.

History of EBITDA

The concept of EBITDA was introduced by John Malone, a notable figure in the cable industry, in the 1970s. Malone devised this metric to promote his leveraged growth strategy, which employed debt and reinvested profits to minimize taxes. During the 1980s, EBITDA gained prominence in leveraged buyouts (LBOs), helping investors assess whether targeted companies had the profitability to service the debt incurred during acquisitions.

Despite its utility, EBITDA drew criticism during the dotcom bubble when some companies used it to exaggerate their financial performance. In 2018, WeWork's "Community Adjusted EBITDA" definition in its IPO prospectus further highlighted the metric's potential pitfalls.

Drawbacks and Criticisms

While EBITDA can be a valuable tool, it's important to recognize its limitations. EBITDA excludes costs associated with assets and debt financing, potentially leading to an overestimation of a company's profitability. Critics, including Warren Buffett, argue that depreciation is a genuine cost and should not be disregarded.

Moreover, the calculation of EBITDA can vary between companies, and its use by companies not reporting it previously might indicate attempts to divert attention from financial challenges.

 

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Disclaimers and Limitations

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