What Is an Acquisition Premium?

An acquisition premium is a figure that's the difference between the estimated real value of a company and the actual price paid to acquire it. An acquisition premium represents the increased cost of buying a target company during a merger and acquisition (M&A) transaction.

There is no requirement that a company pay a premium for acquiring another company; in fact, depending on the situation, it may even get a discount.

Understanding Acquisition Premiums

In an M&A scenario, the company that pays to acquire another company is known as the acquirer, and the company to be purchased or acquired is referred to as the target firm.

Reasons For Paying An Acquisition Premium

Typically, an acquiring company will pay an acquisition premium to close a deal and ward off competition. An acquisition premium might be paid, too, if the acquirer believes that the synergy created from the acquisition will be greater than the total cost of acquiring the target company. The size of the premium often depends on various factors such as competition within the industry, the presence of other bidders, and the motivations of the buyer and seller.

In cases where the target company’s stock price falls dramatically, its product becomes obsolete, or if there are concerns about the future of its industry, the acquiring company may withdraw its offer.

How Does An Acquisition Premium Work?

When a company decides that it wants to acquire another firm, it will first attempt to estimate the real value of the target company. For example, the enterprise value of Macy’s, using data from its 2017 10-K report, is estimated at $11.81 billion. After the acquiring company determines the real value of its target, it decides how much it is willing to pay on top of the real value so as to present an attractive deal to the target firm, especially if there are other firms that are considering an acquisition.

In the example above an acquirer may decide to pay a 20% premium to buy Macy’s. Thus, the total cost it will propose would be $11.81 billion x 1.2 = $14.17 billion. If this premium offer is accepted, then the acquisition premium value will be $14.17 billion - $11.81 billion = $2.36 billion, or in percentage form, 20%.

Arriving at the Acquisition Premium

You also may use a target company's share price to arrive at the acquisition premium. For instance, if Macy’s is currently trading at $26 per share, and an acquirer is willing to pay $33 per share for the target company’s outstanding shares, then you may calculate the acquisition premium as ($33 - $26)/$26 = 27%.

However, not every company pays a premium for an acquisition intentionally.

Using our price-per-share example, let's assume that there was no premium offer on the table and the agreed-upon acquisition cost was $26 per share. If the value of the company drops to $16 before the acquisition becomes final, the acquirer will find itself paying a premium of ($26 - $16)/$16 = 62.5%.

Key Takeaways

  • An acquisition premium is a figure that's the difference between the estimated real value of a company and the actual price paid to acquire it in an M&A transaction. 
  • In financial accounting, the acquisition premium is recorded on the balance sheet as "goodwill."
  • An acquiring company is not required to pay a premium for purchasing a target company, and it may even get a discount.

Acquisition Premiums in Financial Accounting

In financial accounting, the acquisition premium is known as goodwill—the portion of the purchase price that is higher than the sum of the net fair value of all of the assets purchased in the acquisition and the liabilities assumed in the process. The acquiring company records goodwill as a separate account on its balance sheet.

Goodwill factors in intangible assets like the value of a target company's brand, solid customer base, good customer relations, healthy employee relations, and any patents or proprietary technology acquired from the target company. An adverse event, such as declining cash flows, economic depression, increased competitive environment and the like can lead to an impairment of goodwill, which occurs when the market value of the target company's intangible assets drops below its acquisition cost. Any impairment results in a decrease in goodwill on the balance sheet and shows as a loss on the income statement.

An acquirer can purchase a target company for a discount, that is, for less than its fair value. When this occurs, negative goodwill is recognized.