Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unconventional Sources of Funds

A topic I've noticed has appeared in a corporate finance as well as financial modeling cases. Whereas people often think of raising funds in traditional methods such as raising debt and equity, I don’t think people pay enough attention to potential changes in free cash flow, particularly change in net working capital.

For instance, in corporate finance, we were discussing the acquisition of a private company and what considerations should be taken into consideration when acquiring the company. Besides the obvious item’s we’d learned so far, it was also useful to see what would happen to the company if it’s operations were structure in a manner similar to its public counterparts. That is to say, express AR as a percentage of total assets (as well as all assets and liabilities) and look at the change in cash flow that results from the aggregate change in each account when bringing the private company to the industry average. The result can provide a considerable cash flow in or out of the company. While this principle can be generally applied, this is easy to understand using working capital as an example. This is because that unlike capex, change in net working capital can possibly supply cash flow into the company if it was previously poorly managed financially or if new management can improve the cash conversion cycle.

In our financial management case example, this principle was more pronounced as the history of a company’s operations for four years worth of balance sheet items was produced. Activity / operating ratios were heavily underperforming, particularly in prepaid expenses (compared against revenue as an appropriate base) as well as accounts payable (days payable).

While an “unconventional” method of financing, this was one of the lessons from Bombril on the Latin America study tour, where Gustavo Ramos, the CEO, a former Rotman Commerce undergrad and Columbia MBA, told us about how he turned the company around when it was in financial distress. One of the methods he used to “finance” the company was to stretch the cash conversion cycle: negotiating with suppliers to get more favourable terms, being more aggressive in collecting on accounts receivable, managing inventory (reducing days on hand) etc.

While strategies such as stretching the payables is considered to be a last resort for companies in “survival mode”, it can also be used to trim a type of operational fat and is directly related to the calculation of excess cash (and also excess working capital) as you structure your balance sheet accounts with optimal weightings.

Any non-income generating assets that can be sold for excess cash without affecting the underlying FCF can create additional value for the company. Clearly, this unlocks value in the company not captured in at DCF, but does not make the DCF any less sustainable (valid).

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