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August 18, 2009

The "Multiple Problems" of Acquiring Chinese Cos.

Mark Dixon of M&A advisory firm the1.com has an hilarious account in the New York Times of his efforts at arriving at the normalized profit (and hence the valuation multiple) for a Chinese company.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are not generally accepted in China. This is partly because the Chinese have their own accounting rules and partly because rules are for breaking. And it’s not just that some company owners are trying to confuse the tax authorities. It’s that, when they do so, they end up also confusing themselves.

The gymnastics they do with revenues and costs are so impressive that the Beijing Olympics should have added an event especially for accountants. Markets with developed gray economies, like Italy, are well known for the practice of keeping one set of accounts for the government and another for the owners so they know what’s really going on. Chinese companies often dispense with the second set, hence the confusion. That’s probably true of other “developing gray economies.”

...My Chinese interpreter couldn’t handle the term normalized profit, so I dropped it in favor of true profit. But that only caused offense because it implied the figure before adjustment was a lie, which indeed it was. I then tried the expression official profit, by which I meant “what it officially should be,” but that didn’t work because it got lost in translation with the false profit they were officially reporting. I finally explained it as “the profit you would have received if you had reported everything completely correctly,” at which point I added, “Let’s for simplicity just call it Profit X!” Now everyone understood what I wanted. But they couldn’t understand why I wanted it. “We’d only pay more taxes,” they explained.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports. Email the author at arun@ventureintelligence.in