Showing posts with label Finance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Finance. Show all posts

Friday, 24 October 2014

Investment Decision Making: Part Two

In the second part of our guide, Senior Lecturer in Finance at Warrington School of Management, Jim Stockton further examines the different techniques used in Investment Decision Making.

My previous article on capital budgeting described the context and purpose of capital budgeting. It set out the commercial reasoning that justified business investment in large projects and the acquisition of fixed assets-for example expanding capacity in the form of new factories, machinery, vehicles. I also alluded to four capital investment appraisal (CIA) techniques in common commercial use. These are:-
  • Payback (PB)
  • Accounting Rate of Return (ARR)
  • Net Present Value (NPV)
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR)
I also posed the following question in my last article. If I offered you £10,000 now or £10,000 in a year’s time, which would you choose? The answer may be obvious to you but have a think about why-there are a number of issues involved (at least three) all of which will help in your understanding of capital investment appraisal techniques. I will return to this when I consider the NPV and IRR investment appraisal techniques later in this article.
But first let’s get started on Payback (for readers getting worried about complex explanations and lots of numbers, stick with it-the principles are not difficult and I will try to keep all the examples uncomplicated).
Case study example
Fred Ltd is considering investing £24,000 in a new machine to expand production of his Mark 3 widget which is sold to breweries to be used in the ale making process. The Finance Manager has estimated the revenues and costs associated with investment and converted them to actual cash flows-basically cash in and cash out. The Operations Manager at Fred Ltd reckons the new machine will last 4 years and then be scrapped with no residual value.
We have, therefore, the following financial profile:-
Year               Cash flow                             Comments
0                    (£24,000)*                  Purchase of machine today =Year 0
1                    £10,000                     Sales less cost of sales as cash flow
2                    £10,000                     Sales less cost of sales as cash flow
3                    £10,000                     Sales less cost of sales as cash flow
4                    £10,000                     Sales less cost of sales as cash flow
*brackets indicate cash out i.e. spend
Thus we have captured the basic financial information need to apply our CIA techniques
Payback (PB)
This is the most simple of all the CIA techniques and is very popular with non-financial managers for that reason.  However it has some significant shortcomings. Let’s explain.
PB calculates the number of years that it will take a project-in this case a new machine-for the cash flows received to payback the original investment. By inspecting the cash flows, you should be able to see that the £24,000 investment is repaid sometime between years 2 and 3 as the cumulative cash flow at the end of year 2 is (£4,000). This is calculated as minus £24,000 plus £10,000 plus £10,000. At the end of year 3 the cumulative cash flow is £6,000 as a further £10,000 has been received. Assuming the cash flows occur evenly over the year, then the Payback period is just under 2½  years (there is a formula to calculate this precisely but remember what I said regarding spurious accuracy in my previous article).
The managers at Fred Ltd can now compare this project payback period with other proposals or with a hurdle payback period set previously-all investment in new machinery must pay back in less than three years, for example. In this case, the project passes the test.
The advantages of this technique are as follows:-
  • Payback is a useful measure of risk (liquidity) as uncertainty increases the further you go into the future
  • Payback is a fairly straightforward technique that most managers can understand and apply
  • Payback can be used a screening device to weed out projects that do not meet pre-set criteria-e.g. projects of this type must pay back in under three years
However it has some serious limitations which are:-
  • Payback ignores any cash flows after the payback point is reached
  • Payback ignores a project’s overall profitability
  • Payback ignores the time value of money
I will return to the concept of the “time value of money” later (so don’t worry about that for now).
Accounting Rate of Return (ARR)
Accounting Rate of Return as the name suggests uses accounting data related to the average profits of a project (rather than cash flows) so it will include non-cash items such as depreciation in its financial figures.
As an example, let’s assume a project similar to the one discussed above costing £24,000 but with a three year life.
An annual profit statement is then estimated something like this:-
£ per annum
Specific overheads(3000)
Project profit2000
To calculate the ARR, you simply take the average annual profit of the project-let’s assume £2,000 as above and divide by the average investment-again let’s assume £24,000, as above, to yield an accounting rate of return of8.3% (£2,000/£24,000)
Companies will often specify a hurdle ARR which projects must exceed. If this were set at 10% for example then the above investment proposal would be rejected.
The advantages of this technique are as follows:-
  • ARR is easy to understand
  • It uses data easily obtainable from the accounting system
However, like PB, it has some serious limitations which are:-
  • ARR uses accounting data which can be distorted by accounting conventions e.g. changing depreciation periods
  • ARR does not consider the time value of money-i.e. when are the cash returns generated? Clearly early returns are preferable to later returns (yes I will get to a fuller explanation of this shortly)
  • ARR could produce identical output in terms of percentage returns but the averaging process eliminates important information as to when those returns are generated-see example below-project B is clearly preferable as it has earlier returns thus reducing risk but the ARR for both projects is identical.
Comparison of 2 projects each costing £24,000 with average profits of £2000 per annum 
Year 1£2000£4000
Year 2£2000£1000
Year 3£2000£1000
As a result of the drawbacks regarding both PB and ARR, more contemporary techniques which remedy some of these defects were developed, most importantly, to take account of the time value of money (OK, time I explained this, I know).
The time value of money
Going back to the question I posed above (remember?). If I offered you £10,000 now or £10,000 in a year’s time, which would you choose? The answer may be obvious to you but have a think about why-there are a number of issues involved (at least three) all of which will help in your understanding of capital investment appraisal techniques.
I would offer three reasons to take the money now:-
  • to limit risk-I may not be around in a year’s time so grab the opportunity now
  • to maintain the purchasing power of the cash-inflation will eat away at it over a year and you may not still be able to buy something you needed as the price has risen
  • to invest now and earn interest. If, in a fantasy world, given where interest rates are currently, you invested £10,000 now at 10% you would have £11,000 in a year’s time-this essentially indicates the time value of money which is further enhanced by the compounding effect. £11,000 invested at 10% for a further year would grow to £12,100. Reversing the logic, a sum of £12,100 receivable in two years’ time has a present value of £10,000. This is known as discounting. Discount tables are generally available  to use to work out present values so the basic maths are:-

