How to Value Stocks using DCF

What You Will Learn

  • How to value stocks using a DCF the easy to understand way
  • How to value stocks using reverse DCF to understand market expectation
  • How to value stocks using the Ben Graham Formula to buy underpriced stocks

How to value stocks series

For other posts in the series, follow the links below.

Valuing a Stock with the DCF Method

How to value Stocks using DCF

value stocks using DCF

Formula – How to value stocks using DCF |

You may have found a great company that you feel has outstanding potential but always end up getting stuck at what price you should purchase the company. Finding the value of a stock is a critical part of investing successfully. Valuing stocks is not hard, but it does require logic and practice.

Calculating stock values surprising should not consist of lengthy and complicated formulas. If you understand the concepts of how to go about thinking through a stock valuation, you will understand that you don’t need to understand the derivation of the formula to apply it well and to achieve profits off your investments.

Let me give you an example.

The real formula to perform a discounted cash flow is:

DCF = CF0 x SUM[(1 + g)/(1 + r)]n (for x = 0 to n)

Now this formula will excite a few, but for the rest, my advice is to just understand what a DCF calculation is and what variables you need to include and adjust.

I won’t explain what a DCF or discounted cash flow is as you can follow the link for a fuller discussion.

How to Value a Stock with DCF

DCF Discount Rate

The purpose of a discounted cash flow is to find the sum of the future cash flow of the business and discount it back to the present value. To do this you need to decide upon a discount rate.

Simply put, a discount rate is another phrase for “rate of return”. i.e. what is your return requirement for this investment to be worth the risk?

You wouldn’t expect a return of 3% off your stock investment because you could easily get that from a Certificate of Deposit (CD) or even just your normal bank account. A treasury bond will probably give you a better return.

If the bank and fed are risk free investments at 3%, then why bother using 3% as a discount rate?

So what would be a good rate?

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Considering that the “average” market return is about 9-10%, a minimum discount rate should be set to 9%. I use 9% as a minimum for stable and predictable companies such as KO while 15% is a good return for less predictable companies such as NTRI.

A somewhat more difficult and confusing definition of discount rate would be, how much emphasis you place on the future cash in terms of today’s dollars rather than the future dollars.

E.g. What price would you pay for an investment today if company XYZ future cash flow is worth $100 after 1 year?

Discount Rate: 5% = 100/1.05 = $95.24

Discount Rate: 10% = 100/1.1 = $90.90

Discount Rate: 15% = 100/1.15 = $86.96

Discount Rate: 30% = 100/1.3 = $76.92

As you can see the higher the discount rate, the cheaper you have to purchase the stock because your required rate of return is much higher. This means that since you are willing to pay less now, you are placing more emphasis on the current cash flows of the company.

DCF Growth Rate

Growth rate is going to be the Achilles heel to any stock calculation. By growth rate, I mean the FCF growth rate.

I prefer to value stocks based on the present data rather than what will happen in the future. Anything could happen even in 1 year, and if the growth rate is too high and the company cannot meet those expectations, there is no where to go but down.

The best practice is to keep growth rates as low as possible. If the company looks to be undervalued with 0% growth rate, you have more upside than downside. The higher you set the growth rate, the higher you set up the downside potential.

Look at what happened to SPWR and FSLR. Solar energy was the rage in 2008 and growth was estimated to be at 50% and above, but these lofty expectations only make the fall harder.

Growth rates doesn’t have to be accurate. Just be reasonable and use common sense.

On most of the stocks I value, I rarely go above 20%, and that’s only for something like AAPL.

Adjusting Numbers

What I failed to do in the beginning when I started valuing stocks was to adjust the FCF numbers for cycles and one time events.

If you start a discounted cash flow calculation based on either a year with higher than normal FCF or much lower FCF, as is the case in 2008, the stock calculation will also be wrong.

Be sure to consider taking the median or average for the past few years to determine the normalized free cash flow.

The point of the stock valuation is to be realistic, not pessimistic or optimistic.

Margin of Safety

Whatever rate you choose, never, never forget to apply a margin of safety. This is the equivalent of a kill switch on the treadmill. It’s there to prevent you from getting hurt.

An important point is to not confuse a high discount rate for a margin of safety.

For lower discount rates it is advised that you use at least 50% margin of safety while for discount rates of 15%, a 25% margin of safety may be adequate.

This is because since you are requiring a higher return immediately off your investment, you are trying to pay much less than a discount rate of 9%. So by placing more emphasis on a higher return, you are in fact reducing the risk of the investment which is why a 25% margin of safety may be enough.

Practice your valuation with the free dcf stock analysis spreadsheet with all the things discussed.


  • A discount rate is your rate of return. Higher discount rate means you are trying to pay less for the future cash flows at the present time.
  • Growth rates are the fuzziest aspect of valuing stocks and should be applied conservatively.
  • Adjust numbers to remove one time events and cycles. Always consider a normal operating environment.
  • Never forget a big margin of safety. The best of us get it wrong as well.

That is how you value stocks using DCF. Next, I’ll discuss valuing stocks using Benjamin Graham’s formula in an upcoming post.

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  • Tyler

    for discount rate should u use WACC

  • Jae Jun

    I don’t fall into the side that uses WACC because it relies too much on beta. And we all know how much fluff beta is made out of.

