May 13, 2005|
Free cash flow: Is it free after all?
The best things in life are said to be free and the same holds true for cash flow! Investors love companies that produce plenty of free cash flow (FCF). It signals a company's ability to repay debt, pay dividends, buy back stock and facilitate the growth of business - all important undertakings from an investor's point of view. In the past we have given our readers a perspective on valuation parameters like price to earnings (P/E) and price to book value (P/BV). While both these valuation parameters reflect the present earning capabilities, they do not signal the 'future' prospects.
How and what of FCF
The formula for calculating Free Cash Flow (FCF) is as:
Net Profit + Depreciation - Capital expenditure - Changes in working capital - Dividend
FCF takes into account not only the earnings of the company but also the past (depreciation) and present capital expenditures, capital inflows and investment in working capital. Growing free cash flows are frequently a prelude to increased earnings. Companies that experience surging FCF due to revenue growth, efficiency improvements, cost reductions, share buy backs, dividend distribution (from subsidiaries) or debt elimination can reward investors in the future. Better free cash flows are therefore a reason for the investment community to cherish. On the other hand, an insufficient FCF for earnings growth can force a company to boost its debt levels. Even worse, a company without enough FCF may not have the liquidity to stay in business
From a company's point of view
A better FCF definitely indicates better efficiency on the part of the company. But what is pertinent for investors to note is that simply assessing the FCF on the basis of its absolute value is not prudent. It is imperative to also assess as to what components have contributed to the same.
Let us take a hypothetical example of two companies, A and B, both of which have garnered the same FCF for the current financial year.
Estimated free cash flow
|Add: depreciation / amortisation
|Less: Capital expenditure
|Add/ (Less): Decrease /(Increase)
in wkg capital
|Free cash flow
Prima facie although appearing similar, if you delve a little deeper there is a stark difference in their performances. While company 'A', despite having lower earnings has benefited by adding back depreciation and decrease in working capital, company 'B' has invested in capex and working capital. This indicates that while company 'B' is investing for future growth, company 'A' is not sufficiently geared up for the impending challenges. This also means that investors in company 'B' can expect 'rewards' in future while those in company 'A' should sit up and take notice of what is ailing it.
From a sector's point of view
As explained earlier, cash flows are dependant on the capital expenditure and working capital liabilities borne by the company. This however, differs as per the dynamics of the sector in which the company is operating and should be seen in that light. While sectors like banking require minimum expenditure on capex (as a % of their turnover) those in pharma, engineering, FMCG or commodity sectors require to invest a substantial amount in R&D and capacity expansions. Thus, you would find SBI trading at a very attractive price to free cash flow valuation of 3 times, while an equally competitive Infosys is trading at 40 times (due to lower cash flows).
FCF is not only a mirror image of the present but also a sneak preview into the future. The implications of the components of cash flow may not be explained in the annual reports, but is left to the investor's prudence to diligently scrutinize the same and try to read between the lines. The legendry investor Benjamin Graham once said, "The individual investor should act consistently as an investor and not as a speculator. This means that he should be able to justify every purchase he makes and each price he pays by impersonal, objective reasoning that satisfies him that he is getting more than his money's worth for his purchase.
Free cash flow, is not free after all!
More Views on News
Jun 10, 2017
Forty Indian investing gurus, as worthy of imitation as the legendary Peter Lynch, can help you get rich in the stock market.
Aug 16, 2017
All across the country, the old gods become devils. New, gluten-free gods take their places...
Aug 16, 2017
And what it has in common with beating the stock market too.
Aug 16, 2017
Ensure your financial Independence, and pledge to start the journey towards financial freedom today!
Aug 14, 2017
Last week's correction is making a number of Super Investor stocks look a lot more attractive...
More Views on News
Aug 7, 2017
The data tells us quite a different story from the one the government is trying to project.
Aug 4, 2017
The small-cap space is full of small players that are clear proxies to great growth stories and Indian megatrends.
Aug 8, 2017
Bharat-22 is one of the most diverse ETFs offered so far by the Government. Know here if you should invest...
Aug 12, 2017
The India VIX is up 36% in the last week. Fear has gone up but is still low by historical standards.
Aug 7, 2017
Raksha Bandhan signifies the brother-sister bond. Here are 7 thoughtful financial gifts for sisters...
Copyright © Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited. All rights reserved.
Any act of copying, reproducing or distributing this newsletter whether wholly or in part, for any purpose without the permission of Equitymaster is strictly prohibited and shall be deemed to be copyright infringement. LEGAL DISCLAIMER:
Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited (hereinafter referred as 'Equitymaster') is an independent equity research Company. Equitymaster is not an Investment Adviser. Information herein should be regarded as a resource only and should be used at one's own risk. This is not an offer to sell or solicitation to buy any securities and Equitymaster will not be liable for any losses incurred or investment(s) made or decisions taken/or not taken based on the information provided herein. Information contained herein does not constitute investment advice or a personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situations, or needs of individual subscribers. Before acting on any recommendation, subscribers should consider whether it is suitable for their particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek an independent professional advice. This is not directed for access or use by anyone in a country, especially, USA or Canada, where such use or access is unlawful or which may subject Equitymaster or its affiliates to any registration or licensing requirement. All content and information is provided on an 'As Is' basis by Equitymaster. Information herein is believed to be reliable but Equitymaster does not warrant its completeness or accuracy and expressly disclaims all warranties and conditions of any kind, whether express or implied. Equitymaster may hold shares in the company/ies discussed herein. As a condition to accessing Equitymaster content and website, you agree to our Terms and Conditions of Use, available here
. The performance data quoted represents past performance and does not guarantee future results.SEBI (Research Analysts) Regulations 2014, Registration No. INH000000537.
Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited. 103, Regent Chambers, Above Status Restaurant, Nariman Point, Mumbai - 400 021. India.
Telephone: +91-22-61434055. Fax: +91-22-22028550. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.equitymaster.com. CIN:U74999MH2007PTC175407