12 Pages Posted: 27 May 2020
Date Written: Summer 2019
A former partner of Stern Stewart begins by noting that the recent acquisition of EVA Dimensions by the well‐known proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) may be signaling a resurgence of EVA as a widely followed corporate performance measure. In announcing the acquisition, ISS said that it's considering incorporating the measure into its recommendations and pay‐for‐performance model. While applauding this decision, the author also reflects on some of the shortcomings of EVA that ultimately prevented broader adoption of the measure after it was developed and popularized in the early 1990s. Chief among these obstacles to broader use is the measure's complexity, arising mainly from the array of adjustments to GAAP accounting. But even more important is EVA's potential for encouraging “short‐termism”—a potential the author attributes to EVA's front‐loading of the costs of owning assets, which causes EVA to be negative when assets are “new” and can discourage managers from investing in the business. These shortcomings led the author and his colleagues to design an improved economic profit‐based performance measure when founding Fortuna Advisors in 2009. The measure, which is called “residual cash earnings,” or RCE, is like EVA in charging managers for the use of capital; but unlike EVA, it adds back depreciation and so the capital charge is “flat” (since now based on gross, or undepreciated, assets). And according to the author's latest research, RCE does a better job than EVA of relating to changes in TSR in all of the 20 (non‐financial) industries studied during the period 1999 through 2018. The article closes by providing two other testaments to RCE's potential uses: (1) a demonstration that RCE does a far better job than EVA of explaining Amazon's remarkable share price appreciation over the last ten years; and (2) a brief case study of Varian Medical Systems that illustrates the benefits of designing and implementing a customized version of RCE as the centerpiece for business management. Perhaps the most visible change at Varian, after 18 months of using a measure the company calls “VVA” (for Varian Value Added), has been a sharp increase in the company's longer‐run investment (not to mention its share price) while holding management accountable for earning an adequate return on investors’ capital.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation