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Appraising Investment Decisions and Affects of Non Financial Factors

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1. BACKGROUND

The search for reliable techniques for project appraisal is an aged activity. Still it is of prime importance because the survival of a corporation is predominantly determined by its ability to revitalize itself through the allocation of capital to productive use (Arnold and Hatzopoulos, 2000).

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Inadequate use of decision tools expand the possibility of less return then the cost of capital, resulting in destruction of firm’s value (Copeland et al., 2000). A successful investment can make profits, increases market share and adds value to the firm, but on the contrary, if it is unsuccessful the firm will experience a loss. An incorrect investment decision may even lead to closure of a firm or bankruptcy. Therefore, the decision to invest or not is very crucial to any firm as it determines its future, and at the same time, this decision signifies the importance of investment evaluation techniques accordingly.

Due to importance of such decision and extensive research, there is no shortage of tools and techniques to analyze an investment. Numbers of tools are available to find out the extent of profitability of an investment to help managers in making this vital decision (Akalu, 2001). The most popular techniques are the net present value, internal rate of return, return on investment, benefit/cost ratio method and payback period (Remer and Nieto 1995). Scholars and some other sources tend to emphasize discounted cash flow methods, especially NPV approach, as superior to other methods (Tatsiopoulos and Tolis, 2002; Kaplan and Atkinson, 1998; Zimmerman, 1997). However, these conventional appraisal techniques (especially DCF methods) sometimes misinform when they are improperly used, estimation of cash flows are inaccurate, rough identification of discount rate or when vital non-quantifiable aspects of projects are omitted (Kaplan, 1986; Dugdale and Jones, 1995).

In literature almost all of the proposed techniques are not free from criticism. The most common and major argument made by scholars is that conventional methods of appraising investment does not give adequate information due to risk and uncertainties; and they are not even appropriate to analyze strategic investments (Bierman, 1980; Brealey et al, 1992; Cox et al, 1985). Risk can be reduced if identified and uncertainties may even be dealt with research, but it’s almost impossible to eliminate these factors from investment. To deal with these factors scholars have proposed some additional methods like sensitivity analysis, simulation analysis, scenario analysis, probability analysis and portfolio theory (Pike and Neale, 2006). Though, in regard to strategic investments, conventional appraisal techniques fall short because they don’t capture intangible or non financial project attributes (Busby and Pitts, 1997; Dempsey, 2003). Butler et al. (1991, p. 402) noted:

“In making decisions on strategic investments, quantifiable financial performance factors (whether measured by discounted cash flow techniques, payback period, or impact on sale and profits) were viewed as of secondary importance by most respondents. Product quality, fit with business strategy and improving the competitive position of the firm were the most important factors considered by all informants.”

Some special methods for appraising strategic decision are also established and described by scholars. Among these, the balance scorecard, real option analysis, value chain analysis, benchmarking and technology roadmapping are of vital importance (Kaplan and Norton, 2001; Hoque, 2001; McCarthy, 2003; MacDougall and Pike, 2003). However, continuous usage of conventional appraisal methods, despite their recognized limitation, leaves us in a vague situation and inclines us to explore more.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Investment

Investment is employment of funds or capital with the aim of making future benefit. In literature and corporate world this activity is also referred as capital investment. G.H Lawson and Richard Pike (1981) describe it as:

“Capital investment usually refers to the commitment of funds to fixed capital expenditure in the anticipation of returns that compensate for the risk of the investment and the delay in the enjoyment of funds, i.e. consumption.”

2.2 Investment Decision

It is the process where managers or investors decides whether or not, when and how to spend money on the project. The heart of all investment appraisals is to calculate the value of spending money, by comparing the benefits with the costs. If this is done incorrectly, it could hammer the investor or firm’s growth (Mott, 1982).

2.3 Investment Appraisal

The most important step to start appraising the investment is the identification of cost and benefit associated with it. This step requires immense of experience and expertise as it is an anticipation and mainly this reason has also forced Aggarwal (1993) to argue that “evaluating capital investment is close to an art and father from a science than is desirable”. Hence it can be said that investment appraisal techniques can never replace managerial judgment, but they can help make judgment more sound (Lumby and Jones, 1999). The major questions to be asked while investment appraisals are highlighted by Campbell (2006), these are: What return on capital employed will the project deliverHow quickly will the project pay for itselfWill the project add value to business?

