What Is Free Cash Flow and How to Calculate It

Free money stream or FCF is a helpful method of analyzing an organization’s funding fundamentals. Let’s have a look at what it’s, the right way to calculate it, and the right way to use it.

What Are Cash Flows?

Before discussing “free” money stream, we have to look rapidly on the idea of money stream. There are two methods to measure an organization’s profitability. One is earnings and the opposite is money stream.

Earnings are synonymous with after-tax internet earnings. They are the sum of gross sales, minus all the prices and bills of the corporate.

Cash stream is, because the title suggests, the amount of cash coming into and leaving the corporate.

The distinction between the 2 is that earnings keep in mind ALL bills, together with accounting conventions like depreciation and amortization. In principle, this offers a extra correct view of an organization’s earnings. But this may also be utilized by unscrupulous administration to quickly make an image look higher than it truly is.

In distinction, money stream is much more easy. The cash is within the firm or not. But this doesn’t all the time replicate actual prices, just like the rare have to buy land, places of work, or industrial tools.

This is why Free Cash Flow is most well-liked when valuing an organization.

How to Calculate Free Cash Flow

👉 Free Cash Flow is Cash Flow minus Capital Expenditure (CAPEX).

FCF is very helpful in firms working capital-intensive industries, like mining, oil & fuel, or manufacturing.

An enormous benefit of free money stream is that it displays the corporate’s capability to distribute revenue to the shareholders. Dividends are taken from precise money, not accounting fictions like earnings and even worse metrics like EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization).

Another benefit is {that a} distinction between FCF and internet earnings can reveal issues. Management’s calculation of depreciation could not have actually measured the corporate’s common CAPEX spending wants. This can provide deceptive excessive earnings for a short while, however the true CAPEX spending might be included within the FCF calculation, and present the true state of affairs.

The Risks Of Using Free Cash Flow

Free Cash Flow is a helpful option to consider an organization. But like with all monetary calculations, the satan is within the particulars.

One of the primary issues to examine is to measure Free Cash Flow per share. If the corporate continually points new shares and dilutes present shareholders, free money stream development won’t revenue the present shareholders.

Another factor to concentrate to is CAPEX consistency. If the corporate spends capital very irregularly, the FCF calculation is likely to be deceptive. For instance, if the corporate has paused CAPEX quickly, this may enhance FCF. But this CAPEX degree is unlikely to be sustainable and might want to go up at a later date.

Lastly, capital allocation is necessary. An organization can produce a variety of FCF, however squander it on ill-fated acquisitions, inefficient R&D, or unsuccessful growth. In this case, the free money stream is ineffective to shareholders, as it’s going to by no means be distributed within the form of dividends or buy-backs, or used to develop the enterprise.

So general, Free Cash Flow is beneficial if no less than these 3 standards are met:

  1. Relatively secure share rely.
  2. Accurate estimation of future CAPEX wants and evaluation of present CAPEX relative to the historic pattern.
  3. The firm has a historical past of shareholder-friendly coverage and good Return on Invested Capital (ROIC).

Any evaluation of FCF has to begin with establishing this foundation.

Discounted Free Cash Flow

Discounted Free Cash Flow (DFCF) Analysis is a extremely popular valuation methodology extensively utilized in worth investing. It’s a sophisticated method and a full clarification would require a way more detailed article, however we are able to have a look at the essential concept.

DFCF evaluation makes use of the present free money stream plus its anticipated development over time and makes use of that determine to mission the worth of that money stream sooner or later. That money stream is “discounted”: for every future 12 months, the present worth of that future money stream will get smaller.

The low cost is designed to regulate for one thing known as the time worth of cash. A greenback a 12 months from now could be much less priceless than a greenback at this time as a result of the greenback at this time can be utilized to earn more cash over the course of the 12 months. The low cost price is bigger the farther into the longer term you mission.

One of the rules of worth investing is that an organization’s professional worth is the worth of all its future money stream, making DFCF evaluation an excellent option to choose if a inventory is undervalued. This is very helpful for an organization with loads of rising FCF.

The limitations of this methodology fall into 2 classes:

  1. Current Free Cash Flow could not replicate the true profitability of the corporate (see above.
  2. Predictions in regards to the future are onerous, and the DFCF mannequin might be very mistaken should you misjudge the expansion price.
  3. Growth charges could rely upon exterior elements which might be tough to foretell. Analysis of an organization have to be matched with an efficient evaluation of the business and the broader financial setting.

DFCF evaluation might be an efficient instrument, however to make use of it successfully you will want to check it at a degree a lot deeper than this introduction. As with all evaluation methods, you’ll want to keep up consciousness of its limitations.

This article from the Corporate Finance Institute offers an in depth clarification of the right way to calculate DFCF. If the calculations are too advanced, use our Discounted Free Cash Flow Calculator!


Free Cash Flow (FCF) is a really great tool to measure the long-term worth of an organization. Like all different instruments, it must be used with a contact of frequent sense and logic.

In many circumstances, it’s extra related and offers a extra correct image of an organization’s revenue than earnings. This is as a result of earnings are simpler to govern and are below extra scrutiny by analysts. There is solely extra incentive to optimize an organization’s financials towards displaying good earnings.

You will nonetheless should be cautious in your evaluation of whether or not present and projected money stream precisely represents the long-term prospects of the corporate. That means wanting rigorously on the firm’s high quality, its administration’s expertise and ethics, and the broader business and financial setting.

Discounted Free Cash Flow fashions are as properly helpful, however weak to error. They rely closely on a number of assumptions in regards to the future; particularly development price and a secure financial setting. They can be utilized to guage an organization’s present valuation, however shouldn’t be taken as an absolute reality in regards to the firm’s intrinsic worth.