  • £12,100 x discount factor for 10% rec’d in two years’ time gives a present value of £10,000
  • £12,100 x 0.8264 (this is the discount factor) = £10,000
This principle is the backbone of the Net Present Value and Internal Rate of Return C.I.A. methodologies and, as such, remedies the principal defects of PB and ARR. (Just think about it for a while if it does not sink in straight away).
Net Present Value (NPV)
The Net Present Value technique thus embodies the time value of money into its working methodology crucially recognising earlier financial returns have greater value than later returns when discounted to the present. The technique also recognises that money invested in a business has a cost-it is not free. Just think if you had £10,000 would you leave it under the mattress or invest it? If you invest in a risk free government bond (or a building society) you could earn between 3% and 5% at no risk (assuming the UK as a country does not go the way of Argentina and default on its borrowings!)
If you decide to take on extra risk and invest in a small firm you will want a much higher return to compensate you for accepting that risk say 10%. That will mean the firm will need to identify projects that will generate a higher return than 10% in order to keep you invested. In the same way, if a small firm borrows from the bank at 10%, it will need to invest that cash in projects earning more than 10% to make the financing decision economically rational. This, in simple terms, equates to the firm’s cost of capital and is represented by the appropriate discount rate. A firm has no free cash as it always must satisfy its shareholders expected returns to keep the shareholder invested as shareholders always have alternative investment opportunities.
Let’s go back to our previous example-Fred Ltd and assume Fred Ltd has a cost of capital of 10%-the NPV workings are:-
Year                       Cash flow                 Discount factor @10%      Present value
                                                            (taken from tables)
0                    (£24,000)*                  x 1.00 (as it’s spend today)   = (£24,000)
1                    £10,000                     x 0.909**                                  =    £9,090
2                    £10,000                     x 0.826**                                  =    £8,260
3                    £10,000                     x 0.751**                                  =    £7,510
4                    £10,000                     x 0.683**                                  =    £6,830
Net Present Value    = +£7,690
*brackets indicate cash out or spend
** notice-the further away in time the smaller the discount factor thus reflecting the time value of money concept
The NPV disclosed above is positive and is shown as a + therefore. This indicates that the investment earns more than 10% and exceeds Fred’s cost of capital and therefore will add to shareholder value. The investment should proceed on financial grounds.
The converse is also true-if the Net Present Value disclosed was negative-that would mean that the project earns less than 10% and is less than the 10% cost of capital of the firm-it should not proceed as it would destroy shareholder value.
The advantages of the NPV methodology are:-
  • NPV takes account of the time value of money
  • It takes into account all cash flows associated with the project
  • NPV remedies many of the defects associated with PB and ARR
It does have some drawbacks however:-
  • NPV may appear complicated and difficult to understand to non-financial managers (don’t underestimate this!)
  • It relies on the ability of managers to accurately predict future cash flows
Well, if you have got this far you are doing well-I will finally consider the Internal Rate of Return or IRR (briefly, you will be pleased to read).
Internal Rate of Return (IRR)
The Internal Rate of Return is closely linked to NPV as a CIA technique. Its purpose is to identify where the NPV of a project is equal to zero i.e. it is neither positive nor negative. If you recall from the NPV example above, the NPV was positive at £7,690 at a discount rate of 10% which implies an IRR of more than 10% on the project. But what is the %IRR? Well, using trial and error, we repeat the NPV calculation using a higher discount rate. I have done the calculation (sparing you the workings) and found that, at a 25% discount rate, the NPV of the project is negative at -£384.
Hopefully, by looking at the two results, you can see that the IRR of the project is going to be closer to 25% than 10% given the financial values disclosed. IRR uses a formula (which I will spare you but it’s not that complex) based on a statistical technique called linear interpolation (which says if you know two points on a line you can plot any values in between). This discloses an IRR result of 24.28% for the project which fits with our earlier “gut feel”.
How does this help decision making? Well, it enables the manager to compare projects by establishing an IRR for each and also allows comparison with the cost of funds (the cost of capital) used to finance the project. Over-simplifying, would you borrow at 10% to finance a project earning you 24.28%? Looks a no-brainer but remember to assess the risk (it could be argued that risk could be taken into account by adding another 5% to the cost of capital making 15%-in which case the project still “wipes its face”.
The advantages of IRR methodology are:-
  • Like NPV, IRR takes account of the time value of money
  • Like NPV, it takes account of all relevant cash flows
  • Like NPV, an allowance for risk can be built into the discount factor
  • Unlike NPV, IRR discloses an absolute % value so projects of different financial sizes can be compared. Larger projects will tend to generate higher NPVs but may have lower IRRs. IRR therefore allows a more accurate comparison of different projects to aid decision making.
However, as always, there are disadvantages:-
  • IRR can appear complex and difficult to understand for non-financial managers
  • It has some technical defects when estimated cash flows are very irregular (I’ll spare you that explanation.)
If you have reached this far well done! Some final summarising points are:-
  • CIA is a key aid to assist in decision making for competing business investment proposals
  • CIA involves forecasting the future-a difficult task especially the further out you go
  • If your inputs to CIA techniques are poor, your output will also be poor (remember G.I.G.O)
  • There are various techniques which can be used in CIA-all have advantages and disadvantages
  • Money received tomorrow is less valuable than money received today (the time value of money)
At the end of the day, CIA is all about selecting business projects to invest in using scarce financial resources and choosing the optimum project which will maximise the profits of the business and therefore enhance shareholder value.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Investment Decision Making: Part One

