This is the final article in a series on buy-side considerations. In this series, we will cover buy-side topics from the perspective of middle-market companies looking to enter the acquisition market. If you wish to read the rest of the series, click here.

Growing up an avid sports fan, I always enjoyed picking up the paper and flipping to the sports section to see the box scores from the prior day’s games. While the headline score told you who won or lost, the box score gave more information and insights into who played well and the narrative of the game. For example, the box score might tell you that even though your favorite team won, they were dominated by the other team in all the categories except turnovers, or that the team that lost actually “won” each quarter except the fourth and their star player had a bad game.

In my view, a purchase price allocation is similar to a box score in that it provides greater detail from which to derive insights on a particular transaction. While a purchase price allocation (PPA) analysis is primarily an accounting (and compliance driven) exercise, it is also a window into the objectives and motivations behind the transaction. When used proactively and/or during the M&A process, the disciplines of PPA analysis can provide buyers with important perspective concerning the unique value attributes of the target’s intangible asset base, which can help rationalize strategic acquisition consideration or forewarn of potentially unstable or short-lived intangible asset value.

Below we explore PPAs further with a broad overview and then a deeper look into the pitfalls and best practices related to them.

Introduction to PPAs

Acquirers conduct PPAs to measure the fair value of various tangible and intangible assets of the acquired business. Any excess of the total asset value implied by the transaction over the fair values of identified assets is ascribed to the residual asset, goodwill.

Intangible assets commonly identified and measured as part of PPA analyses include:

  • Trade name – Trade name intangibles may be valuable if they enhance the expected future cash flows of the firm, either through higher revenue or superior margins. The relief from royalty method, which seeks to simulate cost savings due to the ownership of the name, is frequently used to measure the value of trade names.
  • Customer relationships – Customer relationships can be valuable because of the expectation of recurring revenue.
  • Technology – Technologies developed by the target business are valuable because the acquirer avoids associated development or acquisition costs. Patents and other forms of intellectual property may provide legal protection from competition and help secure uniqueness and/or differentiation.
  • IPR&D – Ongoing R&D projects can give rise to in-process research and development intangible assets, whose values are predicated on expected future cash flows.
  • Contractual assets – Contracts that lock in pricing advantages – above market sales prices or below market costs – create value by enhancing cash flow.
  • Employment / Non-competition agreements – Employment and non-competition agreements with key executives ensure a smooth transition following an M&A transaction, which can be vital in reducing the likelihood of employee or customer defection.

The value of an enterprise is often greater than the sum of its identified parts (both tangible and intangible), and the excess is usually reflected in the residual asset, goodwill. GAAP goodwill also captures facets of the target that may be value-accretive, but do not meet certain criteria to be identified as an intangible asset. Notably, fair value measurement presumes a market participant perspective. Goodwill may also include acquirer-specific synergistic or strategic considerations that are not available to other market participants. Consequently, goodwill has tended to account for a significant portion of allocated value in truly strategic business combinations.

Pitfalls and Best Practices of PPAs

Below we highlight some pitfalls and best practices gleaned from providing purchase price allocations to acquirers since the advent of fair value accounting.

What are some of the pitfalls in purchase price allocations?

Sometimes differences arise between expectations or estimates prior to the transaction and fair value measurements performed after the transaction. An example is contingent consideration arrangements – estimates from the deal team’s calculations could vary from the fair value of the corresponding liability measured and reported for GAAP purposes. To the extent amortization estimates are prepared prior to the transaction, any variance in the allocation of total transaction value to amortizable intangible assets and non-amortized, indefinite lived assets – be they identifiable intangible assets or goodwill – could also lead to different future EPS estimates for the acquirer.

What are the benefits of looking at the allocation process early?

The opportunity to think through and talk about some of the unusual elements of the more involved transactions can be enormously helpful. Similar to a coach who may look at the box score from the first half of a game during the halftime break, we view the dialogue we have with clients when we prepare a preliminary PPA estimate prior to closing as a particularly important part of the M&A project. This deliberative process results in a more robust – well-reasoned analysis that is easier for the external auditors to review, and better stands the test of time requiring fewer true-ups or other adjustments in the future. Surprises are difficult to eliminate, but as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

Can goodwill be broken into different components?If so, what are the different components and how are they delineated?

In the world of FASB, goodwill is not delineated into personal goodwill and corporate or enterprise goodwill. However, in the tax world, this distinction can be of critical importance and can create significant savings to the sellers of a C corporation business.

Many sellers prefer that a transaction be structured as a stock sale, rather than an asset sale, thereby avoiding a built in gains issue and its related tax liability. Buyers want to do the opposite for a variety of reasons. When a C corporation’s assets are sold, the shareholders must realize the gain and face the issue of double taxation whereby the gain is taxed at both the corporate level, and again at the individual level when proceeds are distributed to the shareholders. Proceeds that can be allocated to the sale of a personal asset, such as personal goodwill, may mitigate the double taxation issue.

The Internal Revenue Service defines goodwill as “the value of a trade or business based on expected continued customer patronage due to its name, reputation, or any other factor.”1 Recent Tax Court decisions have recognized a distinction between the goodwill of a business itself and the goodwill attributable to the owners/professionals of that business. This second type is typically referred to as personal (or professional) goodwill (a term used interchangeably in tax cases).

Personal goodwill differs from enterprise goodwill in that personal goodwill represents the value stemming from an individual’s personal service to that business, and is an asset owned by the individual, not the business itself. This value would encompass an individual’s professional reputation, personal relationships with customers or suppliers, technical expertise, or other distinctly personal abilities which provide economic benefit to a business. This economic benefit is in excess of any normal return earned on other tangible or intangible assets of the company.

What other problems/issues beyond a PPA can you help acquirers navigate?

As part of our full suite of services for acquirers, we can handle a number of different kinds of special projects that corporate finance departments may be looking to outsource, completely or partially. For example, our firm helps clients think through certain financial or strategic questions – what level of cash flow reinvestment will best balance competing shareholder interests? Or, what is the appropriate hurdle rate when evaluating internal projects vs. acquisitions for capital budgeting exercises? In other instances, we perform financial due diligence and quality of earnings analyses for transactions.


As the “box score” of transactions, PPAs can be an important tool for acquirers and provide greater insight into the motivations and narrative behind a transaction by illustrating the value of various intangible components of a business beyond the collection of tangible assets and how those compare to the purchase price being paid. Our purchase price allocations can be more robust with fewer surprises when we have also worked with the clients before the close of the transaction on elements such as financial due diligence or contingent consideration estimates, or even broader corporate finance and PPA studies.

Mercer Capital has extensive experience valuing intangible assets for purchase price allocations (ASC 805), impairment testing (ASC 350), and fresh-start accounting (ASC 852) and assisting buyers during financial due diligence. Call us – we would like to help.

1 IRS Publication 535: Business Expenses, Ch. 9, Cat. No. 15065Z

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