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Are Investors Undervaluing US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) By 26%?

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·6 min read
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Today we'll do a simple run through of a valuation method used to estimate the attractiveness of US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) as an investment opportunity by taking the expected future cash flows and discounting them to their present value. We will take advantage of the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) model for this purpose. Don't get put off by the jargon, the math behind it is actually quite straightforward.

Companies can be valued in a lot of ways, so we would point out that a DCF is not perfect for every situation. If you still have some burning questions about this type of valuation, take a look at the Simply Wall St analysis model.

View our latest analysis for US Ecology

The model

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. To start off with, we need to estimate 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.

A DCF is all about the idea that a dollar in the future is less valuable than a dollar today, and so the sum of these future cash flows is then discounted to today's value:

10-year free cash flow (FCF) estimate

2022

2023

2024

2025

2026

2027

2028

2029

2030

2031

Levered FCF ($, Millions)

US$65.2m

US$65.0m

US$76.0m

US$88.0m

US$95.2m

US$101.2m

US$106.3m

US$110.6m

US$114.5m

US$117.9m

Growth Rate Estimate Source

Analyst x3

Analyst x1

Analyst x1

Analyst x1

Est @ 8.16%

Est @ 6.31%

Est @ 5.01%

Est @ 4.11%

Est @ 3.47%

Est @ 3.03%

Present Value ($, Millions) Discounted @ 8.0%

US$60.3

US$55.7

US$60.3

US$64.6

US$64.6

US$63.6

US$61.8

US$59.6

US$57.0

US$54.4

("Est" = FCF growth rate estimated by Simply Wall St)
Present Value of 10-year Cash Flow (PVCF) = US$601m

After calculating the present value of future cash flows in the initial 10-year period, we need to calculate the Terminal Value, which accounts for all future cash flows beyond 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 5-year average of the 10-year government bond yield (2.0%) 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 8.0%.

Terminal Value (TV)= FCF2031 × (1 + g) ÷ (r – g) = US$118m× (1 + 2.0%) ÷ (8.0%– 2.0%) = US$2.0b

Present Value of Terminal Value (PVTV)= TV / (1 + r)10= US$2.0b÷ ( 1 + 8.0%)10= US$916m

The total value is the sum of cash flows for the next ten years plus the discounted terminal value, which results in the Total Equity Value, which in this case is US$1.5b. In the final step we divide the equity value by the number of shares outstanding. Compared to the current share price of US$36.0, the company appears a touch undervalued at a 26% discount to where the stock price trades currently. 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.

dcf
dcf

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. 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 US Ecology 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 8.0%, which is based on a levered beta of 1.283. 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.

Looking Ahead:

Although the valuation of a company is important, it ideally won't be the sole piece of analysis you scrutinize for 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. 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 higher than the current share price? For US Ecology, we've put together three relevant items you should consider:

  1. Financial Health: Does ECOL 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 ECOL'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. The Simply Wall St app conducts a discounted cash flow valuation for every stock on the NASDAQGS every day. If you want to find the calculation for other stocks just search here.

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.

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