## What Is Discounted Cash Flow (DCF)?

Discounted cash flow (DCF) is a valuation method used to estimate the value of an investment based on its expected future cash flows. DCF analysis attempts to figure out the value of an investment today, based on projections of how much money it will generate in the future. This applies to the decisions of investors in companies or securities, such as acquiring a company or buying a stock, and for business owners and managers looking to make capital budgeting or operating expenditures decisions.

### Key Takeaways

• Discounted cash flow (DCF) helps determine the value of an investment based on its future cash flows.
• The present value of expected future cash flows is arrived at by using a discount rate to calculate the DCF.
• If the DCF is above the current cost of the investment, the opportunity could result in positive returns.
• Companies typically use the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) for the discount rate, because it takes into consideration the rate of return expected by shareholders.
• The DCF has limitations, primarily in that it relies on estimations of future cash flows, which could prove inaccurate.
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## Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Formula

The formula for DCF is:

\begin{aligned}&DCF=\frac{CF_1}{1+r}^1+\frac{CF_2}{1+r}^2+\frac{CF_n}{1+r}^n\\&\textbf{where:}\\&CF=\text{The cash flow for the given year.}\\&\qquad\quad\text{CF_1 is for year one, CF_2 is for year two,}\\&\qquad\quad\text{CF_n is for additional years}\\&r=\text{The discount rate}\end{aligned}

## What DCF Can Tell You

The purpose of DCF analysis is to estimate the money an investor would receive from an investment, adjusted for the time value of money. The time value of money assumes that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow because it can be invested. As such, a DCF analysis is appropriate in any situation wherein a person is paying money in the present with expectations of receiving more money in the future.

For example, assuming a 5% annual interest rate, $1 in a savings account will be worth$1.05 in a year. Similarly, if a $1 payment is delayed for a year, its present value is 95 cents because you cannot transfer it to your savings account to earn interest. DCF analysis finds the present value of expected future cash flows using a discount rate. Investors can use the concept of the present value of money to determine whether the future cash flows of an investment or project are equal to or greater than the value of the initial investment. If the value calculated through DCF is higher than the current cost of the investment, the opportunity should be considered. To conduct a DCF analysis, an investor must make estimates about future cash flows and the ending value of the investment, equipment, or other assets. The investor must also determine an appropriate discount rate for the DCF model, which will vary depending on the project or investment under consideration, such as the company or investor's risk profile and the conditions of the capital markets. If the investor cannot access the future cash flows, or the project is very complex, DCF will not have much value and alternative models should be employed. ## Example of DCF When a company analyzes whether it should invest in a certain project or purchase new equipment, it usually uses its weighted average cost of capital (WACC) as the discount rate when evaluating the DCF. The WACC incorporates the average rate of return that shareholders in the firm are expecting for the given year. For example, say you are looking to invest in a project, and your company's WACC is 5%, meaning you will use 5% as your discount rate. The initial investment is$11 million, and the project will last for five years, with the following estimated cash flows per year:

Therefore, the discounted cash flows for the project are:

## Is DCF the Same as Net Present Value (NPV)?

No, DCF is not the same as NPV, although the two concepts are closely related. Essentially, NPV adds a fourth step to the DCF calculation process. After forecasting the expected cash flows, selecting a discount rate, and discounting those cash flows, NPV then deducts the upfront cost of the investment from the investment’s DCF. For instance, if the cost of purchasing the investment in our above example were $200, then the NPV of that investment would be$248.68 minus $200, or$48.68.