Saturday, February 23, 2008

Finance Interview Questions

Finance Interview Questions (printable)

Why would two companies merge? What major factors drive mergers and acquisitions?
  1. Companies merge with other companies to enter new product markets. The will either gain access into new product markets or broaden the spectrum of their product line. For example, Cisco was famous for its speed of acquiring small/medium companies during its booming period. A series of acquisitions enabled it to build the full-range network architecture for its customers.
  2. Companies merge to enter new geographical markets.
  3. Enhance brand recognition.
  4. Consolidate operations to lower costs by achieving the economies of scale. They also consolidate to gain market share
  5. Defensive merger: Buy their way in to prevent them from entering
  6. Buy technology / Research and Development

What are some common anti-takeover tactics?
  • Repurchase the outstanding stock

  • Poison Pill: The targeted company may issue a new series of preferred stock that gives shareholders the right to redeem it at a premium price after a take over.

    1. Three Variations:
      • Flip-in poison pill allows all existing share holders of the target company, except for the acquirer, to buy additional shares at a bargain price.
      • Flip-over poison pill allows holders of common stock to buy the acquirer's shares at a bargain price in the event of an unwelcome merger.
      • People Pill is the threat that in the event of a successful takeover, the entire management team will resign at once.

  • The major share holders can become allies in order to gain majority control (ie. 51% or more).

  • White Knight: Find another company to be the acquirer or another investor to provide a large infusion of capital.

What is an LBO? Why leverage up a firm?

A LBO or leveraged buyout is the acquisition of another company using a significant amount of borrowed money (bonds or loans) to meet the cost of the acquisition. Often, the assets of the company being acquired are used as collateral for the loans in addition to the assets of the acquiring company. The purpose of leveraged buyouts is to allow companies to make large acquisitions without having to commit a lot of capital.

In an LBO, there is usually a ration of 90% debt to 10% equity. Because of this high debt/equity ratio, the bonds usually are not investment grade and are referred to as junk bonds. Leveraged buyouts have had a notorious history, especially in the 1980s when several prominent buyouts led to the eventual bankruptcy of the acquired companies. This was mainly due to the fact that the leverage ratio was nearly 100% and the interest payments were so large that the company's operating cash flows were unable to meet the obligation.

As of 2006, the largest LBO to date was the acquisition of HCA Inc. in 2006 by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), Bain & Co., and Merrill Lynch. According to the Washington Post, the three companies paid around $33 billion for the acquisition. (

A major reason for leverage buyouts is because the target company is somehow undervalued. Thus investors think that by gaining control of the company, building up the management team, and improving the performance, they can then sell the company at a huge premium because of the higher valuation.

Why might a company choose to issue debt vs. equity?
  • Positive Equity:
    1. Does not require dividend payments
    2. If the company is highly leveraged it can raise money
    3. Weak cash flow
    4. Currency for acquisitions

  • Negative Equity:
    1. Dilution
    2. More expensive

  • Interest on debt is tax deductible and saving on tax increases a firm's value.

  • When a company has sufficient earning to utilize the tax shield over the life of the debt, the company will typically choose to issue debt.

  • When a company's debt level is still relatively low, they will issue more debt to increase the ratio of debt/equity. Companies have to be careful as the amount of debt increase because a higher debt level also increases the probability of bankruptcy. This threat will eventually out weigh the tax advantage if they cross their debt/equity threshold and the company's value will fall with the increase in debt.

  • Companies with predominantly tangible assets are more likely to issue more debt than companies with predominantly intangible assets because of the lower bankruptcy cost.

  • Earning per share (EPS) is a good measure when choosing between debt or equity financing. Although debt financing saves money from taxes, this newly created interest expense also reduces net income. For equity financing there is no interest expense, but there is a possible dividend expense. More importantly, due to the increase in total number of shares outstanding, equity financing has a dilution effect on earnings.

What could a company do with excess cash on the balance sheet?
  • Invest in capital expenditures and/or research and development

  • Invest in the stock and bond market

  • Buy back shares

  • Look for acquisition targets

How would you calculate a firm's WACC? What would you use it for?

Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC)

WACC = [ (Equity / (Debt + Equity)) * Return on Equity] + [ (Debt / (Debt + Equity)) * Return on Debt * (1 - tax rate)]
  • Return on Debt: Yields implied by the trading price of a company's outstanding debt

  • Return on Equity (also known as CAPM): Risk Free Rate + Beta*(Market Premium - Risk Free Rate)

  • Capital Structure: Debt / (Debt + Equity)
    Since a company's capital structure changes over tie, this is usually not based on the company's current structure, but rather a target capital structure is derived from examination of the industry average.

WACC is used:

  1. to discount a company's unlevered free cash flow and terminal value to derive the value of the company is a DCF valuation

  2. in capital budgeting to find the net present value of a particular project

What is the Beta and where would you go to find a firm's Beta? How and why would you unlever a beta?