2.4 General or Conventional Appraisal Techniques

2.4.1 Payback period

This non-discounted appraisal techniques seeks to assess how quickly the positive cash flow recovers the initial capital investment. It is calculated by estimating the timely cash flows and at what time the project over comes the investment by the later returns. The project is accepted if it is equal to or less then the predetermined acceptable time or the one with lesser recovery time among available alternatives is accepted (Mott, 1982; Campbell, 2006).

2.4.2 Return on Investment

Return on investment or return on capital employed is another non-discounted method for project appraisal. It is a ratio indicator which tells how well the investor or firm is utilizing the capital to generate revenue. The calculation is done by taking profit before tax and divides it by the difference between total asset and current liabilities (Lumby and Jones, 1999). This method has also some disadvantages but is a useful technique as well.

2.4.3 Discounted Cash Flow Methods

These methods covers the issue of time value of money, which is, the future money is worth less than money at present. DCF technique converts the future cash flows value into the value of present day. In this manner we can worth the investment at the point when we are actually making it (Brealey et al, 2009). Among the family of discounted cash flow techniques net present value and internal rate of return are vital.

2.4.3.1 Net Present Value (NPV)

Net present value is calculated by converting all future cash flows in today’s date and then deducting it from today’s investment. Positive NPV implies that the project is worth to create value and generally the project is accepted when NPV is greater than zero or the one with higher NPV is selected among available alternatives (Campbell, 2006).

2.4.3.2 Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

It is that rate at which the net present value is zero. It is complex and difficult to calculate manually, as it is a trial and error method. Generally the project is accepted if the IRR is greater than the hurdle rate, discount rate or in simple terms the opportunity cost (Blank and Tarquin, 1989).

2.5 Limitation of Conventional Techniques

Although every technique has its own and unique limitations but here general limitations are mentioned. The non discounted methods are normally criticized due to time value of money and discounted methods are argued due to its complexity. The most common errors found in applying DCF methods are: pre tax calculation of discount rate; anticipation of non-economic statutory in discount rate which may leads to error and incorrect results; interest charges are included in cash flows; cash flows are specified in today’s money (excluding inflation); use of single cut of rate instead of rate reflecting project risk (Pike and Neale, 2006).

A major limitation of these techniques, which I have also mentioned earlier, are incapability to include the non financial factors into consideration like risk, uncertainties and factors involved in strategic investments. It has been argued that every single benefits of strategic investment are difficult to quantify and some other approach is required for strategic investment decisions, other than conventional financial techniques ((Butler et al., 1991; Covin et al., 2001).

2.6 Strategic Investment

Strategic investment decisions mainly concerns long term investments in asset. Common type of SIDs includes: new product development, new market development, new technology or infrastructure, mergers and acquisitions (Harris et al., 2009). Strategic investments does not only brings economic value to the firm; benefits like increase in product quality, better competitive position, fit with business strategy, increase in customer loyalty can an advantage of strategic investment (Butler et al., 1991).

3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

3.1 Research Objective

The main purpose of this research is to examine the importance of non-financial factors that could affect the investment appraisal process. The research aims to analyze and study conventional investment appraisal techniques and highlight their limitations. Moreover, the research shall investigate the non-financial factors that are considered important in evaluating strategic investment projects. Lastly, the study shall investigate whether recently developed analysis tools such as those that aim to integrate strategic and financial analysis, being used to evaluate strategic investment projects.

3.2 Research Questions

The research questions that this study shall attempt to answer through the analysis of empirical data are as follows:

What are the limitations of conventional investment appraisal techniques
What non-financial factors are considered important in investment evaluation, especially in strategic investment decision
Do organisations use conventional appraisal techniques for evaluation of strategic investment projects or prefer using recently developed strategic analysis tools in order to evaluate

3.3 Research Philosophy

The research philosophy adopted by the researcher is one of ‘subjectivism’. Morgan and Smirchich (1980) state that subjectivism perceives reality as a “social construct”. Saunders et al (2009) state “the subjectivist view is that social phenomena are created from the perceptions and consequent actions of social actors”. In this case, the social actors are the company’s that shall be studied. Strategic investment decision making shall be analysed and investigated in this research based upon the actions of views of these ‘social actors’.

