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Is Ecolab Inc. (NYSE:ECL) Expensive For A Reason? A Look At Its Intrinsic Value

Key Insights

  • Ecolab's estimated fair value is US$144 based on 2 Stage Free Cash Flow to Equity

  • Current share price of US$179 suggests Ecolab is potentially 24% overvalued

  • Our fair value estimate is 26% lower than Ecolab's analyst price target of US$196

Does the November share price for Ecolab Inc. (NYSE:ECL) reflect what it's really worth? Today, we will estimate the stock's intrinsic value by taking the expected future cash flows and discounting them to their present value. Our analysis will employ the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model. Models like these may appear beyond the comprehension of a lay person, but they're fairly easy to follow.

Remember though, that there are many ways to estimate a company's value, and a DCF is just one method. Anyone interested in learning a bit more about intrinsic value should have a read of the Simply Wall St analysis model.

See our latest analysis for Ecolab

Is Ecolab Fairly Valued?

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.

Generally we assume that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar in the future, so we discount the value of these future cash flows to their estimated value in today's dollars:

10-year free cash flow (FCF) estimate

2024

2025

2026

2027

2028

2029

2030

2031

2032

2033

Levered FCF ($, Millions)

US$1.75b

US$1.96b

US$2.06b

US$2.15b

US$2.23b

US$2.30b

US$2.37b

US$2.44b

US$2.50b

US$2.56b

Growth Rate Estimate Source

Analyst x11

Analyst x7

Est @ 5.18%

Est @ 4.29%

Est @ 3.67%

Est @ 3.24%

Est @ 2.93%

Est @ 2.72%

Est @ 2.57%

Est @ 2.46%

Present Value ($, Millions) Discounted @ 7.2%

US$1.6k

US$1.7k

US$1.7k

US$1.6k

US$1.6k

US$1.5k

US$1.5k

US$1.4k

US$1.3k

US$1.3k

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = US$15b

We now need to calculate the Terminal Value, which accounts for all the future cash flows after this ten year period. 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 (2.2%) 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 7.2%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2033 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = US$2.6b× (1 + 2.2%) ÷ (7.2%– 2.2%) = US$52b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= US$52b÷ ( 1 + 7.2%)10= US$26b

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$41b. The last step is to then divide the equity value by the number of shares outstanding. Relative to the current share price of US$179, the company appears slightly overvalued at the time of writing. The assumptions in any calculation have a big impact on the valuation, so it is better to view this as a rough estimate, not precise down to the last cent.

dcf
dcf

Important Assumptions

The calculation above is very dependent on two assumptions. The first is the discount rate and the other is the 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 Ecolab 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 7.2%, which is based on a levered beta of 1.003. 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 Ecolab

Strength

  • Earnings growth over the past year exceeded the industry.

  • Debt is well covered by earnings and cashflows.

  • Dividends are covered by earnings and cash flows.

Weakness

  • Dividend is low compared to the top 25% of dividend payers in the Chemicals market.

  • Expensive based on P/E ratio and estimated fair value.

Opportunity

  • Annual earnings are forecast to grow faster than the American market.

Threat

  • Annual revenue is forecast to grow slower than the American market.

Next Steps:

Whilst important, the DCF calculation shouldn't be the only metric you look at when researching a company. DCF models are not the be-all and end-all of investment valuation. 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. For example, changes in the company's cost of equity or the risk free rate can significantly impact the valuation. Why is the intrinsic value lower than the current share price? For Ecolab, there are three essential elements you should consider:

  1. Risks: Case in point, we've spotted 1 warning sign for Ecolab you should be aware of.

  2. Future Earnings: How does ECL'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 High Quality Alternatives: Do you like a good all-rounder? Explore our interactive list of high quality stocks to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!

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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

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