Capital budgeting, which is also called "investment appraisal," is the planning process used to determine which of an organization's long term investments such as new machinery, replacement machinery, new plants, new products, and research development projects are worth pursuing. It is to budget for major capital investments or expenditures.
Many formal methods are used in capital budgeting, including the techniques as followed:
- Net present value
- Internal rate of return
- Payback period
- Profitability index
- Equivalent annuity
- Real options analysis
Net Present Value
Net present value (NPV) is used to estimate each potential project's value by using a discounted cash flow (DCF) valuation. This valuation requires estimating the size and timing of all the incremental cash flows from the project. The NPV is greatly affected by the discount rate, so selecting the proper rate–sometimes called the hurdle rate–is critical to making the right decision.
This should reflect the riskiness of the investment, typically measured by the volatility of cash flows, and must take into account the financing mix. Managers may use models, such as the CAPM or the APT, to estimate a discount rate appropriate for each particular project, and use the weighted average cost of capital(WACC) to reflect the financing mix selected. A common practice in choosing a discount rate for a project is to apply a WACC that applies to the entire firm, but a higher discount rate may be more appropriate when a project's risk is higher than the risk of the firm as a whole.
Internal Rate of Return
The internal rate of return (IRR) is defined as the discount rate that gives a net present value (NPV) of zero. It is a commonly used measure of investment efficiency.
The IRR method will result in the same decision as the NPV method for non-mutually exclusive projects in an unconstrained environment, in the usual cases where a negative cash flow occurs at the start of the project, followed by all positive cash flows. Nevertheless, for mutually exclusive projects, the decision rule of taking the project with the highest IRR, which is often used, may select a project with a lower NPV.
One shortcoming of the IRR method is that it is commonly misunderstood to convey the actual annual profitability of an investment. Accordingly, a measure called "Modified Internal Rate of Return (MIRR)" is often used.
Payback period in capital budgeting refers to the period of time required for the return on an investment to "repay" the sum of the original investment. Payback period intuitively measures how long something takes to "pay for itself." All else being equal, shorter payback periods are preferable to longer payback periods.
The payback period is considered a method of analysis with serious limitations and qualifications for its use, because it does not account for the time value of money, risk, financing, or other important considerations, such as the opportunity cost.
Profitability index (PI), also known as profit investment ratio (PIR) and value investment ratio (VIR), is the ratio of payoff to investment of a proposed project. It is a useful tool for ranking projects, because it allows you to quantify the amount of value created per unit of investment.
The equivalent annuity method expresses the NPV as an annualized cash flow by dividing it by the present value of the annuity factor. It is often used when comparing investment projects of unequal lifespans. For example, if project A has an expected lifetime of seven years, and project B has an expected lifetime of 11 years, it would be improper to simply compare the net present values (NPVs) of the two projects, unless the projects could not be repeated.
Real Options Analysis
The discounted cash flow methods essentially value projects as if they were risky bonds, with the promised cash flows known. But managers will have many choices of how to increase future cash inflows or to decrease future cash outflows. In other words, managers get to manage the projects, not simply accept or reject them. Real options analysis try to value the choices–the option value–that the managers will have in the future and adds these values to the NPV.
These methods use the incremental cash flows from each potential investment or project. Techniques based on accounting earnings and accounting rules are sometimes used. Simplified and hybrid methods are used as well, such as payback period and discounted payback period.