The Expectations Investing Framework

The Expectations Investing Framework

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Expectations Investing is a framework developed by Professor Michael J. Mauboussin of Columbia University and aims to work backward on the Discounted Cash Flow Model (DCF) to find the expectations baked into a stock price. Mauboussin believes the current valuation system isn’t able to sustain accuracy, as the Global Economy has had a major shift from tangible investments to intangible investments. Typical accounting methods can’t account for these types of stocks and thus misrepresent a company’s valuation. The Expectations Investing framework aims to resolve this issue to accurately find a company’s valuation.

The framework can be divided into 10 Key Steps and 4 Stages.

Stage 1: Calculate Free Cash Flows

The first step is simply finding the current sales level of the company, and then finding the expected sales growth rate. This can be found in a variety of sources, but Mauboussin recommends using the company’s own published literature.

The second step entails finding the Operating Profit Margin, which is simply the amount of cash left over after subtracting only these expenditures from sales:

  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) – The total amount your business paid as a cost directly related to the sale of products
  • General and Administrative Expenses – The day-to-day costs a business must pay to operate, such as rent and utilities
  • Sales and Marketing Expenses – All expenses incurred related to selling and marketing a product or service
  • Research and Development Expenses – Direct expenditures relating to a company’s efforts to develop, and enhance its products
  • Depreciation of Property, Plant, and Equipment – Reductions in the value of operational assets on the balance sheet, as value is lowered over time due to wear and tear and the reduction of their useful life

Step three is simply taking our Operating Profit and subtracting the Cash Tax, obtaining our Net Operating Profit After Taxes (NOPAT).

Step four is rather long, and involves finding the Incremental Investments.

The Incremental Working Capital can be found by using the cash flow statements and summing the following items:

  • Required Cash. We usually assume that a company needs to have some cash readily available for operation. We can assume that sum is a fixed amount of cash or an amount as a percentage of sales.
  • Other Current Assets. A company may have to tie up cash in other assets, such as insurance pre-payments.
  • Inventory. Any company selling a physical product will have to tie up cash in raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods inventory. ****
  • Accounts Receivable (A/R). Accounts receivable equals money owed to a company for goods or services purchased on credit. As A/R grows, then, a company needs to tie up cash in its business as it effectively lends this money out.

Then the following items can be subtracted:

  • Accounts Payable. Accounts payable are bills from suppliers for goods or services purchased on credit, which the company will benefit from cash flow-wise.
  • Other Non-Interest Bearing Current Liabilities. Various companies may have assorted non-interest-bearing current liabilities such as accrued wages, accrued expenses, accrued royalties, or other accrued liabilities. These non-interest-bearing current liabilities free up cash as they increase.

We must then find the proportion of cash used up in working capital for every new dollar of revenue, giving us a percentage for the Incremental Working Capital Rate.

To find the Fixed Capital, the following calculation must be completed where the following items on the cash flow statement must be added.

  • Capital Expenditures – The money spent on maintenance and improvement of long-term fixed assets such as buildings and plants
  • Capitalized Software Costs – Overhead costs which relate to software usage and testing such as programmer compensation
  • Other Investment Activities – Purchases of long-term assets such as real estate, other businesses, and securities

However, before a final figure is calculated we must subtract depreciation, as we want to calculate the cash invested beyond annual depreciation.

We must then find the proportion of cash used up in fixed capital for every new dollar of revenue, giving us a percentage for the Incremental Fixed Capital Rate.

Multiplying the projected cash increase in sales by the Incremental Working Capital Rate and adding this to the projected cash increase in sales times the Incremental Fixed Capital Rate to obtain the Incremental Investments.

We are now ready to calculate Free Cash Flow, which is our NOPAT minus Total 

Incremental Investments.

Stage 2: Value Non-Operating Assets and Debt

Excess cash reserves and securities account for the most value of non-operating assets, so we will simply add these. Then we find the total value of economic liabilities, and subtract it from the value of non-operating assets to achieve a Value for Non-Operating Assets and Debt.

Stage 3: Calculate Market Value of Equity

To find the Market Value of Equity, we simply multiply the share price by the number of shares currently held by all its shareholders (shares outstanding)

Stage 4: Calculate Market-Implied Forecast Period

We must first determine the current value of free cash flows, using the Weighted Average Cost of Capital.

Weighted Average Cost of Capital can be found by inferring the cost of each kind of capital source, which more often than not is a form of debt or equity.Equity’s cost of capital is mainly down to the opportunity cost held by the investor, as the investor could have had the opportunity to invest in another company with a similar risk profile. To determine the cost however we can use the CAPM model.

Cost of Equity Capital = Risk-Free Rate + (Beta x Market Risk Premium)

The cost of debt capital however is equivalent to the actual or imputed interest rate on the company’s debt, adjusted for the tax-deductibility of interest expenses, which can be determined using the following Debt Lite model.

Cost of Debt-Capital = The Yield-to-Maturity on Long-Term Debt x (1 Minus the Marginal Tax Rate in %)

Finally, we weigh the cost of each kind of capital by the proportion that each contributes to the entire capital structure. This gives us the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC), the average cost of each dollar of cash employed in the business.

We then extend the Forecast Period as far as necessary to match the current stock price. Our residual value matches a projected inflation rate of 1.6%. This allows us to find how far ahead the market is priced in.


This framework is in no way incumbent and only provides us with a model to understand how far ahead or behind the market is pricing the stock. This isn’t exactly a valuation model but rather a model to understand market sentiment behind a stock, meaning it doesn’t have as much of a direct influence on analyzing a stock. That being said, this model is rather useful to develop opinions about whole industries and sectors and what their future can be by conducting this analysis on multiple stocks in the same space.

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I write about stocks, investing, and banking. I am a student at Holland Park School.