Updated June, 2023
Capital Budgeting Basics
Capital investments are long-term investments in which the assets involved have useful lives of multiple years. For example, constructing a new production facility and investing in machinery and equipment are capital investments. Capital budgeting is a method of estimating the ﬁnancial viability of a capital investment over the life of the investment.
Unlike some other types of investment analysis, capital budgeting focuses on cash ﬂows rather than proﬁts. Capital budgeting involves identifying the cash in ﬂows and cash out ﬂows rather than accounting revenues and expenses ﬂowing from the investment. For example, non-expense items like debt principal payments are included in capital budgeting because they are cash ﬂow transactions. Conversely, non-cash expenses like depreciation are not included in capital budgeting (except to the extent they impact tax calculations for "after tax" cash ﬂows) because they are not cash transactions. Instead, the cash ﬂow expenditures associated with the actual purchase and/or ﬁnancing of a capital asset are included in the analysis.
Over the long run, capital budgeting and conventional proﬁt-and-loss analysis will lend to similar net values. However, capital budgeting methods include adjustments for the time value of money (discussed in AgDM File C5-96, Understanding the Time Value of Money). Capital investments create cash ﬂows that are often spread over several years into the future. To accurately assess the value of a capital investment, the timing of the future cash ﬂows are taken into account and converted to the current time period (present value).
Below are the steps involved in capital budgeting.
- Identify long-term goals of the individual or business.
- Identify potential investment proposals for meeting the long-term goals identiﬁed in Step 1.
- Estimate and analyze the relevant cash ﬂows of the investment proposal identiﬁed in Step 2.
- Determine ﬁnancial feasibility of each of the investment proposals in Step 3 by using the capital budgeting methods outlined below.
- Choose the projects to implement from among the investment proposals outlined in Step 4.
- Implement the projects chosen in Step 5.
- Monitor the projects implemented in Step 6 as to how they meet the capital budgeting projections and make adjustments where needed.
There are several capital budgeting analysis methods that can be used to determine the economic feasibility of a capital investment. They include the Payback Period, Discounted Payment Period, Net Present Value, Proﬁtability Index, Internal Rate of Return, and Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return.
A simple method of capital budgeting is the Payback Period. It represents the amount of time required for the cash ﬂows generated by the investment to repay the cost of the original investment. For example, assume that an investment of $600 will generate annual cash ﬂows of $100 per year for 10 years. The number of years required to recoup the investment is six years.
The Payback Period analysis provides insight into the liquidity of the investment (length of time until the investment funds are recovered). However, the analysis does not include cash ﬂow payments beyond the payback period. In the example above, the investment generates cash ﬂows for an additional four years beyond the six year payback period. The value of these four cash ﬂows is not included in the analysis. Suppose the investment generates cash ﬂow payments for 15 years rather than 10. The return from the investment is much greater because there are ﬁve more years of cash ﬂows. However, the analysis does not take this into account and the Payback Period is still six years.
Three capital projects are outlined in Table 1. Each requires an initial $1,000 investment. But each project varies in the size and number of cash ﬂows generated. Project C has the shortest Payback Period of two years. Project B has the next shortest Payback (almost three years) and Project A has the longest (four years). However, Project A generates the most return ($2,500) of the three projects. Project C, with the shortest Payback Period, generates the least return ($1,500). Thus, the Payback Period method is most useful for comparing projects with nearly equal lives.
Discounted Payback Period
The Payback Period analysis does not take into account the time value of money. To correct for this deﬁciency, the Discounted Payback Period method was created. As shown in Figure 1, this method discounts the future cash ﬂows back to their present value so the investment and the stream of cash ﬂows can be compared at the same time period. Each of the cash ﬂows is discounted over the number of years from the time of the cash ﬂow payment to the time of the original investment. For example, the ﬁrst cash ﬂow is discounted over one year and the ﬁfth cash ﬂow is discounted over ﬁve years.
To properly discount a series of cash ﬂows, a discount rate must be established. The discount rate for a company may represent its cost of capital or the potential rate of return from an alternative investment.
The discounted cash ﬂows for Project B in Table 1 are shown in Table 2. Assuming a 10 percent discount rate, the $350 cash ﬂow in year one has a present value of $318 (350/1.10) because it is only discounted over one year. Conversely, the $350 cash ﬂow in year ﬁve has a present value of only $217 (350/1.10/1.10/1.10/1.10/1.10) because it is discounted over ﬁve years. The nominal value of the stream of ﬁve years of cash ﬂows is $1,750 but the present value of the cash ﬂow stream is only $1,326.
In Table 3, a Discounted Payback Period analysis is shown using the same three projects outlined in Table 1, except the cash ﬂows are now discounted. You can see that it takes longer to repay the investment when the cash ﬂows are discounted. For example, it takes 3.54 years rather than 2.86 years (.68 of a year longer) to repay the investment in Project B. Discounting has an even larger impact for investments with a long stream of relatively small cash ﬂows like Project A. It takes an additional 1.37 years to repay Project A when the cash ﬂows are discounted. It should be noted that although Project A has the longest Discounted Payback Period, it also has the largest discounted total return of the three projects ($1,536).