Jim Stockton is senior lecturer in finance at the Warrington School of Management (University of Chester).


The term “investment decision making” or, alternatively, “capital budgeting” is used to describe how managers plan significant outlays on new projects or assets-the “big ticket” items. Spending on a large scale has long term implications and businesses usually have many more projects than they can afford to fund so business managers must carefully select and appraise projects from a variety of perspectives. The financial appraisal of projects is termed capital investment appraisal or C.I.A. (and, no, it has nothing to do with the American Secret Service). What follows is a simple (some might argue simplistic) guide to investment decision making.

The basics

Let’s address the basics first. Why do businesses invest in projects or asset purchases-for example-new machinery, new vehicles? Clearly it’s to employ the assets in the business in order to generate sales of products or services. (ignore the example of a car dealer whose business is actually the buying and selling of vehicles). The product or service is then sold, hopefully generating profits which can then be, in part or whole, reinvested in the business to allow expansion and growth. Note that the financial quantum involved will be large, generally speaking, but that will be set within the context of the size of the business. So the purchase of a new van costing £20,000 might be a huge decision for an SME but a “drop in the bucket” for a large plc which may be assessing the competing merits of purchase of a fleet of vehicles of different types possibly costing millions in total.   However, the importance of getting the capital investment decision right is the same for both organisations-it will have long tern consequences in terms of profitability. At the extreme end, it could be a “bet the company” investment decision meaning getting it wrong could be the end of the business.

