Cost of Capital: What It Is, Why It Matters, Formula, and Example (2023)

What Is Cost of Capital?

Cost of capital is a company's calculation of the minimum return that would be necessary in order to justify undertaking a capital budgeting project, such as building a new factory.

The term cost of capital is used by analysts and investors, but it is always an evaluation of whether a projected decision can be justified by its cost. Investors may also use the term to refer to an evaluation of an investment's potential return in relation to its cost and its risks.

Many companies use a combination of debt and equity to finance business expansion. For such companies, theoverall cost of capital is derived from the weighted average cost of all capital sources. This is known as the weighted average cost of capital (WACC).

Key Takeaways

  • Cost of capital represents the return a company needs to achieve in order to justify the cost of a capital project, such as purchasing new equipment or constructing a new building.
  • Cost of capital encompasses the cost of both equity and debt, weighted according to the company's preferred or existing capital structure. This is known as the weighted average cost of capital (WACC).
  • A company's investment decisions for new projects should always generate a return that exceeds the firm's cost of the capital used to finance the project. Otherwise, the project will not generate a return for investors.


Cost Of Capital

Understanding Cost of Capital

The concept of the cost of capital is key information used to determine a project's hurdle rate. A company embarking on a major project must know how much money the project will have to generate in order to offset the cost of undertaking it and then continue to generate profits for the company.

Cost of capital, from the perspective of an investor, is an assessment of the return that can be expected from the acquisition of stock shares or any other investment. This is an estimate and might include best- and worst-case scenarios. An investor might look at the volatility (beta) of a company's financial results to determine whether a stock's cost is justified by its potential return.

Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC)

A firm's cost of capital is typically calculated using the weighted average cost of capital formula that considers the cost of both debt and equity capital.

Each category of the firm's capital is weighted proportionately to arrive at a blended rate, and the formula considers every type of debt and equity on the company's balance sheet, including common and preferred stock, bonds, and other forms of debt.

Finding the Cost of Debt

The cost of capital becomes a factor in deciding which financing track to follow: debt, equity, or a combination of the two.

Early-stage companies rarely have sizable assets to pledge as collateral for loans, so equity financing becomes the default mode of funding. Less-established companies with limited operating histories will pay a higher cost for capital than older companies withsolid track records since lenders and investors will demand a higher risk premium for the former.

The cost of debt is merely the interest rate paid by the company on its debt. However, since interest expense is tax-deductible, the debt is calculated on an after-tax basis as follows:

Costofdebt=InterestexpenseTotaldebt×(1T)where:Interestexpense=Int.paidonthefirm’scurrentdebtT=Thecompany’smarginaltaxrate\begin{aligned} &\text{Cost of debt}=\frac{\text{Interest expense}}{\text{Total debt}} \times (1 - T) \\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &\text{Interest expense}=\text{Int. paid on the firm's current debt}\\ &T=\text{The company’s marginal tax rate}\\ \end{aligned}Costofdebt=TotaldebtInterestexpense×(1T)where:Interestexpense=Int.paidonthefirm’scurrentdebtT=Thecompany’smarginaltaxrate

The cost of debt can also be estimated by adding a credit spread to the risk-free rate and multiplying the result by (1 - T).

Finding the Cost of Equity

The cost of equity is more complicated since the rate of return demanded by equity investors is not as clearly defined as it is by lenders. The cost of equity is approximated by the capital asset pricing model as follows:

CAPM(Costofequity)=Rf+β(RmRf)where:Rf=risk-freerateofreturnRm=marketrateofreturn\begin{aligned} &CAPM(\text{Cost of equity})= R_f + \beta(R_m - R_f) \\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &R_f=\text{risk-free rate of return}\\ &R_m=\text{market rate of return}\\ \end{aligned}CAPM(Costofequity)=Rf+β(RmRf)where:Rf=risk-freerateofreturnRm=marketrateofreturn

Beta is used in the CAPM formula to estimate risk, and the formula would require a public company's own stock beta. For private companies, a beta is estimated based on the average beta among a group of similar public companies. Analysts may refine this beta by calculating it on an after-tax basis. The assumption is that a private firm's beta will become the same as the industry average beta.

The firm’s overall cost of capital is based on the weighted average of these costs.

