Enterprise value represents a company's economic value -- the minimum someone would have to pay to buy it outright. It's an important number to consider when you're valuing a stock.
You may remember that market capitalization (the current stock price multiplied by the number of shares outstanding) also serves as a price tag for a company. That's true, but market cap ignores debt, and with some companies debt is substantial and changes the picture significantly. Enterprise value is a modification of market cap, incorporating debt.
To understand the concept of enterprise value better, imagine that you're looking at two companies that have equal market caps. One has no debt on its balance sheet, while the other one is rather debt-heavy. Whoever owns the latter company will be stuck making lots of interest payments over the years, so you probably wouldn't pay the same price for each company.
By the same token, imagine that you have two companies with equal market caps of $50 billion and no debt. One has negligible cash and cash equivalents on hand, and the other has $5 billion in cash in its coffers. If you bought the first company for $50 billion, you'd have a company worth, presumably, $50 billion. But if you bought the second company for $50 billion, it would have cost you just $45 billion since you instantly have $5 billion in cash. These are the kinds of things enterprise value takes into account.
To calculate enterprise value, start with a company's market cap, add debt (found on a company's balance sheet), and subtract cash and investments (also on the balance sheet). To get total debt, add together long- and short-term debt.
Market cap = current share price X total shares outstanding
Debt = long-term debt + short-term debt
Enterprise value = market capitalization - cash and equivalents + debt
Let's examine the Walt Disney Co.
Debt can make a big difference. If you paid $49 billion for Disney, you would actually end up with a total bill of $61.2 billion because the company comes with a lot of debt. The enterprise value reminds all investors, large and small, that debt is a cost to the business.
Shifting from the concept of corporate debt to personal debt, are you overloaded with borrowings? Learn more in our Get Out of Debt area and in this special feature on credit card debt. Also of interest are some tips on stopping credit card solicitations. If you've got your personal finances under control and would like to make the most of the money you'll need in the next few years, visit our Savings Center, where we offer you some good deals on interest rates.