  • Tyler

    Can you explain beta and WACC and why its not good. im quite new to this

  • Jae Jun
  • Tyler

    ive been speaking to a value invester quite reknown here in australia this is what he had to say on DCF formula. ps im not saying hes correct just putting the opinion out there.

    “You are simply using a formula that only applies to companies with 100% pay out ratios. The formula is slightly different for a company that retains and compounds earnings. Risk free rates are useful in risk free environments.”

  • Shane

    I can see a few flaws with this method, firstly you are calculating the value of a stock of based on the company only staying afloat for N years, when in reality a companys earnings should be treated more like a perpetuity. Second as Tyler said if you apply a growth rate the way you have you will end up comparing apples with oranges. ie take for example two companies who are in the same business with exactly the same earnings but company A pays out a 50% dividend and company B pays no dividend. In this case company B will have much higher growth and therefore you would value the stock much higher, but the total return from the two companies (if you reinvest dividends at the same return)if you ignore tax will be identical.

  • Jae Jun

    The answer is very basic. How do you calculate FCF?
    Even the basic formula of FCF (Cash from Operations – Capex) excludes dividend payouts. This is comparing apples to apples.

  • alexoviedo999

    Hello Jae,
    Great website!!! I agree with your views on WACC, however, I am a MBA student and some of my professors want to see WACC as part of the DCF valuation. When using your DCF spreadsheet there is an option to use an already calculated WACC in the drop down discount menu, but I don’t see how that number came about. Can you point out how the spreadsheet comes up with the WACC?

  • Jae Jun

    @ alexo,
    If you go to the DCFdata tab (it’s hidden by default) you will see the WACC calculation at the bottom of the page.

  • Viktor P

    great post. But I am confused. I’ve seen so many DCF Formulas and each one seems to differ from the other, some take do not take into account the growth rate, only the discount rate, and for example you also talk about the terminal growth, but where does it appear in the formula?

    I am interested in the mathematics of the calculation. The explanation is clear and hopefully understood :)

    Thank you.

  • Old School Value

    HI Victor, the terminal rate is included in the spreadsheet. Were you able to download that?
    It’s just a normal terminal rate calculation which is 2-3% growth rate for the final 10 years.

    Don’t get too hung up on trying to find “the” DCF. Go through the calculations of a few and they are all based on the same concept.

  • Augustine Jos

    Hey Jae , Mod,

    I liked your spreadsheet you have it for Indian companies or companies in US are covered?


  • Old School Value

    Yup only US stocks.

  • Rob Urban

    Jae, I appreciate all your posts in helping individual investors increase their investing knowledge and giving us excellent tools OSV.xls to do it at a great price.

    You and I recently discussed valuing stocks using DCF and whether to add in tangible assets or liquidation value to the intrinsic value/fair value. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and would like to share with you some thoughts I now have on this.

    My background comes into play here b/c I was a former business owner and feel like I kind of “get it”. I founded a home services business in 2005 and sold it in 2012 and now “attempt” to invest full time but have been very slow to buy anything other than WFC and QCOM. I’m also looking at buying a private business or two but haven’t found any yet. My business was not a capital intensive other than buying inventory and vans (parts for home repairs and used GMC vans). Our NPBT on sales was consistently 15%, yet at the end of each year I was only able to squeak out 10% of sales in owner distributions (owner earnings). Once I finally looked into the situation, here’s what I discovered:

    Net Income 15%, Depreciation +1%, Capex (vans/parts/etc) -6% = 10% Owner earnings

    That was my reality. Net income + Depreciation – Capex = my owner earnings.

    On to what I’ve been thinking of: DCF valuations should mirror your holding period

    Let’s say I buy a private business for $500k that has consistently generated OE of $100k each year for 30 years in a very “boring” industry with no local competition to speak of but no real growth prospects and long standing stable customers. Let’s also say I plan to finally retire in 10 years. If I can buy this business and keep $100k coming to me, then a future buyer will see this consistent $100k and should pay what I paid for it ($500k), assuming no growth and I didn’t go do something stupid like take on a lot of debt.

    So, I put down $500k cash, take out $1M in cash over 10 years, and sell it for what I paid for it. Initially, it’s a 20% return on my investment (100/500=20%), but over time the ROI decreases. My book value and assets aren’t really growing but I can set the clock to taking out $100k each year. Over 10 years I start with $500k, and end up with $1.5M assuming I just leave all the cash in the bank at 0% interest. I’m getting a CAGR of close to 12% with zero capital allocation skills on the $100k per year cash flow.

    My point here is that using perpetual DCF does not factor in an investor’s time horizon – no investor can hold a stock for 500 years :) You must factor in a sale date (whether it be a liquidation of the company assets or a sale of the business). So, if I’m looking to buy IBM and I have $500B in cash, how long do I plan to hold this company and what will I get if I buy the whole company now, hold it for 10 or 20 years, and liquidate it or sale it when I’m ready to sell?

    For a real life example of using liquidation value in addition to DVF, look at GNI.

    Hopefully I’m forcing your brain to work extra hard. Thanks for all your hard work. I would appreciate any comments you have.

    Rob Urban