MDST partners with Adamy Valuation for market analysis

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Authors: Michael Kovalcik, College of Engineering; Xinyu Tan, College of Engineering; Derek Chen, Ross School of Business.

Problem Overview

adamy-full-logo-rgb copyThe Michigan Data Science Team partnered with Adamy Valuation, a Grand Rapids-based valuation firm, to bring data-driven insights to business equity valuation.  Business valuation firms determine the market value of business interests in support of a variety of different types of transactions typically involving ownership interests in private businesses. Valuation firms, such as Adamy Valuation, deliver this assessment, which includes a detailed report explaining the reasons why they believe it to be fair.

Valuations are performed by expert financial analysts, who use their knowledge about the factors that influence value to manually assess the value of the equity. Shannon Pratt’s Valuing a Business suggests that there are two key factors in particular that influence value: risk and size. Risk is a measure of uncertainty relating to the company’s future  and can be assessed by looking at total debt and cash flows. Size refers to a company’s economic power. Larger companies will spend and make more than smaller ones. While these factors are quite informative, the degree to which they influence value varies a lot from industry to industry and even from company to company. Therefore, a valuation firm will often adjust their models manually to account for additional features, using knowledge gained from years of experience and industry expertise.

Our goals were to conduct a data-driven analysis of the valuation process and to build a predictive model that could learn to make value adjustments from historical data. A critical requirement of our approach was that the resulting model must be interpretable. An algorithm that is extremely accurate but offers no insight into how the prediction was made or what features it was based off of is of no use to Adamy Valuation because, at the end of the day, they must be able to validate the reasoning behind their assessment.

model_overview copyThe Data Pipeline

While our goal is to value private companies, data related to these companies is difficult to come by.  Business valuation analysts address this issue by using market data from public companies as guideline data points to inform the valuation of a private subject company.  To this end, we acquired a dataset of 400 publicly-traded companies along with 20 financial metrics that are commonly used during valuation. We cleaned this dataset to only contain features that are relevant to private companies so that the model learned on public companies could later be applied to value private companies.

We separate financial metrics into four categories: Size, Profitability, Growth, and Risk, as indicated by the colors in Fig. 1. Our goal was to determine which of the four categories, or more specifically, which features in these categories, contribute the most to:

tev-ebitdawhere TEV represents the Total Enterprise Value a measure of a company’s market value, adjusting for things like debt and cash on hand, and EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. EBITDA allows analysts to focus on operating performance by minimizing the impact of non-operating decisions such as which tax rates they must pay and the degree to which their goods depreciate. In other words EBITDA gives a clearer value for head to head comparisons of company performance. Valuation firms typically examine the ratio of TEV and EBITDA instead of examining TEV or EBITDA directly, because the ratio standardizes for the size of the company, making it easier to make apples to apples comparisons with companies that may be much larger or smaller, but are otherwise similar.

To study how feature importance varied across industries, we categorized each public company into one of three separate sectors:

  • Consumer Discretionary refers to companies that provide goods and services that are considered nonessential to the consumer. For example, Bed Bath and Beyond, Ford Motor Company, and Panera Bread are all part of this category.
  • Consumer Staples provide essential products such as food, beverages, and household items. Companies like Campbell’s Soup, Coca Cola, and Kellogg are considered Consumer Staples.
  • Industrial Spending sector is a diverse category, which contains companies related to the manufacture and distribution of goods for industrial customers. In this dataset we see companies like Delta Airlines, Fedex, and Lockheed Martin.


Our goal is not just to accurately estimate value, but also to identify key relationships between a company’s observable metrics and its ratio of TEV to EBITDA.We study 17 financial metrics, many of which have complex relationships with the ratio of TEV and EBITDA. To identify these relationships, we model the problem as a regression task. We use two simple but widely-used frameworks: linear models and tree-based models because both methods offer insight into how the predictions are actually made.

After fitting our models to the data, we identified the most predictive features of company value across industries, and compared this to profit margin and size, the metrics most commonly used in Valuing a Business. For our linear models we used the coefficients in our regression equation to determine which features were most important. For our random forest model we used the feature importance metric which ranks features according to the information gained during the fitting process.

Comparison of MethodsResults

The figure to the right depicts the accuracy our models versus the market approach (also known as comparable approach), the method used by valuation firms. With the size of the dataset and the specificity of the market approach we are not surprised that it outperforms our models. Rather we are showing here that our models have a reasonable enough degree of accuracy to trust the interpretation of the features.

Import features across different sectorsAlso on the right we show the top 3 features, according to information gain, per industry as learned by our random forest model. The larger the bar the more insightful that variable was for predictions.The features we see turning up in our model are indicators of profitability and size which agree with the existing knowledge in the literature. It is interesting to note that return on assets shows up in each sector which intuitively means the market values those companies that get high returns regardless of the sector.

Explanation of Key Predictors

Remember our goal was to predict TEV/EBITDA, which is a measure of company’s total value after standardizing for things such as size, tax structure, and number of other factors. There were 5 distinct predictors that really stood out in our analysis.

Return on Assets is a measure of a company’s efficiency in generating profit.

Total Revenue is also known as total sales and is a measurement of how much a company receives from the sale of goods and services.

