Heads up CFOs: The capital asset pricing model still rules

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Firms invest in various things: bonds, stocks or other assets—new stores, new premises or even other firms. And they do so to earn maximum value from available cash that would otherwise be idle.

For example, for the last five years Walmart generated an annual cash flow of more than $25 billion from its operations. The retailer has the option to channel this cash into opening new stores, ultimately growing its business and profits. Alternatively, Walmart can pay the cash out to its shareholders in the form of dividends, or through share repurchases.

So far, it’s been productive. However, this win-win scenario is contingent on successfully navigating a number of complexities. Primary among these is that to invest optimally, you first need to determine the correct hurdle rate for that investment.

Hurdle rates are the minimum rates of return that firms seek on their investments. The hurdle rate is the appropriate compensation commensurate with the investments’ risk. Therefore, the higher the risk, the higher the hurdle rate needs to be. For instance, a hurdle rate of 10% means that for every $100 invested, you would expect to earn an average of $10 average per year.

But it’s tricky. You have to calculate the right hurdle rate that would add the most value for your shareholders—the optimal rate of return for you and your business.

Too high and there’s risk of missing out on a good investment. If your right hurdle rate is 10%, but you mistakenly opt for 15%, you’re likely to ignore any investment that is projected to earn you less than 15%, but more than 10% is likely to be missed. As a result, you’ll end up leaving money on the table.

Too low a hurdle rate and you’re in danger of burning money. Again, supposing your hurdle rate should be 10%, but you set it at 5%, you’re likely to end up investing in things with a suboptimal return. In the end, you’re wasting your cash on low value investments when you could be paying it directly to your shareholders in dividends and giving them the chance to earn 10% return on their own.

For the last 50 years, the financial world has built models to calculate hurdle rates and rates of return. But which one works best?

Shedding critical new light on this is a recently published paper by Narasimhan Jegadeesh, Dean’s Distinguished Chair of Finance at Goizueta, entitled “Empirical tests of asset pricing models with individual assets.” Jegadeesh and his co-authors developed new statistical methods to differentiate among a raft of new models that have been developed in recent years and to compare their efficacy to that of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), a model introduced in the 1960s.

What they found is that none of the newer models work any better than the CAPM in determining the appropriate hurdle rate or rate of return of an asset.

That paper is attached and is required reading for CFOs and anyone interested in the Capital Asset Pricing Model.

If you are looking to know more, or if you are a journalist interested in covering this important aspect of business and investing – then let our experts help.

Narasimhan Jegadeesh is Dean’s Distinguished Chair of Finance at Goizueta. He is a renowned expert in this field and has been published extensively in the Journal of Finance, the Journal of Financial Economics, the Review of Financial Studies and other leading academic finance journals. His research has been discussed in several publications including Businessweek, The Economist, Forbes, Kiplinger's Personal Investments, Money, New York Times, and Smart Money.