Saunders et al (2009) state that for a researcher to understand any action he should explore the subjective meanings motivating those actions. This research aims to investigate the reasons behind implementation of modern strategic analysis tools by identifying the weaknesses of conventional strategic analysis methods and understanding how non-financial factors affect investments. Remenyi et al (1998) also emphasise on this issue and discuss the importance of studying the details of a certain situation in order to understand the ‘behind-the-scenes’ reality.

3.4 Research Approach

Deductive approach is defined as developing a conceptual framework by studying the theory and testing this through either confirming or rejecting the hypothesis developed based on the theory by studying the empirical data collected (Bryman and Bell, 2007). An inductive approach, as defined by Bryman and Bell (2007), is one where theory is the outcome of research. According to Saunders et al (2009) in an inductive approach the theory follows from the collected data unlike in a deductive approach where it is the other way around.

This research shall collect empirical data on strategic investment appraisal techniques using the methods mentioned below and the researcher will draw a conclusions based on the collected data by studying the inherent patterns and thus, this study shall adopt an inductive approach.

3.5 Research Design

Research design is defined by Collis and Hussey (2003) as planning procedures for conducting research in order to obtain the most adequate results. The purpose of implementing an appropriate research design is to make sure that the data collected for the purpose of the research enables the researchers to answer the research questions proposed. According to Saunders et al (2007) there are seven types of research designs and each can be used for explanatory, descriptive or exploratory research. Since this research aims to highlight the limitations of conventional investment appraisal techniques and investigate the use of modern techniques, an exploratory research needs to be conducted. An exploratory research is used when there are no existing models to use as a basis for the study.

3.6 Research Strategy

The research strategies as discussed by Saunders et al (2009) are experiment, survey, case study, action research, grounded theory, ethnography, and archival research. The research strategy adopted for the purpose of this study is ‘case study’. Stake (2000) defines case study as an organised and systematic way of producing information on a certain topic. Cooper and Morgan (2008) define case study as “an in-depth and contextually informed examination of specific organizations or events that explicitly address theory.” Case studies help analyse the experience or activities of a particular event of phenomena. This research aims to investigate the use of recently developed strategic analysis tools and thus shall conduct an in-depth study of an organisation in order to investigate whether the said organisation implements such techniques.

The company selected for the purpose of this research is Engro Corp. Engro Corp is one of the largest conglomerates in Pakistan and since I have family working within the organisation at reputable posts I have access to the company and shall be able to obtain the required primary data rather easily.

Due to the fact that there is very little data on the use of recently developed strategic analysis tools and the data required for this research is not reported externally, this research shall use primary data collected through a questionnaire. For this particular topic, only primary data can assist in answering the research questions posed and the objectives stated.

3.7 Data Collection Techniques

The research shall primarily use primary data. Some secondary data will also be used to support the primary data collection. Primary data used for this study shall be collected through a survey. An open-ended questionnaire shall be used to collect the data required for the research. The questionnaire shall be self-administered and E-mail to the appropriate personnel within the company. The in-depth questionnaire shall explore the use of investment appraisal techniques within the company and if required, the researcher shall also issue a follow up questionnaire in order to collect further data for this research.

3.8 Qualitative Research

Cresswell (1994) stated that qualitative research assists in understanding social or human problems by building a complex picture formed using words which report detailed views of informants. Qualitative research involved the use and collection of a range of empirical data and involved an interpretive approach towards the subject. Hence, in this case qualitative research methods shall be used due to these aforementioned characteristics which are deemed suitable for this research.

4. TIME PLAN

4. CONCLUSION

Choosing investment decision for research is due to my interest in the topic. However, it is also a part of my degree program and as per my knowledge there are some gaps which need to be filled. I will try me level best to add valuable input to this area of study. This research will definitely increase my knowledge, skills and will give me a worthy experience.

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