EBITDA 1 year growth: EBITDA is a measure of profitability and growing EBITDA means growing profit and increasing value of a company.

A Capital Expenditure(Capex) is the amount of money that a company invested in property and equipment. Capex is often linked to the expansion or contraction of a business and is therefore a measure of growth. Looking at Capex as percentage of revenue provides a normalized measurement for comparison.

EBITDA Margin serves as an indicator of a company’s operating profitability. Higher EBITDA margin means the company is getting more EBITDA for every dollar of revenue.


MSSISS or the Michigan Student Symposium for Interdisciplinary Statistical Sciences is an annual conference hosted by the University of Michigan. MSSISS brings together statistics works from a number of different fields including computer science, electrical engineering, statistics, biostatistics, and industrial operations. Our poster was particularly interesting as it was the only one with a financial application. The novelty of our project drew in a number of viewers and impressed the judges. A major component of our poster score was determined by our ability to communicate our results to people outside the field. We received a certificate of merit for our work and ability to communicate it to the other attendees at the conference.

adamy_mssiss (2) copy

MDST announces Detroit blight data challenge; organizational meeting Feb. 16

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The Michigan Data Science Team and the Michigan Student Symposium for Interdisciplinary Statistical Sciences (MSSISS) have partnered with the City of Detroit on a data challenge that seeks to answer the question: How can blight ticket compliance be increased?

An organizational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in EECS 1200.

The city is making datasets available containing building permits, trades permits, citizens complaints, and more.

The competition runs through March 15. For more information, see the competition website.

MDST Poster Wins Symposium Competition

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Today, MDST participated in the student poster competition at the “Meeting the Challenges of Safe Transportation in an Aging Society Symposium”. The poster highlights the key findings from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) competition we held earlier this year. The Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) provided MDST members access to a dataset of fatal crashes in the US, with a labeled variable indicating whether alcohol was involved in the incident, and models were judged based on how well they could predict the value of this true/false variable.

The poster describes the winning model for the competition, an ensemble of a neural network and boosted decision tree, and identifies crash time, location, and the number of passengers involved, as the most predictive variables.

We want to thank MIDAS for funding the competition, Chengyu Dai and Guangsha Shi for representing MDST at the ATLAS Symposium, and the many members of MDST who participated in the FARS Challenge.

You can download the poster from the link below.

Bloomberg Conference Accepts Both MDST Papers!

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Earlier this summer, MDST submitted two papers to the Bloomberg Data For Good Exchange conference regarding our work on the Flint Water Crisis and with the University Musical Society respectively. It is my great pleasure to announce that the conference has elected both of our papers for presentation at the conference in New York on September 25th!

Needless to say, we’re all very excited. 🎉

MDST Faculty Advisor Jacob Abernethy Interviewed for Machine Learning Podcast!

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Our very own Jacob Abernethy was recently interviewed on the popular machine learning podcast, Talking Machines. Among other things, Jake was asked about his experiences working with the trove of municipal data available in Flint, his path to research at the University of Michigan, and our work with Google and UM-Flint.

You can find a link to the interview here. Fun Fact: Talking Machines is produced by Kathrine Goreman, a UM alumna!

MDST Submits Two Papers to Bloomberg Conference

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While we are known for our participation in structured prediction challenges, MDST has picked up at least two community projects in the last year. MDST members of all experience levels got to participate in both our efforts in Flint and our work with UMS’s ticket purchase data. Around the time that we hit milestones in both projects, news of the Bloomberg Data 4 Good Exchange call for papers reached some members of MDST and we decided to take a shot.

The results of our foray into volunteer, remote, academic paper collaboration can be found below in the form of two successfully written MDST papers! We’re incredibly proud of the results and even prouder of our membership, who worked so hard to produce such quality work.

MDST Partners with UM-Flint & to Aid Locals in Flint Water Crisis

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The Michigan Data Science Team is excited to have partnered with Google and the University of Michigan-Flint to engineer a data platform and accompanying app as a part of our continued efforts to help the community of Flint. This app will provide users with information regarding key public services, such as the locations of water bottle distribution centers and instructions to request new water testing kits. Users will also be able to report concerns about the water quality at their location, and access our predictive model, which flags homes that are potentially at high risk of lead contamination. is providing the University of Michigan-Flint a grant of $150,000 to build the platform and accompanying app. In addition, they are also providing access to several Google engineering consultants who will aid in producing interactive visualizations and oversee the app’s user interface design. MDST has created a multidisciplinary engineering team to oversee and manage the creation of our predictive model and data platform.

We will continue our efforts to ask and answer the data-related questions surrounding this crisis in order to provide as much value as we can to the people of Flint. We are incredibly grateful for the support from Google and for the chance to collaborate with our friends and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan-Flint campus.

FARS Visualization Challenge

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Last week, we held the FARS Dataset Visualization Challenge, where teams were tasked with visualizing more than a decade of fatal traffic accident records to address the question – “What causes drunk driving accidents?”

First prize went to Team Bidiu (Chengyu Dai, Cyrus Anderson, Cupjin Huang, and Wenbo Shen) whose presentation addressed the questions: who is driving drunk, where are they driving, and when do fatal accidents occur? For their first-place finish, each member of Team Bidiu will receive a $25 gift card to! You can view Team Bidiu’s presentation and source code at the team’s Github page.