Beta measures the systematic risk of an equity portfolio. It describes the sensitivity of the portfolio to broad market movements. For example, a portfolio or company that has a beta of 0.5 is half as volatile as the rest of the market. A different portfolio or company with a beta of 1.2 is 20% more volatile than the market and will fluctuate more than the rest of the market.

Various brokerage houses, such as Merrill Lynch, publish beta books where the results of such regressions are published for a large number of stocks. Bloomberg also supplies information on different betas.

Unlevered Beta

A type of metric that compares the risk of an unlevered company to the risk of the market. The unlevered beta is the beta of a company without any debt. Unlevering a beta removes the financial effects from leverage. Unlevered Beta

Please refer to the Investopedia link above to view the actual formula.

What is the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM)?

CAPM is a model that describes the relationship between risk and expected return, which is used in the pricing of risky securities. CAPM

The general idea behind CAPM is that investors need to be compensated in two ways: time value of money and risk. The time value of money is represented by the risk-free rate (typically denoted rf in the formula) and compensates the investors for placing money in any investment over a period of time. The other half of the formula represents risk and calculates the amount of compensation the investor needs for taking on additional risk. This is calculated by taking a risk measure (beta) that compares the returns of the asset to the market over a period of time and to the market premium (Rm - rf).

What is the calculation for EPS? Does that include preferred stock? Does preferred stock trade at a discount or a premium to common stock and why? (similar question for convertible bonds)

Net Earnings Per Share (EPS) is the portion of a company's net earning allocated to each share of stock. It is calculated by dividing net earnings by common shares outstanding adjusted for the assumed conversion of all potentially dilutive securities. It does not include preferred stock.

Securities having a dilutive effect may include convertible debentures, warrants, options, and convertible preferred stock.

Say you have two high yield bonds with identical coupons and maturities, one from a supermarket and one from a high tech company. Which one do you buy and why?

The price of a bond is decided by the discount rate for each bond. It would be reasonable to expect high tech companies to have a larger spread vs. the treasury than a bond issued by the supermarket chain.

If there is no arbitrage opportunity in the market and if the investors are risk averse, then the investor should buy the supermarket bond.

How do you calculate the firm value for the firm below?

Shares outstanding: 100,000
Stock price: $20
Debt: $500,000
Cash and equivalents: $500,000

Using a market valuation, you take the number of shares outstanding and multiply it by the current stock price to find the value of the firm.

Shares outstanding * Stock price = 100,000 * $20 = $2,000,000

What major factors affect the yield on a corporate bond?

The short answer: (1) interest rates on comparable US Treasury bonds and (2) the company's credit risk.

A more elaborate answer would include a discussion of the fact that corporate bond yields trade at a premium or spread, over the interest rate on comparable US Treasury bonds. The size of this spread depends on the company's credit risk. The riskier the company, the higher the interest rate the company will have to pay to convince investors to lend them money, thus creating a wider spread over US Treasuries.

What did our firm's stock close at yesterday?

Find the companies stock price via the internet (Yahoo! Finance), the newspaper (WSJ), or from any other source that publishes this information. You can also refer to the banking profiles I have posted on this blog.

Yahoo! Finance

What is the DJIA at today? NASDAQ? S&P 500? What is the long bond at? Fed Funds Rate? Gold? Oil?

You should be following this information every day. This information is published on the top of the front page of the WSJ. (lower right hand side of website)

Tip: Don't say the exact number because if you are wrong and your interviewer calls you on it, your done! Plus these numbers are changing all the time, so give "ball park" answers. (ie. instead of saying the DJIA closed yesterday at 12,345, say "Lately the DJIA average has been hovering between 12,300 - 12,400. I believe it closed yesterday around 12,340.)

What happened on the markets in the past three months?

To answer this you need to be actively reading the WSJ, Deal Book by New York Times, etc... to get "expert" opinions on where they think the market is going. Let them answer these hard questions, pick a few points from their answer to speak about, and build out an answer around these points.

Do you read the Wall Street Journal everyday? What's on the front page today?

In my opinion you have to answer yes to this question because this is something you should be doing. It's almost like saying you love sports and want to work for a professional team and you don't read Sports Illustrated. Make sure you are reading the WSJ and take note of one story on the day of interview.

Do you follow an industry and/or a stock?

If you answer yes (which you almost have to), be prepared to speak in-depth about the industry or stock. In my opinion, I feel that once you say yes, you go from a student interviewer to a supposed "expert". This is a high level or as I call them, a "bate question". I call it a bate question because once you say yes, a barrage of follow-up questions will be released and it is hard to predict which ones you are more likely to be asked than others. Be prepared to talk about different multiples used in the industry you say you follow. This can be a tricky question, so if you get asked it, hope and pray your interviewer is in a good mood!

