HURDLE RATES FOR FIRMS VERSUS HURDLE RATES FOR PROJECTS

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HURDLE RATES FOR FIRMS VERSUS HURDLE RATES FOR PROJECTS

In the previous chapter, we developed a process for estimating the costs of equity and capital for firms. In this chapter, we will extend the discussion to hurdle rates in the context of new or individual investments.

Using the Firm’s Hurdle Rate for Individual Projects

Can we use the costs of equity and capital that we have estimated for the firms for these projects? In some cases we can, but only if all investments made by a firm are similar in terms of their risk exposure.Asafirm’sinvestmentsbecomemorediverse,thefirmwillnolongerbeabletouseitscost of equity and capital to evaluate these projects. Projects that are riskier have to be assessed using a higher cost of equity and capital than projects that are safer. In this chapter, we consider how to estimate project costs of equity and capital.

What would happen if a firm chose to use its cost of equity and capital to evaluate projects with different risk profiles? This firm would find itself overinvesting in risky projects and under investing in safe projects. Overtime, the firm will be come riskier, as its safer businesses find themselves unable to compete with riskier businesses.

Cost of Equity for Projects

In assessing the beta for a project, we will consider three possible scenarios. The first scenario is the one where all the projects considered by a firm are similar in their exposure to risk; this homogeneity makes risk assessment simple. The second scenario is one in which a firm is in multiple businesses with different exposures to risk, but projects within each business have the same risk exposure. The third scenario is the most complicated wherein each project considered by a firm has a different exposure to risk.

  1. Single Business: Project Risk Similar within Business

When a firm operates in only one business and all projects within that business share the same risk profile, the firm can use its overall cost of equity as the cost of equity for the project. Because we estimated the cost of equity using a beta for the firm in Chapter4, this would mean that we would use the same beta to estimate the cost of equity for each project that the firm analyzes. The advantage of this approach is that it does not require risk estimation prior to everyproject, providing managers with a fixed benchmark for their project investments. The approach is restricting, though, because it can be usefully applied only to companies that are in one line of business and take on homogeneous projects.

  1. Multiple Businesses with Different Risk Profiles: Project Risk Similar within Each Business

When firms operate in more than one line of business, the risk profiles are likely to be different across different businesses. If we make the assumption that projects taken with in each business have the same risk profile, we can estimate the cost of equity for each business separately and use that cost of equity for all projects within that business. Riskier businesses will have higher costs of equity than safer businesses, and projects taken by riskier businesses will have to cover these higher costs. Imposing the firm’s cost of equity on all projects in all businesses will lead to overinvesting in risky businesses (because the cost of equity will be set too low) and underinvesting in safe businesses (because the cost of equity will be set too high).

How do we estimate the cost of equity for divisions or business lines? When the approach requires equity betas, we cannot fall back on the conventional regression approach (in the CAPM) or factor analysis (in the APM) because these approaches require past prices. Instead, we have to use one of the two approaches that we described in the last section as alternatives to regression betas—bottom-up betas based on other publicly traded firms in the same business, or accounting betas, estimated based on the accounting earnings for the division. In fact, we did estimate costs of equity and capital by business line, for Disney and Vale.

  1. Projects with Different Risk Profiles

As a purist, you could argue that each project’s risk profile is, in fact, unique and that it is inappropriate to use either the firm’s cost of equity or divisional costs of equity to assess projects. Although this may be true, you have to consider the trade off. Given that small differences in the cost of equity should not make a significant difference in your investment decisions, you have to consider whether the added benefits of analyzing each project individually exceed the costs of doing so.

When would it make sense to assess a project’s risk individually? If a project is large in terms of investment needs relative to the firm assessing it and has a very different risk profile from other investments in the firm, it would make sense to assess the cost of equity for the project independently. The only practical way of estimating betas and costs of equity for large, individual projects is the bottom-up beta approach, where you use the betas of publicly traded companies with similar risk profiles.

Cost of Debt for Projects

In the previous chapter, we noted that the cost of debt for a firm should reflect its default risk. With individual projects, the assessment of default risk becomes much more difficult, because projects seldom borrow on their own; most firms borrow money for all the projects that they undertake. There are three approaches to estimating the cost of debt for a project:

  1. One approach is based on the argument that because the borrowing is done by the firm rather than by individual projects, the cost of debt for a project should be the cost of debt for the firm considering the project. This approach makes the most sense when the projects being assessed are small relative to the firm taking them and thus have little or no appreciable effect on the firm’s default risk.
  2. The second is to assess at the default risk by looking at other firms that take similar projects, and using the typical cost of debt for these firms. This approach generally makes sense when the project is large in terms of its capital needs relative to the firm has different cash flow characteristics (both in terms of magnitude and volatility) from other investments taken by the firm.
  3. The third approach applies when a project actually borrows its own funds, with lenders having no recourse against the parent firm, in case the project defaults. This is unusual, but it can occur when investments have significant tangible assets of their own and the investment is large relative to the firm considering it. In this case, the cost of debt for the project can be assessed using its capacity to generate cash flows relative to its financing obligations. In the last chapter, we used the bond rating of a firm to come up with the cost of debt for the firm. Although projects may not be rated, we can still estimate a rating for a project based on financial ratios, and this can be used to estimate default risk and the cost of debt.
Financing Mix and Cost of Capital for Projects

To get from the costs of debt and equity to the cost of capital, we have to weight each by their relative proportions in financing. Again, the task is much easier at the firm level, where we use the current market values of debt and equity to arrive at these weights. We may borrow money to fund a project, but it is often not clear whether we are using the debt capacity of the project or the firm’s debt capacity. The solution to this problem will again vary depending on the scenario we face.

  1. When estimating the financing mix for smaller projects that do not alter the firm’s overall risk profile drastically, the weights for debt and equity in the cost of capital computation should reflect the firm’s overall debt ratio (either actual or target). The fact that an individual project is financed entirely with debt or with equity is no reason to compute a cost of capital with all debt or all equity weights. Infact, estimating costs of capital based upon how individual projects are funded will lead you to to over invest in debt-funded projects and under invest in equity-funded ones.
  2. When assessing the financing weights of large projects, with risk profiles different from that of the firm, we have to be more cautious. Using the firm’s financing mix to compute the cost of capital for these projects can be misleading, because the project being analyzed may be riskier than the firm as a whole and thus incapable of carrying the firm’s debt ratio. In this case, we would argue for the use of a debt ratio that is more reflective of the business the projects is in, rather than the firm’s overall debt ratio.
  3. The financing weights for stand alone projects that are large enough to issue their own debt should be based on the actual amounts borrowed by the projects. For firms with such projects, the financing weights can vary from project to projects, as will the cost of debt.

In summary, the cost of debt and debt ratio for a project will reflect the size of the project relative to the firm, and its risk profile, again relative to the firm. Table 5.1 summarizes our analyses.

Table 5.1 COST OF DEBT AND DEBT RATIO:PROJECT ANALYSES
Project Characteristics Cost of Debt Debt Ratio
Project is small and has cash flow characteristics similar to the firm Firm’s cost of debt Firm’s debt ratio
Project is large and has cash flow characteristics different from the firm Cost of debt of comparable firms (if nonrecourse debt) or the firm (if backed by the firm’s creditworthiness) Average debt ratio of comparable firms in the project’s sector
Stand-alone project Cost of debt for project (based on actual or synthetic ratings)

Debt ratio for project

 

 

 

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