Is US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) Trading At A 33% Discount?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 13, 2021
NasdaqGS:ECOL

Today we will run through one way of estimating the intrinsic value of US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) by projecting its future cash flows and then discounting them to today's value. We will use the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model on this occasion. Believe it or not, it's not too difficult to follow, as you'll see from our example!

Companies can be valued in a lot of ways, so we would point out that a DCF is not perfect for every situation. 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.

See our latest analysis for US Ecology

Step by step through the calculation

We're using the 2-stage growth model, which simply means we take in account two stages of company's growth. In the initial period the company may have a higher growth rate and the second stage is usually assumed to have a stable growth rate. 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, and so the sum of these future cash flows is then discounted to today's value:

10-year free cash flow (FCF) forecast

2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030
Levered FCF ($, Millions) US$67.0m US$74.5m US$90.0m US$107.0m US$124.0m US$136.5m US$147.0m US$155.8m US$163.3m US$169.8m
Growth Rate Estimate Source Analyst x3 Analyst x3 Analyst x1 Analyst x1 Analyst x1 Est @ 10.1% Est @ 7.68% Est @ 5.99% Est @ 4.8% Est @ 3.97%
Present Value ($, Millions) Discounted @ 8.4% US$61.8 US$63.4 US$70.6 US$77.4 US$82.8 US$84.1 US$83.5 US$81.6 US$78.9 US$75.7

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = US$759m

The second stage is also known as Terminal Value, this is the business's cash flow after the first stage. For a number of reasons a very conservative growth rate is used that cannot exceed that of a country's GDP growth. In this case we have used the 5-year average of the 10-year government bond yield (2.0%) to estimate future growth. In the same way as with the 10-year 'growth' period, we discount future cash flows to today's value, using a cost of equity of 8.4%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2030 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = US$170m× (1 + 2.0%) ÷ (8.4%– 2.0%) = US$2.7b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= US$2.7b÷ ( 1 + 8.4%)10= US$1.2b

The total value, or equity value, is then the sum of the present value of the future cash flows, which in this case is US$2.0b. In the final step we divide the equity value by the number of shares outstanding. Relative to the current share price of US$42.2, the company appears quite good value at a 33% discount to where the stock price trades currently. Valuations are imprecise instruments though, rather like a telescope - move a few degrees and end up in a different galaxy. Do keep this in mind.

dcf
NasdaqGS:ECOL Discounted Cash Flow April 13th 2021

Important assumptions

We would point out that 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 US Ecology 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 8.4%, which is based on a levered beta of 1.220. 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.

Looking Ahead:

Whilst important, the DCF calculation ideally won't be the sole piece of analysis you scrutinize for a company. It's not possible to obtain a foolproof valuation with a DCF model. Rather it should be seen as a guide to "what assumptions need to be true for this stock to be under/overvalued?" For instance, if the terminal value growth rate is adjusted slightly, it can dramatically alter the overall result. What is the reason for the share price sitting below the intrinsic value? For US Ecology, we've put together three essential factors you should consider:

  1. Risks: As an example, we've found 1 warning sign for US Ecology that you need to consider before investing here.
  2. Management:Have insiders been ramping up their shares to take advantage of the market's sentiment for ECOL'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. Simply Wall St updates its DCF calculation for every American stock every day, so if you want to find the intrinsic value of any other stock just search here.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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