Maintenance capex calculation

December 11, 2007

I discussed about maintenance capex and its relation with Free cash flow. To recap

Free cash flow = Net earnings + depreciation – maintenance capex

And free cash flow is the money the owner of business can take out or re-invest in the business.

Maintenance capex however does not have a precise formulae. That does not mean you cannot calculate it. But as you can see, if valuation is based on free cash flow which itself is based on an imprecise measure such as maintenance capex, it cannot be precise in itself.

Valuation depends on free cash flow, project growth rates , terminal value and the discount rates. All these are estimates and hence valuation is itself an estimate. That is the reason I find it assuming when analysts give reports where they give precise valuation targets and on top of that even the duration (next one year !!) when the target would be met.

So, coming back to maintenance capex, how do I estimate it? let me warn you at the outset. My approach is self developed, imprecise and only roughly right.

I will use my valuation template to explain my approach

Worksheet – anal – In this worksheet I fill up the sales, depreciation, wcap etc. On line 26, I calculate the additional capex (additional fixed asset and Wcap for the year). Line 27 is capex as % of sales.Β  This gives me a capex trend (total) for a period of time for the business.Β  I then use this trend to estimate the maintenance capex.

For ex: if the business has an asset turn (on average)Β  of 2, then I would assume capex as 2.5% of sales

Sales = 100

Asset = 50

Inflation increase in sales = 5

Corresponding asset required = 2.5 (2.5% of sales)

If the business is asset heavy (commodity industry) then the maintenance capex as % of sales is high.

If the asset turn is 1, then maintenance capex would be roughly 5% of sales. You can compare this % with depreciation as a % of sales to see if both are roughly equal.

You may find some errors in my worksheet and I plan to load an updated version soon. I don’t use these worksheet very frequently now. After using these worksheets for several years, I am now in a position where I can look at the numbers and estimate if the company looks roughly undervalued. A lot of companies don’t pass that test and are rejected outright. If a company passes that filter, I fill up the excel and go through the entire exercise (which is not very precise in itself)

I have loaded a few samples in the google groups. If you go through this exercise yourself several times, you will see patterns and it will be faster for you too.

In addition to the above excel, please have a look at the excel – Quantitative calculation – worksheet : Maintenance capex to see the relationship between Sales, Asset turns, Maintenance capex and ROC.

Ofcourse you can have a counter argument – who the hell wants to go through such an elaborate exercise to value a company? Don’t I have better things to do life πŸ™‚

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