Opportunity costs represent the benefits an individual, investor or business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another. While financial reports do not show opportunity cost, business owners can use it to make educated decisions when they have multiple options before them.
The term “opportunity cost” comes up often in finance and economics when trying to choose one investment, either financial or capital, over another. It serves as a measure of an economic choice as compared to the next best one. For example, there is an opportunity cost of choosing to finance a company with debt over issuing stock.
Opportunity cost cannot always be fully quantified at the time when a decision is made. Instead, the person making the decision can only roughly estimate the outcomes of various alternatives, which means imperfect knowledge can lead to an opportunity cost that will only become obvious in retrospect. This is a particular concern when there is a high variability of return. To return to the first example, the foregone investment at 7% might have a high variability of return, and so might not generate the full 7% return over the life of the investment.
The concept of opportunity cost does not always work, since it can be too difficult to make a quantitative comparison of two alternatives. It works best when there is a common unit of measure, such as money spent or time used.
Opportunity cost is not an accounting concept, and so does not appear in the financial records of an entity. It is strictly a financial analysis concept.
How is Opportunity Cost Calculated?
In financial analysis, the opportunity cost is factored into the present when calculating Net Present Value formula.
NPV: Net Present Value
FCF: Free cash flow
r: Discount rate
n: Number of periods
When presented with mutually exclusive options, the decision-making rule is to choose the project with the highest NPV. However, if the alternative project gives a single and immediate benefit, the opportunity costs can be added to the total costs incurred in C0. As a result, the decision rule then changes from choosing the project with the highest NPV into undertaking the project if NPV is greater than zero.
Financial analysts use financial modeling to evaluate the opportunity cost of alternative investments
Application of Opportunity Cost
For example, assume a firm discovered oil in one of its lands. A land surveyor determines that the land can be sold at a price of $40 billion. A consultant determines that extracting the oil will generate an operating revenue of $80 billion in present value terms if the firm is willing to invest $30 billion today. The accounting profit would be to invest the $30 billion to receive $80 billion, hence leading to an accounting profit of $50 billion. However, the economic profit for choosing to extract will be $10 billion because the opportunity cost of not selling the land will be $40 billion.
Time Value of Money (TVM)
The time value of money (TVM) is the concept that money available at the present time is worth more than the identical sum in the future due to its potential earning capacity. This core principle of finance holds that, provided money can earn interest, any amount of money is worth more the sooner it is received. TVM is also sometimes referred to as present discounted value.
The time value of money draws from the idea that rational investors prefer to receive money today rather than the same amount of money in the future because of money’s potential to grow in value over a given period of time. For example, money deposited into a savings account earns a certain interest rate and is therefore said to be compounding in value.
Further illustrating the rational investor’s preference, assume you have the option to choose between receiving $10,000 now versus $10,000 in two years. It’s reasonable to assume most people would choose the first option. Despite the equal value at time of disbursement, receiving the $10,000 today has more value and utility to the beneficiary than receiving it in the future due to the opportunity costs associated with the wait. Such opportunity costs could include the potential gain on interest were that money received today and held in a savings account for two years.
Basic TVM Formula
Depending on the exact situation in question, the TVM formula may change slightly. For example, in the case of annuity or perpetuity payments, the generalized formula has additional or less factors. But in general, the most fundamental TVM formula takes into account the following variables:
- FV = Future value of money
- PV = Present value of money
- i = interest rate
- n = number of compounding periods per year
- t = number of years
Based on these variables, the formula for TVM is.
FV = PV x [ 1 + (i / n) ] (n x t)