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Capital budgeting is a critically important financial management tool in a company's arsenal, especially when assessing the value and investment return of large products.

Yet capital budgeting offers a company more value in that, with uses that spread in myriad corporate financial directions. The key in maximizing capital budgeting is knowing how to deploy it and what key steps to use in doing so.

What Is Capital Budgeting?

Capital budgeting gives a business a useful financial measurement mechanism for its more pricier capital expenditures, for things like new equipment purchases, maintenance and upgrading existing company equipment, and new building, building maintenance and renovation purchases.

By and large, capital budgeting uses multiple calculations to rank and assess capital expenditures and large-scale projects, with these measurement models the most prominent:

  • Future capital accounting profit by period (for example, by quarter or year.)
  • Future cash flows by period (also by quarter or year, in most cases.)
  • Present value of company cash flows, i.e. discounting those cash flows with a specific interest rate.
  • The total amount of years needed to repay the original capital investment, as measured on a cash flow basis.
  • A risk review tied to with the urgency of a company's expenditure on a large project

Why Is Capital Budgeting So Important?

Usually, capital budgeting is put into play for big company projects that last one year or more in duration. With that much time and that much money at stake, capital budgeting becomes a key "go to" barometer for the progress, cost risks, and potential return on investment for company financial managers.

Let's break that theme down and see, in real-world terms, just why capital budgeting is so vital to companies looking to get a grip on big capital expenditures - the kind that can make or break a company's financial performance over an extended period.

There's Too Much at Risk Not to Use Capital Budgeting

With so much at stake with large capital expenditures, companies desperately need a measuring stick that tells them how a big project is faring. Taking the temperature of a capital project's progress on a regular basis allows company decision-makers to make better-informed decisions on that project going forward.

Once a company embarks on a large project, like the purchase and usage of a large fleet of vehicles or the construction of a new manufacturing plant overseas, there comes a point of no return for the company, which must have precise data on the progress of large projects - something capital budgeting can provide.

Capital Budgeting Is Flexible 

More companies are turning to capital budgeting for other uses, too.

For example, corporate financial officers can leverage capital budgeting in other key financial management areas, such as leasing projects, day-to-day working capital spending, for research and as a measurement tool for new and existing merger and acquisitions, and for assessing potential corporate bond issues (and measuring the progress and performance of existing bond issues.)

For More Robust Portfolio Management Assessment

Equally, capital budgeting can be put to good use in the creation and analysis of a company's investment portfolio, for critical assessment categories like stocks, bonds,

hedge funds

, real estate, and foreign currencies, among others.

In fact, most securities analysis data sets are modeled after capital budgeting, giving financial managers a platform for solid portfolio management assessment, along with the ability to add new and innovative analysis tools to its capital budgeting base, giving those managers more accurate valuations on how a company's investments are faring.

For Proper Risk Assessment

Capital budgeting can also be used to assess any potential risk linked to a large company expenditure.

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Going into a large project akin to a new manufacturing facility overseas, a company will want to know how much cash it stands to lose if the plans go awry or if the plant doesn't live up to its planned potential.

With capital budgeting, financial analysts can assess various risk scenarios and give company decision makers a road map in advance that reveals risks and vulnerabilities in pursuing the project, (particularly on company cash flow scenarios) and give them the information they need to make the best decisions going forward.

To Create a Project Checklist

A good capital budgeting assessment can also assist a company in the actual implementation of more substantial corporate projects.

In the above example, the budgeting blueprint should include the plan to pay for the new manufacturing plant, a plan to monitor project financial outlays, and a plan to track cash flow and handle any revenues generated after the facility is up and running.

A good capital budgeting campaign can handle all of the above, from the beginning of the project to the end.

Key Steps in the Capital Budgeting Process

For corporate financial managers, the key to proper capital budgeting campaigns is to take that process on a step by step basis, as follows:

Step 1: Begin by Exploring Opportunities 

The capital budgeting process begins with a thorough assessment of potential business opportunities. For example, if a company wants to assess the potential of building a manufacturing facility in a foreign country, that company needs to weigh multiple scenarios (and alternatives to building that facility) for corporate decision makers to mull over. Timing, location, potential costs, and hiring overseas personnel all need to be considered.

Or, the company may decide, after looking at its capital budgeting scenarios, that adding to an existing facility back home may be more cost-effective. The data sets that companies need to ascertain when weighing such a decision come from a thorough capital budget process.

Once a command decision has been reached, the company begins the process of mapping out its new overseas facility, using capital budgeting estimations to factor key determinates like upfront costs and a proper time schedule.

Step 2: Estimate the Project's Total Cost 

The next step is to calculate the estimated total cost of your company's project, offering multiple scenarios to maximize the expenditure while still gaining maximum value.

Using the overseas manufacturing facility, capital budgeting can gauge the total cost of building the new facility from the ground up in a specific foreign course, against the total cost of building it in a different country or region.

The company can also use capital budgeting to provide total cost estimates for alternative project options, like adding to an existing facility at home instead of building a new manufacturing plant overseas.

Step 3: Calculate Your Return on Investment 

Capital budgeting assessments can also provide an estimate on the potential return on investment on a large corporate project, including a cash flow estimate stemming from the new project's potential income-producing value.

Company financial analysts can lean on data from similar existing projects. In the example of an overseas manufacturing plant, analysts can use capital budgeting forecasting from the company's own experience building facilities, or lean on the data culled from similar sites built by other companies.

The Takeaway on Capital Budgeting

Capital budgeting is a highly useful financial analysis tool that can help a company plan and implement any big expenditures on long-term assets.

From analyzing potential business investment opportunities to planning a budget to implementing a plan for a large-scale project, capital budgeting can provide a blueprint for long-term success on long-term company projects, while also offering value in additional company financial assessment needs.

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