Monday, June 13, 2022

The Sum Of The Parts Is Less Than The Whole


I am looking at a case involving valuations.

The concept starts easily enough:

·      Let’s say that your family owns a business.  

·      You personally own 20% of the business.

·      The business has shown average profits of $1 million per year for years.

·      Altria is paying dividends of over 7%, which is generous in today’s market. You round that off to 8%, considering that rate fair to both you and me.

·      The multiple would therefore be 100% divided by 8% = 12.5.   

·      You propose a sales price of $1,000,000 times 12.5 times 20% = $2.5 million.  

Would I pay you that?

Doubt it.


Let’s consider a few things.

·      It depends whether 8 percent is a fair discount rate.  Considering that I could buy Altria and still collect over 7%, I might decide that a skinny extra 1% just isn’t worth the potential headache.

·      I can sell Altria at any time. I cannot sell your stock at any time, as it is not publicly-traded. I may as well buy a timeshare.

·      I am reasonably confident that Altria will pay me quarterly dividends, because they have done so for decades. Has your company ever paid dividends? If so, has it paid dividends reliably? If so, how will the family feel about continuing that dividend policy when a non-family member shows up at the meetings? If the family members work there, they might decide to increase their salaries, stop the dividends (as their bumped-up salaries would replace the lost dividends) and just starve me out.

·      Let’s say that the family in fact wants me gone. What recourse do I – as a 20% owner – have? Not much, truthfully. Own 20% of Apple and you rule the world. Own 20% of a closely-held that wants you gone and you might wish you had never become involved.

This is the thought process that goes into valuations.

What are valuations used for?

A ton of stuff:

·      To buy or sell a company

·      To determine the taxable consequence of nonqualified deferred compensation

·      To determine the amount of certain gifts

·      To value certain assets in an estate

What creates the tension in valuation work is determining what owning a piece of something is worth – especially if that piece does not represent control and cannot be easily sold. Word: reasonable people can reasonably disagree on this number.

Let’s look at the Estate of Miriam M. Warne.

Ms Warne (and hence the estate) owned 100% of Royal Gardens, a mobile home park. Royal Gardens was valued – get this - at $25.6 million on the estate tax return.

Let’s take a moment:

Q: Would our discussion of discounts (that is, the sum of the parts is less than the whole) apply here?

A: No, as the estate owned 100% - that is, it owned the whole.

The estate in turn made two charitable donations of Royal Gardens.

The estate took a charitable deduction of $25.6 million for the two donations.

The IRS said: nay, nay.


The sum of the parts is less than the whole.

One donation was 75% of Royal Gardens.  

You might say: 50% is enough to control. What is the discount for?

Here’s one reason: how easy would it be to sell less-than-100% of a mobile home park?

The other donation was 25%.

Yea, that one has it all: lack of control, lack of marketability and so on.

The attorneys messed up.

They brought an asset into the estate at $25.6 million.

The estate then gave it away.

But it got a deduction of only $21.4 million.

Seems to me the attorneys stranded $4.2 million in the estate.

Our case this time was the Estate of Miriam M. Warne, T.C. Memo 2021-17.

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