Net Present Value
The Net Present Value (NPV) method involves discounting a stream of future cash ﬂows back to present value. The cash ﬂows can be either positive (cash received) or negative (cash paid). The present value of the initial investment is its full face value because the investment is made at the beginning of the time period. The ending cash ﬂow includes any monetary sale value or remaining value of the capital asset at the end of the analysis period, if any. The cash inﬂows and outﬂows over the life of the investment are then discounted back to their present values.
The Net Present Value is the amount by which the present value of the cash inﬂows exceeds the present value of the cash outﬂows. Conversely, if the present value of the cash outﬂows exceeds the present value of the cash inﬂows, the Net Present Value is negative. From a different perspective, a positive (negative) Net Present Value means that the rate of return on the capital investment is greater (less) than the discount rate used in the analysis.
The discount rate is an integral part of the analysis. The discount rate can represent several different approaches for the company. For example, it may represent the cost of capital such as the cost of borrowing money to ﬁnance the capital expenditure or the cost of using the company’s internal funds. It may represent the rate of return needed to attract outside investment for the capital project. Or it may represent the rate of return the company can receive from an alternative investment. The discount rate may also reﬂect the Threshold Rate of Return (TRR) required by the company before it will move forward with a capital investment. The Threshold Rate of Return may represent an acceptable rate of return above the cost of capital to entice the company to make the investment. It may reﬂect the risk level of the capital investment. Or it may reﬂect other factors important to the company. Choosing the proper discount rate is important for an accurate Net Present Value analysis.
A simple example using two discount rates is shown in Table 4. If the ﬁve percent discount rate is used, the Net Present Value is positive and the project is accepted. If the 10 percent rate is used, the Net Present Value is negative and the project is rejected.
Another measure to determine the acceptability of a capital investment is the Proﬁtability Index (PI). The Proﬁtability Index is computed by dividing the present value of cash inﬂows of the capital investment by the present value of cash outﬂows of the capital investment. If the Proﬁtability Index is greater than one, the capital investment is accepted. If it is less than one, the capital investment is rejected.
A Proﬁtability Index analysis is shown with two discount rates (5% and 10%) in Table 5. The Proﬁtability Index is positive (greater than one) with the ﬁve percent discount rate. The Proﬁtability Index is negative (less than one) with 10% discount rate. If the Proﬁtability Index is greater than one, the investment is accepted. If it is less than one, it is rejected.
The Proﬁtability Index is a variation of the Net Present Value approach to comparing projects. Although the Proﬁtability Index does not stipulate the amount of cash return from a capital investment, it does provide the cash return per dollar invested. The index can be thought of as the discounted cash inﬂow per dollar of discounted cash outﬂow. For example, the index at the ﬁve percent discount rate returns $1.10 of discounted cash inﬂow per dollar of discounted cash outﬂow. The index at the 10% discount rate returns only 94.5 cents of discounted cash inﬂow per dollar of discounted cash outﬂow. Because it is an analysis of the ratio of cash inﬂow per unit of cash outﬂow, the Proﬁtability Index is useful for comparing two or more projects which have very different magnitudes of cash ﬂows.
Internal Rate of Return
Another method of analyzing capital investments is the Internal Rate of Return (IRR). The Internal Rate of Return is the rate of return from the capital investment. In other words, the Internal Rate of Return is the discount rate that makes the Net Present Value equal to zero. As with the Net Present Value analysis, the Internal Rate of Return can be compared to a Threshold Rate of Return to determine if the investment should move forward.
An Internal Rate of Return analysis for two investments is shown in Table 6. The Internal Rate of Return of Project A is 7.9%. If the Internal Rate of Return (e.g. 7.9%) is above the Threshold Rate of Return (e.g. 7%), the capital investment is accepted. If the Internal Rate of Return (e.g. 7.9%) is below the Threshold Rate of Return (e.g. 9%), the capital investment is rejected. However, if the company is choosing between projects, Project B will be chosen because it has a higher Internal Rate of Return.
The Internal Rate of Return analysis is commonly used in business analysis. However, a precaution should be noted. It involves the cash surpluses/deﬁcits during the analysis period. As long as the initial investment is a cash outﬂow and the trailing cash ﬂows are all inﬂows, the Internal Rate of Return method is accurate. However, if the trailing cash ﬂows ﬂuctuate between positive and negative cash ﬂows, the possibility exists that multiple Internal Rates of Return may be computed.
Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return
Another problem with the Internal Rate of Return method is that it assumes that cash ﬂows during the analysis period will be reinvested at the Internal Rate of Return. If the Internal Rate of Return is substantially different than the rate at which the cash ﬂows can be reinvested, the results will be skewed.
