The cost of capital is the expected rate of return that the market requires in order to attract funds to a particular investment and is one of the most important concepts in finance. It may be described in simple terms as the expected return appropriate for the expected level of risk and is also commonly called the discount rate, the expected return, or the required return.
There are three broad valuation approaches: (i) the income approach, (ii) the market approach, and (iii) the cost or asset-based approach. The country risk premia (CRPs), equity risk premia (ERPs), and relative volatility (RVs) can be used to develop cost of capital estimates for use in income approach-based valuation methods. Of the three aforementioned approaches to estimating value, only the income approach typically requires cost of capital estimates.
The cost of capital is a critical input used in income approaches to equate the future economic benefits (typically measured by projected cash flows) of a business, business ownership interest, security, or intangible asset to present value. The income approach is most often applied through a discounted cash flow (DCF) model.
A basic insight of capital market theory, that expected return is a function of risk, still holds when dealing with cost of equity capital in a global environment. Estimating a proper cost of capital (i.e., a discount rate) in developed countries, where a relative abundance of market data and comparable companies exist, requires a high degree of expertise. Estimating cost of capital in less-developed (i.e., “emerging”) economies can present an even greater challenge, primarily due to lack of data (or poor data quality) and the potential for magnified financial, economic, and political risks. A good understanding of cost of capital concepts is, therefore, essential for making global investment decisions.