Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Jose Gomez-Ibanez. The Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) (referred as “Regulator Tocs” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Finance & Accounting. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Entrepreneurship, Financial management, International business, Policy, Regulation, Strategic planning.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) Case Study

This case describes the first four years of John Swift's tenure as Britain's Rail Regulator and the issues he faced in the fall of 1997. The post of Rail Regulator had been created by the Railway Act of 1993, as part of a plan to break up and privatize the national railway, British Rail, into approximately 70 companies; these included one infrastructure company, 25 passenger train operating companies (TOCs), seven freight TOCs, and over a dozen rolling stock and maintenance companies. The Regulator's primary job was to review the access charges and agreements between the monopoly infrastructure company, Railtrack, and the TOCs. In the fall of 1997, the Regulator was trying to get Railtrack to live up to some investment promises that it had made during its first access charge review and was preparing for the next access charge review. In addition, the Labor Party had won control of Parliament in the May 1997 elections, ending 18 consecutive years of Conservative Party rule, and the Regulator was trying to establish a working relationship with the new Labor government. The case is intended to support a discussion of the analytical challenges and political pressures facing a regulator of a newly privatized industry. The instructor may focus the class discussion on the difficulties that the regulator faces in determining the appropriate access charges, including strategies for gathering the information he needs. Alternatively, the instructor can focus on the extent to which the regulator is insulated from politics in practice, and what his political strategy should be. HKS Case Number 1533.3

Case Authors : Jose Gomez-Ibanez

Topic : Finance & Accounting

Related Areas : Entrepreneurship, Financial management, International business, Policy, Regulation, Strategic planning

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10016728) -10016728 - -
Year 1 3453364 -6563364 3453364 0.9434 3257891
Year 2 3965827 -2597537 7419191 0.89 3529572
Year 3 3966119 1368582 11385310 0.8396 3330030
Year 4 3241633 4610215 14626943 0.7921 2567677
TOTAL 14626943 12685169

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2668441

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Internal Rate of Return
2. Profitability Index
3. Net Present Value
4. Payback Period

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Regulator Tocs shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Regulator Tocs have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged)

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Finance & Accounting Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Regulator Tocs often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Regulator Tocs needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10016728) -10016728 - -
Year 1 3453364 -6563364 3453364 0.8696 3002925
Year 2 3965827 -2597537 7419191 0.7561 2998735
Year 3 3966119 1368582 11385310 0.6575 2607788
Year 4 3241633 4610215 14626943 0.5718 1853414
TOTAL 10462862

The Net NPV after 4 years is 446134

(10462862 - 10016728 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10016728) -10016728 - -
Year 1 3453364 -6563364 3453364 0.8333 2877803
Year 2 3965827 -2597537 7419191 0.6944 2754047
Year 3 3966119 1368582 11385310 0.5787 2295208
Year 4 3241633 4610215 14626943 0.4823 1563288
TOTAL 9490345

The Net NPV after 4 years is -526383

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9490345 - 10016728 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Regulator Tocs to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Regulator Tocs has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Regulator Tocs can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Regulator Tocs, then the stock price of the Regulator Tocs should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Regulator Tocs should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Jose Gomez-Ibanez (2018), "Office of the Rail Regulator (Abridged) Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.