To understand this we must further investigate the process by which a series of cash ﬂows are discounted to their present value. As an example, the third year cash ﬂow in Figure 2 is shown discounted to the current time period.
However, to accurately discount a future cash ﬂow, it must be analyzed over the entire ﬁve year time period. So, as shown in Figure 3, the cash ﬂow received in year three must be compounded for two years to a future value for the ﬁfth year and then discounted over the entire ﬁve-year period back to the present time. If the interest rate stays the same over the compounding and discounting years, the compounding from year three to year ﬁve is offset by the discounting from year ﬁve to year three. So, only the discounting from year three to the present time is relevant for the analysis (Figure 2).
For the Discounted Payback Period and the Net Present Value analysis, the discount rate (the rate at which debt can be repaid or the potential rate of return received from an alternative investment) is used for both the compounding and discounting analysis. So only the discounting from the time of the cash ﬂow to the present time is relevant.
However, the Internal Rate of Return analysis involves compounding the cash ﬂows at the Internal Rate of Return. If the Internal Rate of Return is high, the company may not be able to reinvest the cash ﬂows at this level. Conversely, if the Internal Rate of Return is low, the company may be able to reinvest at a higher rate of return. So, a Reinvestment Rate of Return (RRR) needs to be used in the compounding period (the rate at which debt can be repaid or the rate of return received from an alternative investment). The Internal Rate of Return is then the rate used to discount the compounded value in year ﬁve back to the present time.
The Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return for two $10,000 investments with annual cash ﬂows of $2,500 and $3,000 is shown in Table 7. The Internal Rates of Return for the projects are 7.9% and 15.2%, respectively. However, if we modify the analysis where cash ﬂows are reinvested at 7%, the Modiﬁed Internal Rates of Return of the two projects drop to 7.5% and 11.5%, respectively. If we further modify the analysis where cash ﬂows are reinvested at 9%, the ﬁrst Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return rises to 8.4% and the second only drops to 12.4%. If the Reinvestment Rate of Return is lower than the Internal Rate of Return, the Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return will be lower than the Internal Rate of Return. The opposite occurs if the Reinvestment Rate of Return is higher than the Internal Rate of Return. In this case the Modiﬁed Internal Rate of Return will be higher than the Internal Rate of Return.
Comparison of Methods
For a comparison of the six capital budgeting methods, two capital investments projects are presented in Table 8 for analysis. The ﬁrst is a $300,000 investment that returns $100,000 per year for ﬁve years. The other is a $2 million investment that returns $600,000 per year for ﬁve years.
Both projects have Payback Periods well within the ﬁve year time period. Project A has the shortest Payback Period of three years and Project B is only slightly longer. When the cash ﬂows are discounted (10%) to compute a Discounted Payback Period, the time period needed to repay the investment is longer. Project B now has a repayment period over four years in length and comes close to consuming the entire cash ﬂows from the ﬁve year time period.
The Net Present Value of Project B is $275,000 compared to only $79,000 for Project A. If only one investment project will be chosen and funds are unlimited, Project B is the preferred investment because it will increase the value of the company by $275,000.
However, Project A provides more return per dollar of investment as shown with the Proﬁtability Index ($1.26 for Project A versus $1.14 for Project B). So if funds are limited, Project A will be chosen.
Both projects have a high Internal Rate of Return (Project A has the highest). If only one capital project is accepted, it’s Project A. Alternatively, the company may accept projects based on a Threshold Rate of Return. This may involve accepting both or neither of the projects depending on the size of the Threshold Rate of Return.
When the Modified Internal Rates of Return are computed, both rates of return are lower than their corresponding Internal Rates of Return. However, the rates are above the Reinvestment Rate of Return of 10%. As with the Internal Rate of Return, the Project with the higher Modified Internal Rate of Return will be selected if only one project is accepted. Or the modified rates may be compared to the company’s Threshold Rate of Return to determine which projects will be accepted.
Each of the capital budgeting methods outlined has advantages and disadvantages. The Payback Period is simple and shows the liquidity of the investment. But it doesn’t account for the time value of money or the value of cash flows received after the payback period. The Discounted Payback Period incorporates the time value of money but still doesn’t account for cash flows received after the payback period. The Net Present Value analysis provides a dollar denominated present value return from the investment.
However, it has little value for comparing investments of different size. The Profitability Index is a variation on the Net Present Value analysis that shows the cash return per dollar invested, which is valuable for comparing projects. However, many analysts prefer to see a percentage return on an investment. For this the Internal Rate of Return can be computed. But the company may not be able to reinvest the internal cash flows at the Internal Rate of Return. Therefore, the Modified Internal Rate of Return analysis may be used.
Which capital budgeting method should you use? Each one has unique advantages and disadvantages, and companies often use all of them. Each one provides a different perspective on the capital investment decision.
Don Hofstrand, retired extension value added agriculture specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org