An Intrinsic Calculation For Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE:DGX) Suggests It's 43% Undervalued

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 04, 2021

In this article we are going to estimate the intrinsic value of Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE:DGX) by taking the forecast future cash flows of the company and discounting them back to today's value. One way to achieve this is by employing the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model. Before you think you won't be able to understand it, just read on! It's actually much less complex than you'd imagine.

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.

See our latest analysis for Quest Diagnostics

The method

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, 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) estimate

 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 Levered FCF (\$, Millions) US\$1.10b US\$1.14b US\$1.29b US\$1.32b US\$1.35b US\$1.38b US\$1.41b US\$1.43b US\$1.46b US\$1.49b Growth Rate Estimate Source Analyst x6 Analyst x5 Analyst x1 Analyst x1 Est @ 2.03% Est @ 2.01% Est @ 2% Est @ 1.98% Est @ 1.98% Est @ 1.97% Present Value (\$, Millions) Discounted @ 6.0% US\$1.0k US\$1.0k US\$1.1k US\$1.0k US\$1.0k US\$972 US\$936 US\$901 US\$867 US\$834

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = US\$9.7b

After calculating the present value of future cash flows in the initial 10-year period, we need to calculate the Terminal Value, which accounts for all future cash flows beyond 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 2.0%. We discount the terminal cash flows to today's value at a cost of equity of 6.0%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2031 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = US\$1.5b× (1 + 2.0%) ÷ (6.0%– 2.0%) = US\$38b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= US\$38b÷ ( 1 + 6.0%)10= US\$21b

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\$31b. In the final step we divide the equity value by the number of shares outstanding. Relative to the current share price of US\$144, the company appears quite good value at a 43% discount to where the stock price trades currently. Remember though, that this is just an approximate valuation, and like any complex formula - garbage in, garbage out.

Important assumptions

Now the most important inputs to a discounted cash flow are the discount rate, and of course, the actual cash flows. Part of investing is coming up with your own evaluation of a company's future performance, so try the calculation yourself and check your own assumptions. 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 Quest Diagnostics 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 6.0%, which is based on a levered beta of 0.918. 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.

Whilst important, the DCF calculation is only one of many factors that you need to assess 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. Can we work out why the company is trading at a discount to intrinsic value? For Quest Diagnostics, we've compiled three additional aspects you should further research:

1. Risks: To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Quest Diagnostics (including 1 which is a bit concerning) .
2. Future Earnings: How does DGX's growth rate compare to its peers and the wider market? Dig deeper into the analyst consensus number for the upcoming years by interacting with our free analyst growth expectation chart.
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 NYSE every day. If you want to find the calculation for other stocks just search here.

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