International Paper's Black Liquor Credit 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 International Paper's Black Liquor Credit case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. International Paper's Black Liquor Credit case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Lisa De Simone, John R. Robinson, Bridget Stomberg. The International Paper's Black Liquor Credit (referred as “Refundable Paper” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Finance & Accounting. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Financial management, Policy.

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 International Paper's Black Liquor Credit Case Study

In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (AJCA). Several corporate benefits were included in this sweeping legislation, including the introduction of tax credits to encourage the development and use of alcohol and biodiesel fuels. Specifically, the Alternative Fuel Mixture Credit (AFMC) was structured as a refundable excise tax credit equal to 50 cents per gallon of alternative fuel produced. In 2008, paper manufacturers recognized an opportunity. If they added diesel fuel-which is not considered an alternative or clean fuel source-to black liquor, a natural byproduct of paper pulp processing, the resulting substance would be classified as an alternative fuel mixture that could potentially qualify for the AFMC. By mid-2009, every public company in the U.S. paper processing industry was receiving these credits. Because the credits were "refundable," and firms in the struggling paper industry did not have taxable income, the AFMCs generated tax savings from the U.S. Treasury totaling $6.4 billion, some of which was received in cash. This case examines the arguments around whether the refundable credits are taxable and discusses Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Interpretation No. 48, Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes (FIN 48). The case highlights International Paper as an example and presents analysis by the faculty authors on the three ways in which paper companies approached the AFMC.

Case Authors : Lisa De Simone, John R. Robinson, Bridget Stomberg

Topic : Finance & Accounting

Related Areas : Financial management, Policy

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for International Paper's Black Liquor Credit Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004275) -10004275 - -
Year 1 3458525 -6545750 3458525 0.9434 3262759
Year 2 3962606 -2583144 7421131 0.89 3526705
Year 3 3950290 1367146 11371421 0.8396 3316740
Year 4 3239884 4607030 14611305 0.7921 2566292
TOTAL 14611305 12672496

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2668221

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. Net Present Value
2. Internal Rate of Return
3. Profitability Index
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. Refundable Paper 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 Refundable Paper 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 International Paper's Black Liquor Credit

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 Refundable Paper 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 Refundable Paper 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 (10004275) -10004275 - -
Year 1 3458525 -6545750 3458525 0.8696 3007413
Year 2 3962606 -2583144 7421131 0.7561 2996299
Year 3 3950290 1367146 11371421 0.6575 2597380
Year 4 3239884 4607030 14611305 0.5718 1852414
TOTAL 10453506

The Net NPV after 4 years is 449231

(10453506 - 10004275 )

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 (10004275) -10004275 - -
Year 1 3458525 -6545750 3458525 0.8333 2882104
Year 2 3962606 -2583144 7421131 0.6944 2751810
Year 3 3950290 1367146 11371421 0.5787 2286047
Year 4 3239884 4607030 14611305 0.4823 1562444
TOTAL 9482405

The Net NPV after 4 years is -521870

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9482405 - 10004275 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Refundable Paper 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 Refundable Paper has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Refundable Paper 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 Refundable Paper, then the stock price of the Refundable Paper 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 Refundable Paper 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 –

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.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

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

Lisa De Simone, John R. Robinson, Bridget Stomberg (2018), "International Paper's Black Liquor Credit Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.