DCF Valuation: Financial leverage and the debt tax shield

DCF valuation models can either be based on free cash flow attributable to equity investors or the free cash flow available for all providers of finance. Each requires a different approach to allowing for financial leverage, including adjustments to beta and recognition of the debt interest tax shield.   

We present an interactive DCF model that illustrates discounted equity cash flow and discounted enterprise cash flow using both the WACC and APV methods. Understanding each approach helps in ensuring consistent valuations, whichever method you choose to adopt.

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Equity beta, asset beta and financial leverage

It can be observed that higher financial leverage increases equity beta. However, the relationship between the unleveraged asset or enterprise beta (the beta of the underlying operating business), and leveraged equity beta that is commonly applied in practice, is incomplete.

We explain the relevance of asset betas in equity valuation and why it is important to analyse the beta of debt finance and the value, and riskiness, of the debt interest tax shield when delevering and relevering equity beta.

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Valuing the debt interest tax shield

The fact that the cost of debt finance is tax deductible, whereas the cost of equity is not, seems to give a structural advantage to debt finance. The value (if any) of this ‘tax shield’ is either an explicit or more likely implicit component of any equity valuation.

The most commonly quoted calculation of the value of the debt interest tax shield understates value by ignoring growth but, potentially, overstates value by ignoring the effect of personal taxes. We explain how to incorporate these often-ignored factors in your analysis.

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Calculating and analysing the drivers of Equity Beta

Equity beta is a valid measure of investment risk and an important metric in equity analysis. However, don’t just plug into your models the equity beta given by a data provider – beta should be analysed and adjusted by investors with the same diligence that is applied to performance metrics.

We present an interactive equity beta analysis model to assist investors in better understanding the drivers of equity beta and its application in equity valuation. The model features the calculation of beta (and its volatility and correlation components) for any investment for which price data is available in Microsoft Excel.

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Effective tax rates and stock-based compensation

Stock-based compensation can have a significant impact on the effective tax rate. For US companies the effect is driven to a large extent by changes in the stock price. In 2021 this reduced the effective tax rate for many companies; however, in 2022 you could well see the reverse.

We use Netflix to explain the effect of stock-based compensation on cash taxes and deferred tax adjustments. The accounting is complex and made even more challenging for investors by differences between IFRS and US GAAP. Unfortunately, neither US GAAP nor IFRS financial statements may fully reflect the underlying economics.

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Convertible accounting: New US GAAP inflates earnings

Changes to convertible bond accounting under US GAAP will mean higher reported debt but, paradoxically, a lower (and sometimes zero) interest expense. In our view, the resulting increase in earnings is artificial, fails to faithfully represent the cost of convertible financing and will not benefit investors.

The recent surge in convertible issuance, and the use of so-called convertible bond hedges, may have more to do with favourable accounting than favourable economics. We use the recent convertible issue by Twitter to illustrate the revised US GAAP and compare this with the more realistic approach under IFRS.

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Zero coupon convertibles do not have a zero cost

Convertible bond issuance is at a record high, with companies ‘benefiting’ from low interest rates and high equity volatility. A recent $1.44bn convertible bond issue by Twitter, with a zero coupon and conversion premium of 67%,­ is a good example.

Convertibles are not the cheap form of financing that is sometimes claimed, nor do we think that so-called ‘hedging’ transactions, which often accompany convertible issues, create value for investors. We present an interactive model to demonstrate how to calculate the cost of capital for a convertible.

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DCF and pensions: Enterprise or equity cash flow?

Defined benefit pension schemes create two leverage effects – financial leverage due to the debt-like nature of pension deficits, and asset allocation leverage if pension assets are not matched with pension liabilities. In DCF valuation these effects must be correctly, and consistently, included in both the discount rate and free cash flow.

We use an interactive model to demonstrate four possible DCF approaches based on enterprise and equity cash flows. Our preferred approach uses enterprise free cash flow with the effects of asset allocation leverage excluded from the discount rate.

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DCF valuation models: Have you updated for IFRS 16?

An accounting change, such as the introduction of IFRS 16, does not in itself alter underlying economics. It follows that equity values derived from DCF models should also be unaffected. However, the IFRS 16 lease accounting changes seem to be creating some confusion.

We explain how to correctly adjust your DCF calculations and provide an interactive pre and post lease capitalisation model to illustrate. IFRS 16 makes DCF analysis easier and less prone to error; leaving your model based on pre-IFRS 16 figures is definitely not the best approach.

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