Having estimated the free cash flow produced over the forecast period, we need to come up with a reasonable idea of the value of the company's cash flows after that period - when the company has settled into middle-age and maturity. Remember, if we didn't include the value of long-term future cash flows, we would have to assume that the company stopped operating at the end of the five-year projection period.
The trouble is that it gets more difficult to forecast cash flows over time. It's hard enough to forecast cash flows over just five years, never mind over the entire future life of a company. To make the task a little easier, we use a "terminal value" approach that involves making some assumptions about long-term cash flow growth.
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There are several ways to estimate a terminal value of cash flows, but one well-worn method is to value the company as a perpetuity using the Gordon Growth Model. The model uses this formula:
Terminal Value = Final Projected Year Cash Flow X (1+Long-Term Cash Flow Growth Rate) (Discount Rate – Long-Term Cash Flow Growth Rate)
The formula simplifies the practical problem of projecting cash flows far into the future. But keep in mind that the formula rests on the big assumption that the cash flow of the last projected year will stabilize and continue at the same rate forever. This is an average of the growth rates, not one expected to occur every year into perpetuity. Some growth will be higher or lower, but the expectation is that future growth will average the long-term growth assumption.
Returning to the Widget Company, let's assume that the company's cash flows will grow in perpetuity by 4% per year. At first glance, 4% growth rate may seem low. But seen another way, 4% growth represents roughly double the 2% long-term rate of the U.S. economy into eternity.
In the section...