Skills to Develop
- Understand the impact of cash flows, qualitative factors, and ethical issues on long-term investment decisions.
Question: We have described the net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR) approaches to evaluating long-term investments. With both of these approaches, there are several important issues that must be considered. What are these important issues?
These issues include focusing on cash flows, factoring in inflation, assessing qualitative factors, and ethical considerations. All are described next.
Focusing on Cash Flows
Question: Which basis of accounting is used to calculate the NPV and IRR for long-term investments, cash or accrual?
Both methods of evaluating long-term investments, NPV and IRR, focus on the amount of cash flows and when the cash flows occur. Note that the timing of revenues and costs in financial accounting using the accrual basis is often not the same as when the cash inflows and outflows occur. A sale can be recorded in one period, and the cash be collected in a future period. Costs can occur in one period, and the cash be paid in a future period. For the purpose of making NPV and IRR calculations, managers typically use the time period when the cash flow occurs.
When a company invests in a long-term asset, such as a production building, the cash outflow for the asset is included in the NPV and IRR analyses. The depreciation taken on the asset in future periods is not a cash flow and is not included in the NPV and IRR calculations. However, there is a cash benefit related to depreciation (often called a depreciation tax shield) since income taxes paid are reduced as a result of recording depreciation expense. We explore the impact of income taxes on NPV and IRR calculations later in the chapter.
Factoring in Inflation
Question: Is inflation included in cash flow projections when calculating the NPV and IRR?
Most managers make cash flow projections that include an adjustment for inflation. When this is done, a rate must be used that also factors in inflation over the life of the investment. As discussed earlier in the chapter, the required rate of return used for NPV calculations is based on the firm’s cost of capital, which is the weighted average cost of debt and equity. Since the cost of debt and equity already includes the effect of inflation, no inflation adjustment is necessary when establishing the required rate of return.
The important point here is that cash flow projections must include adjustments for inflation to match the required rate of return, which already factors in inflation. If cash flows are not adjusted for inflation, managers are likely underestimating future cash flows and therefore underestimating the NPV of the investment opportunity. This is particularly pronounced for economies that have relatively high rates of inflation.
For the purposes of this chapter, assume all cash flows and required rates of return are adjusted for inflation.
Be Aware of Qualitative Factors
Question: So far, this chapter has focused on using cash flow projections and the time value of money to evaluate long-term investments. Using these quantitative factors to make decisions allows managers to support decisions with measurable data. For example, the investment opportunity at Jackson’s Quality Copies presented at the beginning of the chapter was accepted because the NPV of $1,250 was greater than 0, and the IRR of 11 percent was greater than the company’s required rate of return of 10 percent. Why do most companies also consider nonfinancial factors, often called qualitative factors, when making a long-term investment decision?
Although using quantitative factors for decision making is important, qualitative factors may outweigh the quantitative factors in making a decision. For example, a large manufacturer of medical devices recently invested several million dollars in a small start-up medical device firm. When asked about the NPV analysis, the manager responsible for the investment indicated, “My staff did a quick and dirty NPV analysis, which indicated we should not invest in the company. However, the technology they were using for their device was of such strategic importance to us, we could not pass up the investment.” This is an example of qualitative factors (strategic importance to the company) outweighing quantitative factors (negative NPV).
Similar situations often arise when companies must invest in long-term assets even though NPV and IRR analyses indicate otherwise. Here are a few examples:
- Investing in new production facilities may be essential to maintaining a reputation as the industry leader in innovation, even though the quantitative analysis (NPV and IRR) points to rejecting the investment. (It is difficult to quantify the benefits of being the “industry leader in innovation.”)
- Investing in pollution control devices for an oil refinery may provide social benefits even though the quantitative analysis (NPV and IRR) points to rejecting the investment. (Although a reduction in fines and legal costs may be quantifiable and included in the analyses, it is difficult to quantify the social benefits.)
- Investing in a new product line of entry-level automobiles may increase foot traffic at the showroom, resulting in increased sales of other products, even though the quantitative analysis (NPV and IRR) points to rejecting the investment. (It is difficult to quantify the impact of the new product line on sales of existing product lines.)
Clearly, managers must look at the financial information and analysis when considering whether to invest in long-term assets. However, the analysis does not stop with financial information. Managers and decision makers must also consider qualitative factors.
Question: Our discussion of NPV and IRR methods implies that managers can easily make capital budgeting decisions once NPV and IRR analyses are completed and qualitative factors have been considered. However, managers sometimes make decisions that are not in the best interest of the company. Why might managers make decisions that are not in the best interest of the company?
