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An Intrinsic Calculation For Pearson plc (LON:PSON) Suggests It's 47% Undervalued

Simply Wall St

Today we will run through one way of estimating the intrinsic value of Pearson plc (LON:PSON) by estimating the company's future cash flows and discounting them to their present value. I will use the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model. Don't get put off by the jargon, the math behind it is actually quite straightforward.

Remember though, that there are many ways to estimate a company's value, and a DCF is just one method. 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 Pearson

The calculation

We use what is known as a 2-stage model, which simply means we have two different periods of growth rates for the company's cash flows. Generally the first stage is higher growth, and the second stage is a lower growth phase. To begin with, we have to get estimates of the next ten years of cash flows. 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

2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029
Levered FCF (£, Millions) UK£424.5m UK£438.6m UK£547.0m UK£626.6m UK£692.6m UK£746.3m UK£789.6m UK£824.5m UK£853.1m UK£876.9m
Growth Rate Estimate Source Analyst x9 Analyst x8 Analyst x1 Est @ 14.54% Est @ 10.55% Est @ 7.75% Est @ 5.79% Est @ 4.42% Est @ 3.47% Est @ 2.79%
Present Value (£, Millions) Discounted @ 7.7% UK£394 UK£378 UK£437 UK£465 UK£477 UK£477 UK£468 UK£454 UK£436 UK£416

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = UK£4.4b

The second stage is also known as Terminal Value, this is the business's cash flow after the first stage. 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 10-year government bond rate (1.2%) 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 7.7%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2019 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = UK£877m× (1 + 1.2%) ÷ 7.7%– 1.2%) = UK£14b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= UK£14b÷ ( 1 + 7.7%)10= UK£6.5b

The total value, or equity value, is then the sum of the present value of the future cash flows, which in this case is UK£11b. To get the intrinsic value per share, we divide this by the total number of shares outstanding. Relative to the current share price of UK£7.4, the company appears quite undervalued at a 47% 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.

LSE:PSON Intrinsic value, September 27th 2019

The 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 Pearson 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 7.7%, which is based on a levered beta of 0.980. 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:

Whilst important, DCF calculation shouldn’t be the only metric you look at when researching a company. The DCF model is not a perfect stock valuation tool. Rather it should be seen as a guide to "what assumptions need to be true for this stock to be under/overvalued?" 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. What is the reason for the share price to differ from the intrinsic value? For Pearson, I've compiled three relevant factors you should further research:

  1. Financial Health: Does PSON have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Future Earnings: How does PSON'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: Are there other high quality stocks you could be holding instead of PSON? 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 LSE every day. If you want to find the calculation for other stocks just search here.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.