Five Good Questions: Aswath Damodaran – Narrative And NumbersVW Staff
Aswath Damodaran holds the Kerschner Family Chair in Finance Education and is Professor of Finance at New York University Stern School of Business. Before coming to Stern, he also lectured in Finance at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been voted “Professor of the Year” by the graduating M.B.A. class five times during his career at NYU and was profiled in Business Week as one of the top 12 U.S. business school professors. Professor Damodaran currently teaches Corporate Finance and Equity Instruments & Markets. His research interests include Information and Prices, Real Estate, and Valuation.
NAswath Damodaran – Narrative and Numbers
Five Good Questions:
- Why has access to increased data and computing power ironically made us more dependent on and susceptible to storytelling?
- What makes numbers so powerful? How do we guard against being fooled by numbers, especially when we’re fooling ourselves?
- There seems to be competition amongst many firms on who has the most “unbiased” process and is the most quantitatively-driven. What are some potential shortcomings of being so quant focused?
- Your book is chock full of great insights on some of the biggest business and investing stories over the last few years including, Amazon, Uber, Valeant, Ferrari, GoPro, Yahoo and Vale. To take one interesting example, can you walk us through how both numbers and narrative impacted your valuation of Uber?
- What’s the one narrative today that’s likely to eventually cause the most financial pain over the next 3-5 years?
Aswath Damodaran’s Book Recommendation:
Aswath Damodaran’s Narrative And Numbers – Book Review
Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business by Aswath Damodaran
How can a company that has never turned a profit have a multibillion dollar valuation? Why do some start-ups attract large investments while others do not? Aswath Damodaran, finance professor and experienced investor, argues that the power of story drives corporate value, adding substance to numbers and persuading even cautious investors to take risks. In business, there are the storytellers who spin compelling narratives and the number-crunchers who construct meaningful models and accounts. Both are essential to success, but only by combining the two, Damodaran argues, can a business deliver and sustain value.
Through a range of case studies, Narrative and Numbers describes how storytellers can better incorporate and narrate numbers and how number-crunchers can calculate more imaginative models that withstand scrutiny. Damodaran considers Uber’s debut and how narrative is key to understanding different valuations. He investigates why Twitter and Facebook were valued in the billions of dollars at their public offerings, and why one (Twitter) has stagnated while the other (Facebook) has grown. Damodaran also looks at more established business models such as Apple and Amazon to demonstrate how a company’s history can both enrich and constrain its narrative. And through Vale, a global Brazil-based mining company, he shows the influence of external narrative, and how country, commodity, and currency can shape a company’s story. Narrative and Numbers reveals the benefits, challenges, and pitfalls of weaving narratives around numbers and how one can best test a story’s plausibility.
Damodaran’s success in combining storytelling with traditional financial analysis and valuation is unprecedented. The book has the potential to be a cornerstone of both traditional valuation and business “pitching” as it shows how individuals from each world can benefit from co-opting tools from the other. The author takes us on his personal journey into the realization that numbers need a narrative in order to make them persuasive. (Paul Johnson, Nicusa Investment Advisors)
Professor Damodaran’s point-counterpoint case studies make valuation a good read. Self-critical in his contemporary examples, he wisely cautions the reader that quality valuation requires both the right and the left side of one’s brain?the number cruncher and the storyteller. (Thomas E. Copeland, University of San Diego)
Damodaran, instructor to many on valuation, clearly demonstrates that quantitative valuation formulas are not sufficient: they must be applied with a more qualitative narrative about the business. But qualitative analysis has its dangers, not the least that we insert our own biases into the narrative. Damodaran nicely weaves stories into the more formal quantitative analysis, with check and balances that yield a more confident valuation. (Stephen Penman, author, Accounting for Value)
No one has contributed more to the craft of valuation than Aswath Damodaran. In Narrative and Numbers, he correctly shows that you can’t understand the stock without the story. After Damodaran’s eye-opening tour, you will forever appreciate the vital contribution of human nature to number-crunching. (Michael Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse)
Damodaran takes us to the place where Joseph Campbell, Warren Buffett, and the best quantitative analyses of Nassim Taleb intersect, and his journey uncovers new value and risk missed by analysts who bias themselves by relying solely on storytelling or number-crunching. It’s a hero’s journey best supported by humility?and this first-person account of Aswath’s own evolving narratives, analyses, and valuations of Alibaba, Amazon, Uber, Theranos, Ferrari, and more. He may have started as a quant, but Damodaran’s now one of the most balanced analysts?and wonderful business and financial storytellers?writing and teaching today. (David Foster, CEO, Business Valuation Resources)