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

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Reach Capital: Performance in Education Technology case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Maureen McNichols, Jaclyn C. Foroughi. The Reach Capital: Performance in Education Technology (referred as “Carolan Fund” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Leadership & Managing People. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Social responsibility, Venture capital.

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.

In January 2015, Jennifer Carolan, who had served as the managing director of the NewSchools Venture Fund Seed Fund ("Seed Fund"), spun off from the nonprofit venture philanthropy firm to create a for-profit social impact fund focused on education technology (edtech). Through a unique joint venture with NewSchools Venture Fund ("NewSchools") called NewSchools Capital, the new venture fund, Reach Capital, would allow Carolan to not only raise more funds and scale more effectively than it otherwise could have as a nonprofit, but also support portfolio companies as they matured. Having invested $9 million across 39 for-profit and 4 nonprofit companies for the Seed Fund, and with the support of such renowned anchor donors as the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Sobrato Foundation, Carolan felt confident in Reach's ability to invest successfully in scalable, high-growth edtech companies that prioritized social impact. Still, Carolan was challenged with executing an efficacious spin off, establishing a compelling philanthropic value proposition, and finding a way to effectively measure performance focused on the double bottom line. This case describes the challenges faced in the formation of a sustainable for-profit impact venture capital fund. It covers the origin of the fund, a background of the education technology industry, fund terms, as well as a discussion of performance measurement.

Years | Cash Flow | Net Cash Flow | Cumulative Cash Flow |
Discount Rate @ 6 % |
Discounted Cash Flows |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Year 0 | (10017428) | -10017428 | - | - | |

Year 1 | 3467921 | -6549507 | 3467921 | 0.9434 | 3271624 |

Year 2 | 3954204 | -2595303 | 7422125 | 0.89 | 3519227 |

Year 3 | 3940478 | 1345175 | 11362603 | 0.8396 | 3308501 |

Year 4 | 3247764 | 4592939 | 14610367 | 0.7921 | 2572533 |

TOTAL | 14610367 | 12671886 |

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 -

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

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

1. Net Present Value

2. Payback Period

3. Internal Rate of Return

4. Profitability Index

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 Carolan Fund 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. Carolan Fund shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.

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

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 Carolan Fund 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 Carolan Fund 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.

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 % |
Discounted Cash Flows |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Year 0 | (10017428) | -10017428 | - | - | |

Year 1 | 3467921 | -6549507 | 3467921 | 0.8696 | 3015583 |

Year 2 | 3954204 | -2595303 | 7422125 | 0.7561 | 2989946 |

Year 3 | 3940478 | 1345175 | 11362603 | 0.6575 | 2590928 |

Year 4 | 3247764 | 4592939 | 14610367 | 0.5718 | 1856920 |

TOTAL | 10453378 |

(10453378 - 10017428 )

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 % |
Discounted Cash Flows |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Year 0 | (10017428) | -10017428 | - | - | |

Year 1 | 3467921 | -6549507 | 3467921 | 0.8333 | 2889934 |

Year 2 | 3954204 | -2595303 | 7422125 | 0.6944 | 2745975 |

Year 3 | 3940478 | 1345175 | 11362603 | 0.5787 | 2280369 |

Year 4 | 3247764 | 4592939 | 14610367 | 0.4823 | 1566244 |

TOTAL | 9482523 |

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9482523 - 10017428 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Carolan Fund to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Carolan Fund has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Carolan Fund 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 Carolan Fund, then the stock price of the Carolan Fund 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.

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Carolan Fund 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 will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

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.

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.

** Maureen McNichols, Jaclyn C. Foroughi (2018)**, "Reach Capital: Performance in Education Technology Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.

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