For example, consider an enterprise with a capital structure consisting of 70% equity and 30% debt; its cost of equity is 10% and the after-tax cost of debt is 7%.

Therefore, its WACC would be:

(0.7×10%)+(0.3×7%)=9.1%(0.7 \times 10\%) + (0.3 \times 7\%) = 9.1\%(0.7×10%)+(0.3×7%)=9.1%

This is the cost of capital that would be used to discount future cash flows from potential projects and other opportunities to estimate their net present value (NPV) and ability to generate value.

Companies strive to attain the optimal financing mixbased on the cost of capital for various funding sources. Debt financing is more tax-efficient than equity financing since interest expenses are tax-deductible and dividends on common shares are paid with after-tax dollars. However, too much debt can result in dangerously high leverage levels, forcing the company to pay higher interest rates to offset the higher default risk

Cost of Capital vs. Discount Rate

The cost of capital and discount rate are somewhat similarand the terms are oftenused interchangeably. Cost of capital is often calculated by a company's finance department and used by management to set a discount rate (or hurdle rate) that must be beaten to justify an investment.

That said, a company's management should challenge its internally generated cost of capital numbers, as they may be so conservative as to deter investment.

Cost of capital may also differ based on the type of project or initiative; a highly innovative but risky initiative should carry a higher cost of capital than a project to update essential equipment or software with proven performance.

Importance of Cost of Capital

Businesses and financial analysts use the cost of capital to determine if funds are being invested effectively. If the return on an investment is greater than the cost of capital, that investment will end up being a net benefit to the company's balance sheets. Conversely, an investment whose returns are equal to or lower than the cost of capital indicate that the money is not being spent wisely.

The cost of capital can also determine a company's valuation. Since a company with a high cost of capital can expect lower proceeds in the long run, investors are likely to see less value in owning a share of that company's equity.

Real-World Examples

Every industry has its own prevailing average cost of capital.

The numbers vary widely. Homebuilding has a relatively high cost of capital, at 6.35, according to a compilation from New York University's Stern School of Business. The retail grocery business is relatively low, at 1.98%.

The cost of capital is also high among both biotech and pharmaceutical drug companies, steel manufacturers, internet software companies,and integrated oil and gas companies. Those industries tend to requiresignificant capital investment in research, development, equipment, and factories.

Among the industries with lower capital costs are money center banks, power companies, real estate investment trusts (REITs), and utilities (both general and water). Such companies may require less equipment or may benefit from very steady cash flows.

Why Is Cost of Capital Important?

Most businesses strive to grow and expand. There may be many options: expand a factory, buy out a rival, build a new, bigger factory. Before the company decides on any of these options, it determines the cost of capital for each proposed project. This indicates how long it will take for the project to repay what it cost, and how much it will return in the future. Such projections are always estimates, of course. But the company must follow a reasonable methodology to choose between its options.

What Is the Difference Between the Cost of Capital and the Discount Rate?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. In business, cost of capital is generally determined by the accounting department. It is a relatively straightforward calculation of the breakeven point for the project. The management team uses that calculation to determine the discount rate, or hurdle rate, of the project. That is, they decide whether the project can deliver enough of a return to not only repay its costs but reward the company's shareholders.

How Do You Calculate the Weighted Average Cost of Capital?

The weighted average cost of capital represents the average cost of the company's capital, weighted according to the type of capital and its share on the company balance sheet. This is determined by multiplying the cost of each type of capital by the percentage of that type of capital on the company's balance sheet and adding the products together.

The Bottom Line

The cost of capital measures the cost that a business incurs to finance its operations. It measures the cost of borrowing money from creditors, or raising it from investors through equity financing, compared to the expected returns on an investment. This metric is important in determining if capital is being deployed effectively.


What is an example of cost of capital calculation? ›

For example, if the company paid an average yield of 5% on its outstanding bonds, its cost of debt would be 5%. This is also its cost of capital.

What is a simple example of cost of capital? ›

The firm's overall cost of capital is based on the weighted average of these costs. For example, consider an enterprise with a capital structure consisting of 70% equity and 30% debt; its cost of equity is 10% and the after-tax cost of debt is 7%.

