**There are different ways to measure how profitable an investment, project, or business will be at a later stage. One approach used by companies or pension funds is to calculate the net present value (NPV), which compares the money you’ll get in the future based on the amount you need to invest today. **

**On this page, we look at how to calculate net present value, examples of NPV, and what exactly a positive or negative NPV means.**

Key takeaways

**NPV equation:**You calculate NPV by subtracting current value costs from current value revenues using a discount rate and time period**Negative and positive NPV meaning:**While a negative NPV indicates an investment or project is likely to produce losses, a positive NPV suggests a profit, and is worth investing in**Pros and cons:**The advantage of net present value is that it takes the time value of money into account, but it’s not suitable for directly comparing projects of different sizes

Net present value (NPV), or net present worth, is a **financial tool often used by businesses to assess the overall value of an investment**. It forecasts all future cash inflows and outflows linked to an investment, discounts them to today’s value, and adds them up. Businesses use the net present value formula to see if an investment will be profitable over time.

The NPV equation lets companies compare expenses and revenues occurring at different points in time, ultimately helping them decide where to put their capital. A NPV of more than €0 suggests that the venture is likely to generate net profits, while a NPV of less than €0 indicates it could make losses.

Present value tells you how much future cash you expect to get is worth today, using a specific rate of return. Net present value, on the other hand, not only considers future cash but also looks at how much you’re investing upfront. So, while present value can help to estimate future revenue for a project, net present value helps you see if the project will make enough money to cover its costs over time.

To calculate net present value, you determine the current value of both costs and revenues by discounting future amounts. To do this, you divide the future value by a discount rate over time.

This is the NPV formula:

**NPV = Cash flow / (1 + i) ^ t - Initial investment.**

**Cash flow = net cash flow at time t**

**i = discount rate**

**t = the time of the cash flow in years**

This is the formula for a single cash flow. There’s a slightly different NPV equation for a bigger project with several cash flows. However, it follows the same concept, where you work out the combined value of the expected cash flows today and then subtract today’s value of invested cash.

The discount rate in the net present value equation is **the rate used to calculate the present value of future cash flows**. It’s like a yardstick for how much future money is worth in today’s terms. When deciding which discount rate to use, investors consider what they could earn elsewhere with their money, known as the **opportunity cost**. Businesses might also choose the discount rate based on factors like **risk and cost of capital**.

The first part of the formula for net present value is sometimes called the discounted cash flow (DCF). It’s based on the idea that **money received in the future is worth less than money received today** because of factors like inflation. You can look at it as a euro today being worth more than a euro tomorrow, because today’s euro can be invested and earn interest from today. So, we “discount” those future cash flows back to their present value using the discount rate.

Here are some explanations of the other elements in the net present value equation:

**Cash flow:**Cash flow in the NPV formula is all money spent or earned during an investment, including expenses like capital outlays, interest, and loan repayments, as well as income from profits, revenue, or dividends.**Time:**Time is the duration in which cash flows are received or paid out. It’s typically measured in years, although it can be any unit of time depending on the circumstances.**Initial investment:**The initial cost required to start a project, make an investment, or enter into a business opportunity.

To make it a bit quicker and easier, you can also enter the NPV formula in Excel or use a special NPV calculator that you can find online.

When using the NPV formula, you get a result in euros. A positive net present value means that **the money you expect to make from an investment is more than what you initially put in**. In simple terms, it suggests that the future earnings from the investment are greater than the upfront costs, even when considering the value of money over time. So, if you calculate a positive NPV for a project or investment, it’s **likely to make you a profit**.

If you end up with a negative net present value, it suggests that the **anticipated costs of the investment outweigh the expected earnings**. So, if you’ve crunched the numbers using the NPV formula and come up with a negative NPV for a project or investment, it means it’s likely to be unprofitable and may not be worth pursuing.

Now that we’ve covered the meaning of NPV, we’ll now look at some practical examples.

Let’s say you’re considering investing some money now for payouts in the future. For example, you’re investing €10,000 today and another €10,000 in two years. In return, you expect to receive €12,500 in five years and €12,500 in 10 years.

But this is where the discount rate comes in - let’s say it’s 4% (1.04).

So, using the formula, you calculate the present value of each investment:

- For the €10,000 invested today, it stays the same since it’s already in the present.
- For the €10,000 invested in two years, its present value is €9,245 because of the discount rate.

Then, you calculate the present value of the payouts you expect to receive:

- €12,500 / ((1.04) ^ 5) = €10,274.09. The €12,500 you expect in five years is worth €10,274.09 today.
- €12,500 / ((1.04) ^ 10) = €8,444.55. The €12,500 you expect in ten years is worth €8,444.55 today.

After totalling the present values of your payouts and subtracting the present values of your investments, you find that your NPV is -€896.74. This means the investment is actually producing a negative return. So in this case, it might be better to look for a different investment opportunity.

Net present value in Ireland can also be used to calculate the current value of future pension funds by taking into account aspects like inflation.

For example, if you’ve built up €120,000 in a savings account, and you’re planning to retire in 10 years, you can calculate the current value and purchasing power of that €120,000. Assuming the inflation rate is 2%, you can calculate the present value of your saved pension money:

Present value = €120,000 / (1.02 ^ 10) = €98,442

This shows that inflation will reduce your purchasing power in the future, so you may need to save extra money to achieve your target amount and maintain your desired lifestyle in the future.

Net present value also comes into the standard capital superannuation benefit (SCSB), which is a formula used to calculate the lump sum pension payment that someone receives when they retire or are made redundant.

Here’s how it works:

You take the average salary over the last three years before leaving your job and multiply it by the number of full years you’ve worked. Then, you subtract the net present value of any tax-free lump sum you’re entitled to under your employer’s pension scheme. The NPV is the current value of the lump sum you’d get, based on factors like your age and whether you’re retiring or deferring.

## NPV advantages | ## NPV disadvantages |
---|---|

Incorporates time value of money. | Makes assumptions about future events that may turn out to be incorrect. |

Provides a simple way to calculate value. | Not useful for comparing projects of different sizes. |

It factors in discounted cash flows by considering the company’s cost of capital. | Doesn’t take hidden costs into account. |

Helps in better decision-making. | The discount rate is basically a judgement call and estimation. |

Given the disadvantages of the NPV method, it can be helpful to combine several methods to work out whether an investment is profitable.

Another method is to calculate the payback period. Unlike the NPV formula, this method calculates how long it will take to recoup the money you invest - in other words, the return on investment (ROI). This makes it useful for longer-term projects, where you can see if a project is a good use of your money.

There’s also something known as internal rate of return (IRR). IRR is the discount rate that makes the net present value of an investment zero. This tends to be used for projects with different time spans.

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