Case 23

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23
Evaluating Project Risk
It’s Better to Be Safe Than Sorry!
“It’s amazing how much difference there is in the way proposals are presented at two different firms,” said John Woods to his assistant, Pete Madsen, as he pointed to the stack of capital investment proposals piled on his desk. “We sure have our work cut out for us, Pete. I need you to collect some data for me as soon as possible. ” John Woods, had recently been hired as the Assistant Vice President of Finance of Mid-West Home Products. His past experience included a seven-year stint with another large consumer products firm. His career had been very successful, thus far, as he had gone from being a financial analyst to an Assistant Vice-President of Finance in a little over seven years. John, who held an undergraduate degree in Accounting and an MBA in Finance from nationally recognized business schools, preferred to follow a conservative policy when analyzing capital investment projects. Most of the projects that he had analyzed and got approved had turned out to be profitable for his former employers.

At a recent meeting of the Capital Investment Committee, which was the primary group responsible for approving proposals at Mid-West Home products, the five divisional managers had presented proposals that had cost estimates ranging from $250,000 to $750,000. All five proposals were shown to have positive net present values (NPVs) and fairly high internal rates of return (IRRs). Moreover, the cost and revenue figures seemed to be conservatively arrived at and all five proposals seemed to have good overall strategic value. However, upon careful deliberation and reflection, it was learned that the divisional managers had used the cost of debt as the minimum acceptable rate of return whilst evaluating their respective projects. The company had issued 20-year, 8% bonds, at par, last year and that rate was used as the hurdle rate under the assumption that additional funds could be raised at the same rate. There was considerable argument, confusion, and dissent at the meeting, when John brought up the issue of the firm’s target capital structure and raised concerns that the hurdle rate for each project could vary depending on the total capital raised by the firm. It was clear that there was a lack of full understanding and consensus about cost of capital issues among the 5 divisional managers, most of whom did not have a finance background. Sensing that the meeting was going nowhere, the Chief Financial Officer, Sean Walker, said, “John, why don’t you take these proposals, re-evaluate them based on appropriate discount rates, and present your recommendations at our next week’s committee meeting. I’m sure you all will agree with me, that it is better to be safe than sorry!” John started his analysis by listing the estimated cost, economic life, and internal rate of return of each proposal as shown in Table 1. He then collected data regarding the current prices, preferred dividend rate, retention ratio, and number of issues outstanding of the firm’s bonds, preferred stock, and common stock (see Table 2). For this purpose, John referred to the latest income statement (shown in Table 3), balance sheet (see Table 4) and the Internet. A call to the firm’s investment banker helped John obtain estimates of flotation costs that would apply based on the type of issue (see Table 5). As he crunched the numbers, John realized that he would need the following estimates:

1. The firm’s expected growth rate of sales, earnings and
dividends;
2. The expected return on the market index;
3. The Treasury bill rate, and
4. The firm’s beta.
This is the list he passed on to his assistant, Pete.

Table 1
Project Information
Project Cost IRR Estimated Life NPV @ 8%
A $ 500,000 20% 5 Years $ 346,754.39
B $ 750,000 12% 4 Years $ 117,437.77
C $ 250,000 16% 3...
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