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Estimating The Fair Value Of Unitil Corporation (NYSE:UTL)

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Does the February share price for Unitil Corporation (NYSE:UTL) reflect what it's really worth? Today, we will estimate the stock's intrinsic value 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. Models like these may appear beyond the comprehension of a lay person, but they're fairly easy to follow.

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 still have some burning questions about this type of valuation, take a look at the Simply Wall St analysis model.

See our latest analysis for Unitil

Crunching the numbers

We have to calculate the value of Unitil slightly differently to other stocks because it is a integrated utilities company. 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. The dividend is expected to grow at an annual growth rate equal to the 5-year average of the 10-year government bond yield of 1.9%. We then discount this figure to today's value at a cost of equity of 5.3%. Compared to the current share price of US$49.1, 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$1.6 / (5.3% – 1.9%)

= US$47.8

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Important assumptions

Now 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 Unitil 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 5.3%, 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.

Next Steps:

Although the valuation of a company is important, it shouldn't be the only metric you look at when researching a company. The DCF model is not a perfect stock valuation tool. Preferably you'd apply different cases and assumptions and see how they would impact the company's valuation. If a company grows at a different rate, or if its cost of equity or risk free rate changes sharply, the output can look very different. For Unitil, there are three fundamental factors you should assess:

  1. Risks: Be aware that Unitil is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is potentially serious...

  2. Future Earnings: How does UTL'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.