What is capital cost formula? ›

To calculate CAPM, investors use the following formula: Cost of Equity = Risk-Free Rate of Return + Beta × (Market Rate of Return - Risk-Free Rate of Return)

How do you calculate WACC step by step? ›

How to calculate WACC
  1. Determine the equity and debt market values. Find the market values for both your company's capital debt and equity. ...
  2. Calculate the actual costs of the debt and equity. ...
  3. Combine the debt and equity market values. ...
  4. Find the current corporate tax rate. ...
  5. Apply the formula.
Mar 10, 2023

What is capital cost with meaning and example? ›

Essentially, capital costs are one-time expenses paid for things used in the production of goods or service. A good example of a capital costs is the purchase of fixed assets, like new buildings or business tools. It could also include the costs of intangible assets, like patents and other forms of technology.

What is WACC the cost of capital for? ›

The weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is the average rate that a business pays to finance its assets. It is calculated by averaging the rate of all of the company's sources of capital (both debt and equity), weighted by the proportion of each component.

What is a good example of capital? ›

Here are a few examples of capital: Company cars. Machinery. Patents.

What is cost of working capital example? ›

Working capital is calculated by taking a company's current assets and deducting current liabilities. For instance, if a company has current assets of $100,000 and current liabilities of $80,000, then its working capital would be $20,000.

What is the difference between cost of capital and WACC? ›

What is the difference between Cost of Capital and WACC? Cost of capital is the total of cost of debt and cost of equity, whereas WACC is the weighted average of these costs derived as a proportion of debt and equity held in the firm.

Why the cost of capital should be calculated? ›

In addition, investors use the cost of capital as one of the financial metrics they consider in evaluating companies as potential investments. The cost of capital figure is also important because it is used as the discount rate for the company's free cash flows in the DCF analysis model.

What is the formula for capital in accounting? ›

Capital = Assets – Liabilities

Capital can be defined as being the residual interest in the assets of a business after deducting all of its liabilities (ie what would be left if the business sold all of its assets and settled all of its liabilities).

How do you calculate cost of capital equity? ›

Estimate the cost of equity by dividing the annual dividends per share by the current stock price, then add the dividend growth rate. In comparison, the capital asset pricing model considers the beta of investment, the expected market rate of return, and the Rf rate of return.

What are the two ways to calculate WACC? ›

How to Calculate WACC
  1. The first determines how much of the company's capital structure is equity and then multiplies that by the cost of equity.
  2. The second part of the formula shows how much of the capital structure is debt and multiplies that proportion by the cost of debt.
Jan 5, 2023

What is an example of a WACC analysis? ›

For example, a WACC of 5% means the company must pay an average of $0.05 to source an additional $1. This $0.05 may be the cost of interest on debt or the dividend/capital return required by private investors.

What is the use of WACC formula? ›

What is WACC used for? The Weighted Average Cost of Capital serves as the discount rate for calculating the Net Present Value (NPV) of a business. It is also used to evaluate investment opportunities, as it is considered to represent the firm's opportunity cost. Thus, it is used as a hurdle rate by companies.

What is the total capital cost? ›

Total Capital Cost means the sum of Past Development Costs, Development Costs and all other costs in connection with the construction, testing and Commercial Operation of the Project, including construction management and financing costs (including interest during construction and any reserves required to be funded out ...

What is the cost of capital quizlet? ›

The cost of capital is the minimum rate of return that a firm must earn on its investments to grow firm value. A weighted average cost of capital should be used to find the expected average future cost of funds over the long run.

What is the real cost of capital vs the cost of capital? ›

The nominal rate is the actual cost of capital and is used on the actual cash flows (i.e. including inflation). The real rate is the cost of capital if there were no inflation, and is used on the 'real' cash flows – i.e. the cash flows at current prices.

What is the WACC theory? ›

The traditional theory of capital structure states that when the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is minimized, and the market value of assets is maximized, an optimal structure of capital exists. This is achieved by utilizing a mix of both equity and debt capital.

Why use WACC instead of cost of capital? ›

The main difference between the weighted average cost of capital and the cost of equity is that the WACC takes into account all the different sources of capital that a company has, while the cost of equity only takes into account the return that shareholders expect to earn on their investment.

What are 3 examples of capital items? ›

Capital goods include buildings, machinery, equipment, vehicles, and tools.

What are 5 examples of capital goods? ›

Tools, machinery, buildings, vehicles, computers, and construction equipment are types of capital goods. Capital goods are one of the four leading economic factors.