Several examples are provided next.
Short-Term Incentives Affect Long-Term Decisions
Managers are often evaluated and compensated based on annual financial results. The financial results are typically measured using financial accounting data prepared on an accrual basis.
Suppose you are a manager considering an investment opportunity to start a new product line that has a positive NPV. Because the NPV is positive, you should accept the investment proposal. However, revenues and related cash inflows are not significant until after the second year. In the first two years, revenues are low and depreciation charges are high, resulting in significantly lower overall company net income than if the project were rejected. Assuming you are evaluated and compensated based on annual net income, you may be inclined to reject the new product line regardless of the NPV analysis.
Many companies are aware of this conflict between the manager’s incentive to improve short-term results and the company’s goal to improve long-term results. To mitigate this conflict, some companies offer managers part ownership in the company (e.g., through stock options), creating an incentive to increase the value of the company over the long run.
Modifying Cash Flow Estimates to Get Approval
Managers often have a vested interest in getting proposals approved regardless of NPV and IRR results. For example, assume a manager spent several years developing a plan to construct a new production facility. Because of the significant work involved, and the projected benefits of building a new facility, the manager wants to see the proposal approved. However, the NPV analysis indicates the production facility proposal does not meet the company’s minimum required rate of return. As a result, the manager decides to inflate projected cash inflows to get a positive NPV, and the project is approved.
Clearly, a conflict exists between the company’s desire to accept projects that meet or exceed the required rate of return and the manager’s desire to get approval for a “pet” project regardless of its profitability. Again, having part ownership in a company provides an incentive for managers to reject proposals that will not increase the value of the company.
Another way to mitigate this conflict is to conduct a postaudit9, which compares the original capital budget with the actual results. Managers who provide misleading capital budget analyses are identified through this process. Postaudits provide an incentive for managers to provide accurate estimates.
Although accountants are responsible for providing relevant and objective financial information to help managers make decisions, several important factors play a significant role in the decisionmaking process as described here:
- NPV and IRR analyses use cash flows to evaluate long-term investments rather than the accrual basis of accounting.
- Cash flow projections must include adjustments for inflation to match the required rate of return, which already factor in inflation.
- Using quantitative factors to make decisions allows managers to support decisions with measurable data. However, nonfinancial factors (often called qualitative factors) must be considered as well.
- Circumstances sometimes exist that cause managers to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the company. For example, managers may be evaluated on short-term financial results even though it is in the best interest of the company to invest in projects that are profitable in the long term. Thus projects that reduce short-term profitability in lieu of significant long-term profits may be rejected.
REVIEW PROBLEM 8.4
- Why must cash flow projections include adjustments for inflation?
- Why is it important for organizations to consider qualitative factors when making capital budgeting decisions?
- Assume the manager of Best Electronics earns an annual bonus based on meeting a certain level of net income. The company is currently considering expanding by adding a second retail store. The second store is expected to become profitable three years after opening. The manager is responsible for making the final decision as to whether the second store should be opened and would be in charge of both stores.
- Why might the manager refuse to invest in the new store even though the investment is projected to achieve a return greater than the company’s required rate of return?
- What can the company do to mitigate the conflict between the manager’s interest of achieving the bonus and the company’s desire to accept investments that exceed the required rate of return?
- Projected cash flows must include an adjustment for inflation to match the required rate of return. The required rate of return is based on the company’s weighted average cost of debt and equity. The cost of debt and equity already factors in inflation. Thus the cash flows must also factor in inflation to be consistent with the required rate of return.
- Although managers prefer to make capital budgeting decisions based on quantifiable data (e.g., using NPV or IRR), nonfinancial factors may outweigh financial factors. For example, maintaining a reputation as the industry leader may require investing in long-term assets, even though the investment does not meet the minimum required rate of return. The management believes the qualitative factor of being the industry leader is critical to the company’s future success and decides to make the investment.
- Best Electronics is considering opening a second store.
- The manager’s bonus is based on achieving a certain level of net income each year, and the new store will likely cause net income to decrease in the first two years. Thus the manager may not be able to achieve the net income necessary to qualify for the bonus if the company invests in the new store.
- To mitigate this conflict, Best Electronics can offer the manager part ownership in the company (perhaps through stock options). This would provide an incentive for the manager to increase profit—and therefore company value—over many years. The company may also adjust the net income required to earn a bonus to account for the losses expected in the new store for the first two years.
- Compares the original capital budget with the actual results.