Real Asset Valuation: A Back-to-basics Approach


David Laughton, 11006 125 St. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T5M 0M1, (


Different valuation methods can lead to different corporate investment decisions, and the conventional “static, single discount rate” DCF approach in particular is biased against many of the kinds of decisions that corporate managers tend to view as “strategic.” Reducing the bias from valuations involves two main tasks: treating risk in a way that is consistent with observed market pricing, and accounting for the ability of companies to make decisions “dynamically” over time. The authors propose two separate tools, market-based valuation and complete decision tree analysis, for accomplishing these two improvements in valuation.

The authors also suggest working with the full distribution of future cash flows, one possible realization at a time, rather than working with the aggregate measure of expected cash flow. From a technical perspective, it is necessary to work with the full distribution to value real options properly. Valuing the cash flows one realization at a time also leads to a much better understanding of the interaction between economy-level, systematic risks and local asset-level, technical risks. Just as important, the proposed approaches support an effective division of labor between local asset managers, who are better positioned to model technical considerations and other asset specifics, and the central finance staff, who can ensure the consistent treatment of economy-wide risk and to create the rules of engagement for evaluating opportunities.

After presenting an overview of both the valuation and the organizational issues, the authors present a case involving a corporate investment in carbon capture and storage that illustrates both the application of the proposed methods and the various sources of bias in the typical DCF analysis.