What are the three examples of capital? ›

The following are different examples of types of capital:
  • Financial (Economic) Capital. Financial capital is necessary in order to get a business off the ground. ...
  • Human Capital. Human capital is a much less tangible concept, but its contribution to a company's success is no less important. ...
  • Social Capital.

What is a real life example of working capital? ›

Cash, including money in bank accounts and undeposited checks from customers. Marketable securities, such as U.S. Treasury bills and money market funds. Short-term investments a company intends to sell within one year. Accounts receivable, minus any allowances for accounts that are unlikely to be paid.

What is an example of capital in business? ›

In business, capital means the money a company needs to function and to expand. Typical examples of capital include cash at hand and accounts receivable, near cash, equity and capital assets. Capital assets are significant, long-term assets not intended to be sold as part of your regular business.

How do you calculate working capital needs? ›

Current Assets divided by current liabilities. Your current ratio helps you determine if you have enough working capital to meet your short-term financial obligations. A general rule of thumb is to have a current ratio of 2.0.

What are the factors affecting the cost of capital? ›

We identify four primary factors : general economic conditions, the marketability of the firm's securities (market conditions), operating and financing conditions within the company, and the amount of financing needed for new investments.

Is it good to have a higher or lower WACC? ›

In investors' eyes, WACC represents the minimum rate of return for a company to produce value for its investors. Higher WACC ratios generally indicate that a business is a riskier investment, while a lower WACC tends to correlate with more stable business investments.

Is cost of capital the same as equity? ›

The cost of capital, generally calculated using the weighted average cost of capital, includes both the cost of equity and the cost of debt.

Is discount rate same as cost of capital? ›

The cost of capital refers to the minimum rate of return needed from an investment to make it worthwhile, whereas the discount rate is the rate used to discount the future cash flows from an investment to the present value to determine if an investment will be profitable.

What are the assumptions of cost of capital? ›

Assumption of Cost of Capital

It consist of three important risks such as zero risk level, business risk and financial risk. Cost of capital can be measured with the help of the following equation. K = rj + b + f. Where, K = Cost of capital.

Is cost of capital the same as required rate? ›

The cost of capital refers to the expected returns on the securities issued by a company. The required rate of return is the return premium required on investments to justify the risk taken by the investor.

What is an example of the accounting equation? ›

For example, Total Assets – Total Liabilities = Total Equity, or Total Assets – Total Equity = Total Liabilities. You move a term from the right side to the left side of the accounting equation by using a minus sign.

What is the formula for the cost of equity in WACC? ›

Cost of equity = Risk free rate of return + Beta * (market rate of return - risk free rate of return).

What is the formula for the cost of debt for WACC? ›

Notice in the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) formula above that the cost of debt is adjusted lower to reflect the company's tax rate. For example, a company with a 10% cost of debt and a 25% tax rate has a cost of debt of 10% x (1-0.25) = 7.5% after the tax adjustment.

What is the WACC of Apple? ›

The WACC of Apple Inc (AAPL) is 9.0%. The Cost of Equity of Apple Inc (AAPL) is 9.2%.

How do you calculate cost of capital using CAPM? ›

Using the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to determine its cost of equity financing, you would apply Cost of Equity = Risk-Free Rate of Return + Beta × (Market Rate of Return – Risk-Free Rate of Return) to reach 1 + 1.1 × (10-1) = 10.9%.

What is the formula for WACC cost of debt? ›

Notice in the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) formula above that the cost of debt is adjusted lower to reflect the company's tax rate. For example, a company with a 10% cost of debt and a 25% tax rate has a cost of debt of 10% x (1-0.25) = 7.5% after the tax adjustment.

How do you calculate opportunity cost of capital for a project? ›

Opportunity Cost of Capital Formula
  1. The opportunity cost of capital =
  2. = Rate of Return on Most Profitable Investment −
  3. − Rate of Return on Investment Chosen to Pursue.

How do you calculate capital on a balance sheet? ›

The simplest presentation of capital employed is total assets minus current liabilities. Sometimes it is equal to all current equity plus interest-generating loans (non-current liabilities).

What is the formula for working capital needs? ›

Logically, the working capital requirement calculation can be done via the following formula: WCR = Inventory + Accounts Receivable – Accounts Payable.


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