Stock Analysis

Calculating The Fair Value Of Essential Utilities, Inc. (NYSE:WTRG)

Key Insights

• Essential Utilities' estimated fair value is US\$33.70 based on Dividend Discount Model
• Essential Utilities' US\$37.10 share price indicates it is trading at similar levels as its fair value estimate
• Analyst price target for WTRG is US\$49.63, which is 47% above our fair value estimate

Today we'll do a simple run through of a valuation method used to estimate the attractiveness of Essential Utilities, Inc. (NYSE:WTRG) as an investment opportunity by taking the expected future cash flows and discounting them to their present value. The Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model is the tool we will apply to do this. Don't get put off by the jargon, the math behind it is actually quite straightforward.

We would caution that there are many ways of valuing a company and, like the DCF, each technique has advantages and disadvantages in certain scenarios. 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 Essential Utilities

Is Essential Utilities Fairly Valued?

As Essential Utilities operates in the water utilities sector, we need to calculate the intrinsic value slightly differently. Instead of using free cash flows, which are hard to estimate and often not reported by analysts in this industry, dividends per share (DPS) payments are used. Unless a company pays out the majority of its FCF as a dividend, this method will typically underestimate the value of the stock. We use the Gordon Growth Model, which assumes dividend will grow into perpetuity at a rate that can be sustained. For a number of reasons a very conservative growth rate is used that cannot exceed that of a company's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In this case we used the 5-year average of the 10-year government bond yield (2.2%). The expected dividend per share is then discounted to today's value at a cost of equity of 6.2%. Relative to the current share price of US\$37.1, the company appears around fair value at the time of writing. 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.

Value Per Share = Expected Dividend Per Share / (Discount Rate - Perpetual Growth Rate)

= US\$1.3 / (6.2% – 2.2%)

= US\$33.7

The 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. If you don't agree with these result, have a go at the calculation yourself and play with the 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 Essential Utilities 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 6.2%, which is based on a levered beta of 0.800. 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.

SWOT Analysis for Essential Utilities

Strength
• No major strengths identified for WTRG.
Weakness
• Earnings growth over the past year underperformed the Water Utilities industry.
• Interest payments on debt are not well covered.
• Dividend is low compared to the top 25% of dividend payers in the Water Utilities market.
• Expensive based on P/E ratio and estimated fair value.
Opportunity
• Annual earnings are forecast to grow for the next 3 years.
Threat
• Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow.
• Paying a dividend but company has no free cash flows.
• Annual earnings are forecast to grow slower than the American market.

Moving On:

Valuation is only one side of the coin in terms of building your investment thesis, and it 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. For Essential Utilities, we've put together three important elements you should further examine:

1. Risks: We feel that you should assess the 2 warning signs for Essential Utilities (1 is significant!) we've flagged before making an investment in the company.
2. Future Earnings: How does WTRG'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. 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.

Valuation is complex, but we're here to simplify it.

Discover if Essential Utilities might be undervalued or overvalued with our detailed analysis, featuring fair value estimates, potential risks, dividends, insider trades, and its financial condition.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.