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realopt - 1 The Promise and Peril of Real Options Aswath...

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1 The Promise and Peril of Real Options Aswath Damodaran Stern School of Business 44 West Fourth Street New York, NY 10012 [email protected]
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2 Abstract In recent years, practitioners and academics have made the argument that traditional discounted cash flow models do a poor job of capturing the value of the options embedded in many corporate actions. They have noted that these options need to be not only considered explicitly and valued, but also that the value of these options can be substantial. In fact, many investments and acquisitions that would not be justifiable otherwise will be value enhancing, if the options embedded in them are considered. In this paper, we examine the merits of this argument. While it is certainly true that there are options embedded in many actions, we consider the conditions that have to be met for these options to have value. We also develop a series of applied examples, where we attempt to value these options and consider the effect on investment, financing and valuation decisions.
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3 In finance, the discounted cash flow model operates as the basic framework for most analysis. In investment analysis, for instance, the conventional view is that the net present value of a project is the measure of the value that it will add to the firm taking it. Thus, investing in a positive (negative) net present value project will increase (decrease) value. In capital structure decisions, a financing mix that minimizes the cost of capital, without impairing operating cash flows, increases firm value and is therefore viewed as the optimal mix. In valuation, the value of a firm is the present value of the expected cash flows from the assets of the firm. In recent years, this framework has come under some fire for failing to consider the options that are embedded in each of these actions. For instance, the net present value of a project does not capture the values of the options to delay, expand or abandon a project. When comparing across investments, the traditional approach of picking the model with the highest return or net present value may shortchange investments that offer a firm more flexibility in operations and investing. A financing model that focuses on minimizing the current cost of capital does not consider the value of financial flexibility that comes from having excess debt capacity. In a similar vein, firms that hold back on returning cash to their stockholders and accumulate large cash balances might also be guided by the desire for financing flexibility. The value of equity, obtained from a discounted cash flow valuation model, does not measure the option to control, and if necessary, liquidate the firm that equity investors possess, and it ignores other options that might be owned by the firm, including patents, licenses and rights to natural reserves. In acquisition valuation, the strategic options that might be opened up for the acquiring firm, as a result of the transaction, are often not considered in valuation.
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