The Value of Stocks of a Company

 

The debate rages all over Eastern and Central Europe, in countries in transition as well as in Western Europe. It raged in Britain during the 80s: Is privatization really the robbery in disguise of state assets by a select few, cronies of the political regime? Margaret Thatcher was accuse of it - and so was the Agency of Transformation in the Republic of Macedonia. At what price should the companies owned by the State have been sold? This question is not as simple and straight forward as it sounds.

There is a gigantic stock pricing mechanism known as the Stock Exchange. Willing buyers and willing sellers meet there to freely negotiate deals of stock purchases and sale. Every day new information, macro-economic and micro-economic, determines the value of companies.

Greenspan testifies, the economic figures are too good to be true and the rumour mill starts working: interest rates might go up. The stock market reacts with a frenzy - it crashes. Why?

Moreover: the price of the stock prices of companies A with an identical size, similar financial ratios (and in the same industry) barely budges. Why didn't it display the same behaviour?

We say that the stocks of the two companies have different elasticity (their prices move up and down differently), probably the result of different sensitivities to changes in interest rates and in earnings estimates. But this is just to rename the problem. The question remains: why? Why do the shares of similar companies react differently?

Economy is a branch of psychology and wherever and whenever humans are involved, answers don't come easy. A few models have been developed and are in wide use but it is difficult to say that any of them has real predictive or even explanatory value. Some of these models are "technical" in nature: they ignore the fundamentals of the company. Such models assume that all the relevant information is already incorporated in the price of the stock and that changes in expectations, hopes, fears and attitudes will be reflected in the prices immediately. Others are fundamental: these models rely on the company's performance and assets. The former models are applicable mostly to companies whose shares are traded publicly, in stock exchanges. They are not very useful in trying to attach a value to the stock of a private firm. The latter type (fundamental) models can be applied more broadly.

The value of a stock (a bond, a firm, real estate, or any asset) is the sum of the income (cash flow) that a reasonable investor would expect to get in the future, discounted at the appropriate discount (usually, interest) rates. The discounting reflects the fact that money received in the future has lower (discounted) purchasing power than money received now. Moreover, we can invest money received now and get interest on it (which should normally equal the discount). Put differently: the discount reflects the loss in purchasing power of money not received at present or the interest that we lose by not being able to invest the money currently (because we will receive it only in the future). This is the time value of money. Another problem is the uncertainty of future payments, or the risk that we will not receive them. The longer the period, the higher the risk, of course. A model exists which links the time, the value of the stock, the cash flows expected in the future and the discount (interest) rates.

The supply of a stock and, to a lesser extent, the demand for it determine its distribution (how many shareowners are there) and, as a result, its liquidity. Liquidity means how freely can one buy and sell it and at which quantities sought or sold do prices become rigid. Example: if a lot of shares is sold that gives the buyer the control of a company - the buyer will normally pay a "control premium". Another example: in thin markets it is easier to manipulate the price of a stock by artificially increasing the demand or decreasing the supply ("cornering" the market).

In a liquid market (no problems to buy and to sell), the discount rate is made up of two elements: one is the risk-free rate (normally, the interest payable on government bonds), the other being the risk related rate (the rate which reflects the risk related to the specific stock).

But: what is this risk rate?

The most widely used model to evaluate specific risks is the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM).

According to it, the discount rate is the risk-free rate plus a coefficient (called beta) multiplied by a risk premium general to all stocks (in the USA it was calculated to be 5.5%). Beta is a measure of the volatility of the return of the stock relative to that of the return of the market. A stock's Beta can be obtained by calculating the coefficient of the regression line between the weekly returns of the stock and those of the stock market during a selected period of time.

Unfortunately, different betas can be calculated by selecting different parameters (for instance, the length of the period on which the calculation is performed). Another problem is that betas change with every new datum. Professionals resort to sensitivity tests which neutralize the changes that betas undergo with time.

Still, with all its shortcomings and disputed assumptions, the CAPM should be used to determine the discount rate. But to use the discount rate we must have what to discount, future cash flows.

The only relatively certain cash flows are the dividends paid to the shareholders. So, Dividend Discount Models (DDM) were developed.

Other models relate to the projected growth of the company (which is supposed to increase the payable dividends and to cause the stock to appreciate in value).

While some companies pay dividends (some even borrow to do so), others just do not pay. So in stock valuation, dividends are not the only future incomes you expect to get. Capital gains (profits which are the result of the appreciation in the value of the stock) also count. This is the result of expectations regarding the firm's free cash flow, in particular the free cash flow that goes to the shareholders.

There is no agreement as to what constitutes free cash flow. In general, it is the cash which a firm has after sufficiently investing in its development, research and (predetermined) growth. Cash Flow Statements have become a standard accounting requirement in the 80s (starting with the USA). Because "free" cash flow can be easily extracted from these reports, stock valuation based on free cash flow became increasingly popular and feasible. It is considered independent of the idiosyncratic parameters of different international environments and therefore applicable to multinationals or to national firms which export.

The free cash flow of a firm that is debt-financed solely by its shareholders belongs solely to them. Free cash flow to equity (FCFE) is:

FCFE = Operating Cash Flow MINUS Cash needed for meeting growth targets

Where

Operating Cash Flow = Net Income (NI) PLUS Depreciation and Amortization

Cash needed for meeting growth targets = Capital Expenditures + Change in Working Capital

Working Capital = Total Current Assets - Total Current Liabilities

Change in Working Capital = One Year's Working Capital MINUS Previous Year's Working Capital

The complete formula is:

FCFE = Net Income PLUS

Depreciation and Amortization MINUS

Capital Expenditures PLUS

Change in Working Capital.

A leveraged firm that borrowed money from other sources (could also be preferred stockholders) has a different free cash flow to equity. Its CFCE must be adjusted to reflect the preferred dividends and principal repayments of debt (MINUS sign) and the proceeds from new debt and preferred stocks (PLUS sign). If its borrowings are sufficient to pay the dividends to the holders of preference shares and to service its debt - its debt to capital ratio is sound.

The FCFE of a leveraged firm is:

FCFE = Net Income PLUS

Depreciation and Amortization MINUS

Principal Repayment of Debt MINUS

Preferred Dividends PLUS

Proceeds from New Debt and Preferred MINUS

Capital Expenditures MINUS

Changes in Working Capital.

A sound debt ratio means:

FCFE = Net Income MINUS

(1 - Debt Ratio)*(Capital Expenditures MINUS

Depreciation and Amortization PLUS

Change in Working Capital).

Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and "After the Rain - How the West Lost the East". He is a columnist in "Central Europe Review", United Press International (UPI) and ebookweb. org and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope. com. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

 



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