The business context

It’s important to understand, at the outset, that any capital investment decision has to be appraised within the context of the business. How does the investment fit within the strategic direction defined for the firm?  The long term vision of the company must be articulated with sufficient clarity before investment proposals can be sensibly appraised.  Equally, the markets for the product or services must be fully researched and the customer demand to be satisfied fully understood. Only then does it make sense for projects that “fit” within this business context be developed and examined in greater financial detail.

Types of capital budgeting decisions

What types of business decisions require investment appraisal? Basically any decision involving significant outlay today spent in order to generate increases in revenue or reductions in cost in the future. Typically the following:-
Expansion decisions-should new facilities e.g. a new factory or machine be acquired to increase capacity and therefore enhance future sales?   

Replacement decisions-is existing equipment becoming obsolete or in need of modernisation?

Cost reduction decisions-would it be sensible to invest now in new equipment that will generate savings in the longer term compared with existing machinery? 

Compliance decisions-has the external regulatory environment changed meaning that current modes of operation are no longer viable? For example, waste products that are a by-product of manufacturing need higher standards of treatment before being released into the atmosphere or watercourse?

All the above are motives for capital investment and therefore financial appraisal.

Information requirements for capital investment appraisal

Let’s assume a business has a number of potential projects and only limited funding available to finance them-a fairly common situation-businesses routinely cannot afford all the projects they may see as commercially attractive. The information required will relate to the future and therefore require estimation (or, if you prefer, informed guesswork!). The information gathering will all be about the future revenues and costs usually expressed as cash inflows and outflows generated as a direct result of the proposed project. Typically the following questions will need answering:-

What will the new investment cost, for example, the cost of a new machine or a new vehicle? In larger firms the investment may run into many millions.

What will be the future revenues and costs associated with the investment over the life of the project (difficult one this!). This will require estimates of demand over the life of the projects being appraised and the revenues and costs associated with meeting that demand.

Will the project have any residual value at the end of its life e.g. scrap value?

Now you can perhaps begin to understand that C.I.A. is all about commercial judgement concerning the future and lacks exact precision especially when thinking about what the economic situation generally may be like and also what the business might be like, in particular, in say five years’ time. Here a word of caution is needed-defer to a friend named G.I.G.O. No it’s not some Italian stunner but an acronym-Garbage In Garbage Out. Put simply, if you feed into your investment appraisal rubbish as your inputs e.g. inaccurate and unresearched assumptions regarding future cash flows that is exactly what you will get out. 
Equally, when estimating future cash flows do not be seduced by spurious accuracy-remember these are broad brush business assumptions regarding the future and you do not have a crystal ball that will deliver complete accuracy so don’t fool yourself into thinking you do!

Sensitivity analysis

Often, when undertaking CIA, one can vary assumptions regarding the cost of the investment and the future cash flows that will result, for example, from different levels of customer demand. In more complicated appraisals, different assumptions regarding inflation or taxation can be introduced. This will help the financial manager assess how “sensitive” the project is to changes in certain factors and therefore help identify where the real business risks lie. But, hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves-what are the most commonly used CIA techniques?

Capital Investment Appraisal techniques

There are four commonly used capital investment appraisal techniques:-
1. Payback
2. Accounting rate of Return
3. Net present value
4. Internal rate of return

I will discuss each of these techniques in a subsequent article as they differ substantially from each other and, to make matters worse, often give conflicting answers when applied to the appraisal of, say, two projects competing against each other for limited investment funds. (I didn’t say this would be easy did I? Hey, stick with it, we will get there!).

One final thought, in the shape of a question. If I offered you £10,000 now or £10,000 in a year’s time, which would you choose? The answer may be obvious to you but have a think about why-there are a number of issues involved (at least three) all of which will help in your understanding of capital investment appraisal techniques.


The above article seeks to expose the basics of investment appraisal in business-nothing more. Think of it as appetiser before the main course. In a subsequent article I will delve deeper into the techniques I have listed above and hopefully deepen your understanding of this important business topic.   

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Profit or Cash - which is more important?

