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# Free cash flow

In corporate finance, free cash flow (FCF) is a cash flow available for distribution among all the security holders of a company. They include equity holders, debt holders, preferred stock holders, convertibles holders, and so on.

There are two differences between Net Income and Free Cash Flow that should be noted. The first is the accounting for the consumption of capital goods. The Net Income measure uses depreciation, while the Free Cash Flow measure uses last period's net capital purchases.

The second difference is that the Free Cash Flow measurement deducts increases in net working capital, where the net income approach does not. Typically, in a growing company with a 30 day collection period for receivables, a 30 day payment period for purchases, and a weekly payroll, it will require more and more working capital to finance the labor and profit components embedded in the growing receivables balance. The net income measure essentially says, "You can take that cash home" because you would still have the same productive capacity as you started with. The Free Cash Flow measurement however would say, "You can't take that home" because you would cramp the enterprise from operating itself forward from there.

Likewise when a company has negative sales growth it's likely to diminish its capital spending dramatically. Receivables, provided they are being timely collected, will also ratchet down. All this "deceleration" will show up as additions to Free Cash Flow. However, over the longer term, decelerating sales trends will eventually catch up.

Alternative Mathematical formula

FCF measures
*operating cash flow (OCF) (this includes the reduction for interest),
*less expenditures necessary to maintain assets (capital expenditures or "capex").

In symbols::$FCF_t = OCB_t - I_t ,$

where
* "OCB""t" is the firm's net operating profit after taxes (Also known as NOPAT)during period "t"
* "I""t" is the firm's investment during period "t" including variation of working capital

Investment is simply the net increase (decrease) in the firm's capital, from the end of one period to the end of the next period::$I_t = K_t - K_\left\{t-1\right\} ,$

where "K""t" represents the firm's invested capital at the end of period "t". Increases in non-cash current assets may, or may not be deducted, depending on whether they are considered to be maintaining the status quo, or to be investments for growth.

Unlevered Free Cash Flow (i.e., cash flows before interest payments) is defined as EBITDA - capex - changes in net working capital. This is the generally accepted definition. If there are mandatory repayments of debt, then some analysts utilize levered free cash flow, which is the same formula above, but less interest and mandatory principal repayments.

Investment bankers compute Free Cash Flow using the following formula:

FCFF = Net income + Noncash charges (such d&A) + Interest expense * (1-Tax rate) - Capex - Working capital expenditures = Free Cash Flows to the Firm (FCFF)

FCFE = Net income + Noncash charges (such d&A) - Capex + Net borrowing - Net debt repayment - Working capital expenditures = Free Cash Flows to the equity (FCFE)

Uses of the metric

Free cash flow measures the ease with which businesses can grow and pay dividends to shareholders. Even profitable businesses may have negative cash flows. Their requirement for increased financing will result in increased financing cost reducing future income.

According to the discounted cash flow valuation model, the intrinsic value of a company is the present value of all future free cash flows, plus the cash proceeds from its eventual sale. The presumption is that the cash flows are used to pay dividends to the shareholders. Bear in mind the lumpiness discussed below.

Some investors prefer using free cash flow instead of net income to measure a company's financial performance, because free cash flow is more difficult to manipulate than net income. The problems with this presumption are itemized at cash flow and return of capital.

The payout ratio is a metric used to evaluate the sustainability of distributions from REITs, Oil and Gas Royalty Trusts, and Income Trust. The distributions are divided by the free cash flow. Distributions may include any of income, flowed-through capital gains or return of capital.

Problems with capital expenditures

The expenditures for maintenances of assets is only part of the capex reported on the Statement of Cash Flows. It must be separated from the expenditures for growth purposes. This split is not a requirement under GAAP, and is not audited. Management is free to disclose maintenance capex or not. Therefore this input to the calculation of free cash flow may be subject to manipulation, or require estimation. Since it may be a large number, maintenance capex's uncertainty is the basis for some people's dismissal of 'free cash flow'.

A second problem with the maintenance capex measurement is its intrinsic 'lumpiness'. By their nature, expenditures for capital assets that will last decades may be infrequent, but costly when they occur. 'Free cash flow', in turn, will be very different from year to year. No particular year will be a 'norm' that can be expected to be repeated. For companies that have stable capital expenditures, free cash flow will (over the long term) be roughly equal to earnings

Agency costs of free cash flow

In a 1986 paper in the "American Economic Review", Michael Jensen noted that free cash flows allowed firms' managers to finance projects earning low returns which therefore might not be funded by the equity or bond markets. Examining the US oil industry, which had earned substantial free cash flows in the 1970s and the early 1980s, he wrote that

[the] 1984 cash flows of the ten largest oil companies were \$48.5 billion, 28 percent of the total cash flows of the top 200 firms in Dun's Business Month survey. Consistent with the agency costs of free cash flow, management did not pay out the excess resources to shareholders. Instead, the industry continued to spend heavily on [exploration and development] activity even though average returns were below the cost of capital.

Jensen also noted a negative correlation between exploration announcements and the market valuation of these firms - the opposite effect to research announcements in other industries.

ee also

*Discounted cash flow
*Enterprise value
*Owner earnings
*Weighted average cost of capital

References

*cite book |title=Principles of Corporate Finance |edition=8th edition |last=Brealey |first=Richard A. |authorlink= |coauthors=Myers, Stewart C.; Allen, Franklin |year=2005 |publisher=McGraw-Hill/Irwin |location=Boston |isbn=0072957239 |pages=
* cite journal |last=Jensen |first=Michael C. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1986 |month= |title=Agency costs of free cash flow, corporate finance and takeovers |journal=American Economic Review |volume=76 |issue=2 |pages=323&ndash;329 |doi=10.2139/ssrn.99580 |url= |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |title=The Quest for Value |last=Stewart |first=G. Bennett, III |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1991 |publisher=HarperBusiness |location=New York |isbn=0887304184 |pages=

* [http://www.investopedia.com/articles/fundamental/03/091703.asp Free Cash Flow: Free, But Not Always Easy] , Investopedia
* [http://news.morningstar.com/classroom2/course.asp?docId=2937&CN=COM&page=1&_QSBPA=Y What is Free Cash Flow?] , Morningstar

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