X: The Foghorn Decision 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 X: The Foghorn Decision case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. X: The Foghorn Decision case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Robert S. Huckman, Karim R. Lakhani, Kyle R. Myers. The X: The Foghorn Decision (referred as “Foghorn Hannun” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Technology & Operations. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Project management, Research & development, Social enterprise, Technology.

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 X: The Foghorn Decision Case Study

In February 2016, Kathy Hannun--a project leader at X, Alphabet Inc.'s so-called "moonshot factory--had to prepare a recommendation for the senior leadership of X regarding the future of Foghorn, a project she was leading to develop a carbon-neutral process for converting sea water into fuel. Recognizing the blueprint for projects at X--(1) addressing a huge problem with a (2) radical solution using (3) breakthrough technology--Hannun had to decide whether to recommend killing the project. Despite the technical feasibility of the Foghorn process, its expected cost per gallon of fuel produced was signficiantly higher than the established "kill metric"--the maximum unit cost that Hannun and colleagues had set for continuing the project. The case provides an opportunity to examine the management of radical innovation and the challenges associated with assessing early stage ideas. Topics covered include the importance of experimentation and failure as well as the management of opportunity costs in solving large problems.

Case Authors : Robert S. Huckman, Karim R. Lakhani, Kyle R. Myers

Topic : Technology & Operations

Related Areas : Project management, Research & development, Social enterprise, Technology

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for X: The Foghorn Decision Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10018506) -10018506 - -
Year 1 3467271 -6551235 3467271 0.9434 3271010
Year 2 3970391 -2580844 7437662 0.89 3533634
Year 3 3966313 1385469 11403975 0.8396 3330193
Year 4 3246298 4631767 14650273 0.7921 2571372
TOTAL 14650273 12706209

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2687703

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

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of X: The Foghorn Decision

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 Technology & Operations 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 Foghorn Hannun 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 Foghorn Hannun 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 (10018506) -10018506 - -
Year 1 3467271 -6551235 3467271 0.8696 3015018
Year 2 3970391 -2580844 7437662 0.7561 3002186
Year 3 3966313 1385469 11403975 0.6575 2607915
Year 4 3246298 4631767 14650273 0.5718 1856081
TOTAL 10481201

The Net NPV after 4 years is 462695

(10481201 - 10018506 )

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 (10018506) -10018506 - -
Year 1 3467271 -6551235 3467271 0.8333 2889393
Year 2 3970391 -2580844 7437662 0.6944 2757216
Year 3 3966313 1385469 11403975 0.5787 2295320
Year 4 3246298 4631767 14650273 0.4823 1565537
TOTAL 9507466

The Net NPV after 4 years is -511040

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9507466 - 10018506 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Foghorn Hannun 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 Foghorn Hannun has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Foghorn Hannun 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 Foghorn Hannun, then the stock price of the Foghorn Hannun 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 Foghorn Hannun 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 can impact the cash flow of the project.

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

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 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

Robert S. Huckman, Karim R. Lakhani, Kyle R. Myers (2018), "X: The Foghorn Decision Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.