An Improved Method for Valuing Mature Companies and Estimating Terminal Value

The theory underlying discounted cash flow (DCF) models is uncontroversial in academia. Nevertheless, in practice, DCF models are applied inconsistently with very different valuation results.

In David Holland’s article on discounted cash flow models from our JACF Winter issue the author writes that the theory underlying discounted cash flow (DCF) models is uncontroversial in academia, the economic intuition behind them is straightforward, and the mathematics reassuringly simple. Nevertheless, in practice, they are applied inconsistently with very different valuation results. Because of the assumed infinite life (“going concern”) of a business enterprise, DCF models implicitly assume the ability to forecast future cash flows forever. This forces analysts to make assumptions about the terminal period using simplistic metrics such as P/E or EV/EBITDA to estimate terminal values or to embed a perpetual stream of excess profitability and value creation in the terminal period.

The author offers an uncomplicated alternative to these unrealistic assumptions. The first step is to introduce an adjustable fade rate called f. A fade rate of 100% brings about immediate convergence, and a fade rate of 0% specifies no fade and perpetual excess profitability. The notion that excess profits get competed away over time can be modeled by assuming that the spread of (ROIC – r) fades to zero and that economic profit dissipates.

Intrinsic value is very sensitive to the fade rate assumption and this helps explain the risk premium for quality stocks. The risk of owning quality stocks is that they lose their economic moat and competitive advantage. An adjustable fade rate provides an excellent means to value the effect of profitability attenuation in a DCF model.

Authored by David Holland, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business

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