Jim Stockton, Senior Lecturer in Finance at the Warrington School of Management (University of Chester), discusses profitability and liquidity planning – essential elements for every business to succeed!


There are many reasons why these failures occur-some relate to the lack of a coherent business strategy, some to the absence of a focussed market research but many are simply due to the absence of some rudimentary financial planning, or to be blunter, basic budgeting. This brief article seeks to point out some fundamentals on this often neglected skill or to quote Monty Python the “bleedin obvious”!


Budgets are generally regarded as having at least five areas of usefulness:-
  • Budgets tend to promote forward thinking and the identification of short term problems
  • Budgets can help, in larger businesses to co-ordinate activity and ensure a common understanding exits on priorities-for example there is little point in the sales team aiming to deliver optimistic targets if the production team have a different aim in mind
  • Budgets can motivate managers and staff to improve performance if “stretch “ goals are set
  • Budgets can help control a business-simply put does actual performance, measured monthly, compare favourably or adversely with the budget?
  • Budgets can also act as a means to authorise spending within a business
coinsThe purpose of this article is to concentrate on the difference between profit and cash flow or, put another way, highlight the fact that profitability AND liquidity are opposite sides of the same coin when it comes to business survival. Business may fail through lack of profitability but its running out of cash that actually sends them to the wall. Indeed it is entirely possible for a profitable business to go bust by failing to pro-actively manage cash flow (known as overtrading)


Let’s consider some basics-business has to generate profit in the medium to long term-after all, in our capitalist society, that is what it is all about-why take the risk otherwise? Business entrepreneurs see an opportunity in the market place to launch a product or service and to do so in a way that will generate a profit possibly with an idea or expertise that others will find difficult to copy. A business plan can be developed around this which should be capable of being expressed in financial terms-in other words- a profit forecast based on the sales compared to the cost of those sales. All pretty straightforward so far hopefully.    This forecast or budget can and should be expressed over a reasonable time scale and should be as detailed as possible especially in the early days of the business-certainly for the coming year (broken down into months) and hopefully for another two years after that in order to give a reasonable perspective on the future of the business.. Let’s assume our small business compiles a profit forecast and that it looks reasonable-losses can be incurred in the early months as long as the longer term position indicates future profitability on a sustained basis. This profit projection can be enhanced by compiling a forecast balance sheet which will indicate:-
  • The assets the business will own
  • The liabilities it will generate
  • The impact on the owners initial and subsequent investment
It is important at this stage to differentiate between the long term (investment in fixed assets such as premises, machinery and vehicles) and shorter term assets such as stock, debtors and free cash). Equally a distinction needs to be made between short term financing obtained by trade credit from suppliers and an authorised bank overdraft and longer term funding via a formal bank loan for example.

Cash flow/liquidity

It’s at this point where the cash flow forecast becomes important-even vital. Our profit forecast can and should indicate business profitability based on the assumptions made by the owner of the business. However the next question to be asked is how does this affect cash flow going forwards? Just because the profit forecast is positive does not mean that the business will generate a positive cash flow and enable the business to meet its short term liabilities which includes those nice people from HM Revenue and Customs as well as suppliers to the business. The profit forecasts need to be converted into cash flow forecasts that take account of:-
  • Credit terms to be granted to customers
  • Credit terms obtained from suppliers
  • Stock holding levels to prevent stock outs but avoid overstocking
  • Investment in longer terms business assets
  • Use of any agreed overdraft facility
  • Longer term financing facilities
Plugging this information into our cash flow forecast should reveal any problem areas regarding whether the business will run out of money or need to increase any of its financing sources i.e. additional overdraft facilities, a longer term loan arrangement or increased investment in the business from the owner. At this point, it should become clear whether the business has a chance of financial survival or whether a complete rethink is required concerning the business assumptions built into the profit forecasts. Sometimes numerous iterations are required (know rather grandly as “sensitivity analysis”) in order to arrive at a business plan that meets the business owners’ aspirations but is also grounded in commercial reality as far as the generation of cash is concerned.


This article is necessarily brief and skips conveniently over numerous issues in order to deliver a fundamental point-(remember Monty Python above?). Business must financially plan to in order to succeed and that planning must involve profit planning and liquidity planning. One without the other is a business disaster waiting to happen.  

  Jim Stockton, Senior Lecturer in Finance at the Warrington School of Management (University of Chester)