Estimating The Fair Value Of Canadian National Railway Company (TSE:CNR)

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 10, 2022
TSX:CNR
Source: Shutterstock

In this article we are going to estimate the intrinsic value of Canadian National Railway Company (TSE:CNR) by taking the expected future cash flows and discounting them to today's value. The Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model is the tool we will apply to do this. It may sound complicated, but actually it is quite simple!

We generally believe that a company's value is the present value of all of the cash it will generate in the future. However, a DCF is just one valuation metric among many, and it is not without flaws. If you want to learn more about discounted cash flow, the rationale behind this calculation can be read in detail in the Simply Wall St analysis model.

Check out our latest analysis for Canadian National Railway

The method

We use what is known as a 2-stage model, which simply means we have two different periods of growth rates for the company's cash flows. Generally the first stage is higher growth, and the second stage is a lower growth phase. In the first stage we need to estimate the cash flows to the business over the next ten years. Where possible we use analyst estimates, but when these aren't available we extrapolate the previous free cash flow (FCF) from the last estimate or reported value. We assume companies with shrinking free cash flow will slow their rate of shrinkage, and that companies with growing free cash flow will see their growth rate slow, over this period. We do this to reflect that growth tends to slow more in the early years than it does in later years.

A DCF is all about the idea that a dollar in the future is less valuable than a dollar today, so we need to discount the sum of these future cash flows to arrive at a present value estimate:

10-year free cash flow (FCF) forecast

2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031
Levered FCF (CA$, Millions) CA$3.98b CA$4.43b CA$4.53b CA$4.42b CA$4.65b CA$4.71b CA$4.78b CA$4.85b CA$4.92b CA$4.99b
Growth Rate Estimate Source Analyst x11 Analyst x9 Analyst x2 Analyst x1 Analyst x1 Est @ 1.31% Est @ 1.39% Est @ 1.44% Est @ 1.48% Est @ 1.5%
Present Value (CA$, Millions) Discounted @ 5.9% CA$3.8k CA$4.0k CA$3.8k CA$3.5k CA$3.5k CA$3.3k CA$3.2k CA$3.1k CA$2.9k CA$2.8k

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = CA$34b

The second stage is also known as Terminal Value, this is the business's cash flow after the first stage. The Gordon Growth formula is used to calculate Terminal Value at a future annual growth rate equal to the 5-year average of the 10-year government bond yield of 1.6%. We discount the terminal cash flows to today's value at a cost of equity of 5.9%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2031 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = CA$5.0b× (1 + 1.6%) ÷ (5.9%– 1.6%) = CA$116b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= CA$116b÷ ( 1 + 5.9%)10= CA$66b

The total value is the sum of cash flows for the next ten years plus the discounted terminal value, which results in the Total Equity Value, which in this case is CA$99b. To get the intrinsic value per share, we divide this by the total number of shares outstanding. Compared to the current share price of CA$156, the company appears around fair value at the time of writing. Remember though, that this is just an approximate valuation, and like any complex formula - garbage in, garbage out.

dcf
TSX:CNR Discounted Cash Flow April 10th 2022

The assumptions

Now the most important inputs to a discounted cash flow are the discount rate, and of course, the actual cash flows. You don't have to agree with these inputs, I recommend redoing the calculations yourself and playing with them. The DCF also does not consider the possible cyclicality of an industry, or a company's future capital requirements, so it does not give a full picture of a company's potential performance. Given that we are looking at Canadian National Railway as potential shareholders, the cost of equity is used as the discount rate, rather than the cost of capital (or weighted average cost of capital, WACC) which accounts for debt. In this calculation we've used 5.9%, which is based on a levered beta of 1.027. Beta is a measure of a stock's volatility, compared to the market as a whole. We get our beta from the industry average beta of globally comparable companies, with an imposed limit between 0.8 and 2.0, which is a reasonable range for a stable business.

Moving On:

Valuation is only one side of the coin in terms of building your investment thesis, and it shouldn't be the only metric you look at when researching a company. The DCF model is not a perfect stock valuation tool. Instead the best use for a DCF model is to test certain assumptions and theories to see if they would lead to the company being undervalued or overvalued. If a company grows at a different rate, or if its cost of equity or risk free rate changes sharply, the output can look very different. For Canadian National Railway, we've put together three essential aspects you should explore:

  1. Risks: You should be aware of the 2 warning signs for Canadian National Railway we've uncovered before considering an investment in the company.
  2. Management:Have insiders been ramping up their shares to take advantage of the market's sentiment for CNR's future outlook? Check out our management and board analysis with insights on CEO compensation and governance factors.
  3. Other Solid Businesses: Low debt, high returns on equity and good past performance are fundamental to a strong business. Why not explore our interactive list of stocks with solid business fundamentals to see if there are other companies you may not have considered!

PS. The Simply Wall St app conducts a discounted cash flow valuation for every stock on the TSX every day. If you want to find the calculation for other stocks just search here.

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