A number of factors combine to make capital budgeting decisions perhaps the most important ones financial managers and their staff must make. There are a huge number of variables that must be considered although many can be defined as legible due to their probability of occurrence. However the cost of failure is great with companies facing bankruptcy if their market judgment is vastly incorrect. This report then focuses on evaluating the major risks that effect capital budgeting decisions and how that information can aid the techniques used to analyze fixed asset investments.
First, since the result of capital budgeting decisions have an impact for many years, the firm will lose some of its flexibility. For example, the purchase of an asset with an economic life of ten years locks the firm in for a ten year period. Further because asset expansion is fundamentally related to expect future sales a decision to buy an asset that is expected to last ten years requires a ten year sales forecast. If the firm invests too much in assets, it will incur unnecessarily high depreciation and other expenses. On the other hand, if it does not spend enough on fixed assets, two problems may arise. ‘First, its equipment may not be efficient enough for least-cost production and second, if it has inadequate capacity it may lose a portion of its market share to rival firms, and regaining lost customers will involve heavy selling expenses and price reductions, both of which are costly’. If a firm forecasts its needs for capital assets in advance, it will have an opportunity to purchase and install the assets before they are needed. Unfortunately, many firms do not order capital goods until existing assets are approaching full-capacity usage. If sales grow because of an increase in general market demand, all firms in the industry will tend to order capital goods at about the same time. This results in ‘backlogs, long waiting times for machinery, and an increase in their prices’. The firm which foresees its needs and purchases capital assets during slack periods can avoid these problems. Capital budgeting typically involves substantial expenditures, and before a firm can spend a large amount of money, it must have the funds available – large amounts of money are not available automatically. Therefore, a firm contemplating a major capital expenditure program should plan its financing far enough in advance to be sure funds are available.
A key area concerned with the capital budgeting decisions made by firm’s lies within the capital structure policy as this sets the tone for all future financial decisions.
Incorporating the tax deductibility of interest but not dividends and bankruptcy costs leads to the trade-off theory of capital structure. Some debt is desirable because of the tax shield arising from interest deductibility but the costs of bankruptcy and financial distress limit the amount that should be used. This is because when companies are highly levered the threat of default risks is great. Therefore an optimal range of debt finance needs to be incorporated into capital structure policy.
This is an extremely important concept for companies to consider when undertaking in capital budget decisions as their capital structure will have a large influence in determining which investment options to pursue. For example if the company decides to follow an investment proposal where the discounted payback period is great during the later stages of the project although the initial cash outlays are large. If the company is heavily financed through debt then the risk placed on that project will be high due to the probable default risk occurring if the short term future produces an uncertain event that throws the investment into doubt. A recent example of this case is described below:
The recent crisis in the football industry has demonstrated the importance of keeping a tight control of a company’s finances. As the industry became increasingly profitable throughout the 1990’s many clubs operated under the trade off theory principles. To incorporate increased spending in parallel with exponential transfer and wage increases clubs borrowed excessively to a point where the industry could not sustain itself any longer. This reached a head during May 2002 when the sudden collapse of ITV Digital resulted in the threat of bankruptcy for many smaller clubs. This situation was due to fact that smaller clubs had gambled their future on the excessive amounts of capital they were receiving from ITV Digital. Capital budget decisions had been based around spending for short term gains thus allowing football clubs to neglect their long term survival and as a result over six hundred footballers were made redundant during the summer in order to cut costs.
For example the highly profitable semi-conductor companies of the mid 1990’s like Samsung, did not shift their capital budgeting decisions policy towards higher levels of debt as the trade off theory suggests. This can be explained through the fact that in high-tech growth industries current assets are best described as risky and intangible. Therefore borrowing heavily would appear foolish as in times of crisis the company’s current assets would be rendered worthless resulting in nothing tangible to safeguard against spiraling default payments. This does appear slightly pessimistic considering during times of prosperity one would expect expansion and growth however there are many other risk factors that need to be taken into account when forming capital budgeting decisions.
Sales Stability: Companies with a stable source of income can feel more comfortable about supporting higher levels of debt because they are able to service the debt.
Asset Structure: When fixed assets are at a higher percentage relative to current assets, higher levels of debt can be supported due to the security factor. The lender is aware that if the interest can not be paid, fixed assets can be sold off.
Operating Leverage: The relationship between fixed and variable costs suggests that a high level of operating leverage will result in a high level of fixed costs. Therefore a company that is highly levered in operating leverage should have low levels of financial leverage to prevent the increase of costs.
Management Attitudes: These attitudes change regarding the current financial climate and whether personal styles tend to be more conservative or aggressive.
Lender and Rating Agency Attitudes: The credit rating of a firm has implications regarding the entire capital structure policy of a firm.
It is essential that top management is aware of the information gained from producing the capital budgeting decisions and it is not just limited to the financial management department. Often within companies there is a capping of the capital budget made by top management which can extinguish any investments projects no matter how profitable they might be. Therefore there needs to be a good two way communication process between senior management and financial management to prevent conflict occurring.
One way of achieving this is through SWOT analysis. Before developing strategies to accomplish the firm’s objectives, a manager needs to access the internal strengths and weaknesses of the firm. This evaluation should include the firm’s financial health, physical capital, human resources, production efficiency, and product demand. External threats and opportunities that impact the firm’s ability to accomplish its objectives also need to be considered. An external threat and opportunity analysis might include evaluating the behavior of close competitors or assessing the impacts of the business cycle on clientele incomes and the resulting product demand. The SWOT analysis helps the firm understand the current constraints placed on it by both internal and external forces and enables the firm to take corrective action, when possible to better position itself to accomplish its objectives.
Through implementing SWOT analysis correctly a greater amount of information is available to make informed capital budgeting decisions. The technique can then be implemented with in standard investment appraisal techniques such as NPV, discounted payback period and IRR. By providing SWOT analysis to aid capital budgeting decisions the threat of failure deceases. However reviewing or post-auditing is a final step to review the performance of investment projects after they have been implemented. While projected cash flows are uncertain and one should not expect actual values to agree with predicted values, the analysis should attempt to find systematic biases or errors by individuals, departments, or divisions and attempt to identify reasons for these errors. Another reason to audit project performance is to decide whether to abandon or continue projects that have done poorly. Therefore in order to eliminate poor performance the various risks associated with capital budgeting decisions need to be applied as strictly in the auditing process to aid in the decision making process for future capital budgeting decisions.
Tom Feinberg has spent more than 15 years working as a professor at the University of Maine. Now he spends most of his time with his family and shares his experience about dissertation methodology. Tom Feinberg is a right person to ask about finance thesis.