What do you personally invest in?

Once again, when you answer this question, be prepared to speak to your specific investments.

What is LIBOR?
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LIBOR

London Interbank Offered Rate is an interest rate at which banks can borrow funds, in marketable size, from other banks in the London interbank market. The LIBOR is fixed on a daily basis by the British Bankers' Association. The LIBOR is derived from a filtered average of the world's most creditworthy banks' interbank deposit rates for larger loans with maturities between overnight and one full year.

The LIBOR is the world's most widely used benchmark for short-term interest rates. It's important because it is the rate at which the world's most preferred borrowers are able to borrow money. It is also the rate upon which rates for less preferred borrowers are based. For example, a multinational corporation with a very good credit rating may be able to borrow money for one year at LIBOR plus four or five points.

Countries that rely on the LIBOR for a reference rate include the US, Canada, Switzerland, and the U.K.

What indicators are considered by Ben Bernanke when deciding on interest rate changes?

When deciding on interest rate changes, we can look at the inflation rate (ie. Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI)), unemployment rate, economic growth rate, and financial market performance.

Why is everyone worried about inflation?

Inflation is the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and subsequently, purchasing power is falling.

As inflation rises, every dollar will buy a smaller percentage of a good. For example, if the inflation rate is 2%, then a $1 hamburger will cost $1.02 in a year.

Most countries' central banks will try to sustain an inflation rate of 2-3%.

Expected Inflation

When inflation is expected, it will result in two kinds of cost. (1)Menu Cost: It incurs because all the commodities need to reprice and consumers then have to pay additional money to make the price adjustment. (2)Shoe Leather Cost: When experiencing inflation, people will increase consumption by shopping more because the cost of holding money increases. In this way, the increased trading frequency and trading time bring extra cost to the consumers.

Unexpected Inflation

On the other hand, when inflation is unexpected, the result is two negative effects. (1)Redistribution of Wealth: Employers and banks would benefit from unexpected inflation since the salary and interest rate can not adjust immediately. (2)Decreased Resources Allocation Efficiency: Inflation would increase uncertainty, which might decrease companies' willingness to invest or result in wrong decision making.

Draw the forward rate curve over the Treasury curve and explain which apex occurs first since the Treasury curve is now inverted?

This question is specifically for a fixed income interview. It is essentially a question of current rates vs. future rates. The answer would depend on your opinion of the forward rate (ie. Will the Fed be cutting or raising interest rates in the future?).

If you answer that the Fed is to cut rates, then bond prices would be expected to go up, thereby reducing the yield for the forward rates.

If your answer is to raise rates, then bond prices would be expected to go down, thereby increasing the yield for the forward rates.

What does the current shape of the yield curve imply about the market's expectation for economic growth?

The yield curve is the term structure of interest rates. When the economy is good, the yield curve is increasing upward. However, the yield curve is inverted when the economy is bad.

Yield Curve:
  • Economy Good = Increasing Upward

  • Economy Bad = Inverted

  • Definitely check out this link. It explains step-by-step how to create a real time chart of the current yield curve by pulling new data from the market every time you run the program. It's sweet!

    How to Chart the Yield Curve Using Yahoo! Finance and Excel

    If I gave you $1 for 10 years or $1000 today, which one will you choose?

    I am risk adverse and like to invest in risk-free T-Bills. In addition, I have no urgent need of money to expense, so I will do the following calculation to make the decision.

    I expect over the next 10 years the risk-free rate will be 6% and I will purchase bonds at the end of every year. The Present Value (PV) of my investment is $2686, which is more than $1000. As such, I will choose $1 every day for 10 years.

    Give me 4 ways to calculate terminal value.

    Terminal Value (TV) refers to the interest's value at the end of a given projection period.

    Method 1

    The TV can be calculated by using either a market derived pricing multiple or a growth model. The most commonly used is the Gordon Growth Model shown below:

      TV = ( NCF * (1 + g) ) / (k - g)

      NCF: normalized net cash flow in the terminal year
      g: expected annual long-term growth rates in NCF
      k: the cost of capital

    Method 2

    Using a multiple of EBIT or EBITDA in the final year. Often the current pricing multiple for guideline companies is used.

    Method 3

    Using a P/E ratio based on the net income in the terminal year. Assuming the company will be worth some multiple of its future earnings in the continuing period. The difficulty of this approach is to estimate an appropriate P/E ratio.

    Method 4

    Using liquidation value. Suppose the company will be liquidated at the terminal year. If this is the case then all of the assets will be sold at book value.

    What is EBITDA?

    Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA) EBITDA

    EBITDA is an indicator of a company's financial performance, which is calculated as follows:

      EBITDA = Revenue - Expenses (excluding tax, interest, depreciation, and amortization)

    EBITDA can be used to analyze and compare profitability between companies and industries because it eliminates the effects of financing and accounting decisions. However, this is a non-GAAP measure that allows a greater amount of discretion as to what is (and is not) included in the calculation. This also means that companies often change the items included in their EBITDA calculation from one reporting period to the next.

    EBITDA first came into common use with leveraged buyouts in the 1980s, when it was used to indicate the ability of a company to service debt. As time passed, it became popular in industries with expensive assets that had to be written down over long periods of time. EBITDA is now commonly quoted by many companies, especially in the tech sector - even when it isn't warranted.

    A common misconception is that EBITDA represents cash earnings. EBITDA is a good metric to evaluate profitability, but NOT cash flow. EBITDA also leaves out the cash required to fund working capital and the replacement of old equipment, which can be significant. Consequently, EBITDA is often used as an accounting gimmick to dress up a company's earnings. When using this metric, it's key that investors also focus on other performance measures to make sure the company is not trying to hide something with EBITDA.

    Walk me through the major line items of a Income Statement.

    - COGs (Cost of Goods)
    Gross Margins
    - OE (Operating Expenses)
    - DA (Depreciation & Amortization)
    - IT (Interest & Taxes)
    Net Income

    Walk me through the major line items of a Cash Flow Statement.

    Beginning Cash Balance
    Operating Activities

      Net Income
      Accounts Receivable (A/R)
      Accounts Payable (A/P)
      Accretive Liabilities
      Cash from Operations

    Investing Activities

      Capital Expenditures: Sale of Equipment, Purchase of Land, etc...

    Financing Activities

      Repurchase of bonds
      Dividend paid

    Ending Cash Balance

    If you have an accounting background, be prepared to describe how the disposal of a fixed asset in exchange for cash would be reflected on a GAAP/IAS statement of cash flows.

    In general, disposal of fixed assets is under "net cash flow from investing activities". The proceeds from the sale are recorded in the Statement of Cash Flows. The gain/loss is recognized in the Income Statement and the removal of book value of the assets and accumulated depreciation thereof is booked on the Balance sheet.

    What is the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement?

    A Balance Sheet describes a firm's financial status at a specific point in time. It is like a snap shot of the company's financials.

    An Income Statement represents a firm's operating results over a period of time (ie. a fiscal year or quarter).

    What is goodwill? How does it affect net income?
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Goodwill

    Goodwill is an account that can be found in the assets portion of a company's balance sheet. Goodwill can often arise when one company is purchased by another company (M&A). In an acquisition, the amount paid for the company over book value usually accounts for the target firm's intangible assets.

    Goodwill is seen as an intangible asset on the balance sheet because it is not a physical asset such as buildings or equipment. Goodwill typically reflects the value of intangible assets such as a strong brand name, good customer relations, good employee relations, and any patents or proprietary technology.

    What are deferred taxes? How do they rise?

    Deferred taxes are an indeterminate-term liability that arises when the pretax income shown on the tax return is less than what it would have been had the firm used the same accounting principles and cost basis for assets and liability in tax returns as it is used for financial reporting. SFAS No. 109 requires that the firm debit income tax expense and credit deferred income tax with the amount of the taxes delayed by using accounting principles in tax returns different from those used in financial reports. If as a result a temporary difference, cumulative taxable income exceeds cumulative reported income before taxes., the deferred income tax account will have debit balance, which the firm will report as a deferred charge.

    What is working capital?
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Working Capital

    Working Capital is a measure of both a company's efficiency and its short-term financial health. The woring capital ratio is calculated as:

      Working Capital = Current Assets - Current Liabilities

    Positive working capital means that the company is able to pay off its short-term liabilities. Negative working capital means that a company currently is unable to meet its short-term liabilities with its current assets (cash, accounts receivable and inventory).

    Also known as "net working capital"

    If a company's current assets do not exceed its current liabilities, then it may run into trouble paying back creditors in the short term. The worst-case scenario is bankruptcy. A declining working capital ratio over a longer time period could also be a red flag that warrants further analysis. For example, it could be that the company's sales volumes are decreasing and, as a result, its accounts receivables number continues to get smaller and smaller.

    Working capital also gives investors an idea of the company's underlying operational efficiency. Money that is tied up in inventory or money that customers still owe to the company cannot be used to pay off any of the company's obligations. So, if a company is not operating in the most efficient manner (slow collection), it will show up as an increase in working capital. This can be seen by comparing the working capital from one period to another; slow collection may signal an underlying problem in the company's operations.

    Who is n the bulge bracket?

    Goldman Sachs
    Morgan Stanley
    Merrill Lynch
    JPMorgan Chase
    Credit Suisse

    Describe a typical day of an investment banking associate.

    Refer to my blog post entitled, Life of an Investment Banker.


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