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Of course, in the real world expected profits are a best guess, not a hard piece of data. Deciding which interest rate to apply for discounting to the present can be tricky. One needs to take into account both potential capital gains from the future sale of the stock and also dividends that might be paid. Differences of opinion on these issues are exactly why some financial investors want to buy a stock that other people want to sell: they are more optimistic about its future prospects. Conceptually, however, it all comes down to what you are willing to pay in the present for a stream of benefits to be received in the future.
A similar calculation works in the case of bonds. Financial Markets explains that if the interest rate falls after a bond is issued, so that the investor has locked in a higher rate, then that bond will sell for more than its face value. Conversely, if the interest rate rises after a bond is issued, then the investor is locked into a lower rate, and the bond will sell for less than its face value. The present value calculation sharpens this intuition.
Think about a simple two-year bond. It was issued for $3,000 at an interest rate of 8%. Thus, after the first year, the bond pays interest of 240 (which is 3,000 × 8%). At the end of the second year, the bond pays $240 in interest, plus the $3,000 in principle. Calculate how much this bond is worth in the present if the discount rate is 8%. Then, recalculate if interest rates rise and the applicable discount rate is 11%. To carry out these calculations, look at the stream of payments being received from the bond in the future and figure out what they are worth in present discounted value terms. The calculations applying the present value formula are shown in [link] .
Stream of Payments (for the 8% interest rate) | Present Value (for the 8% interest rate) | Stream of Payments (for the 11% interest rate) | Present Value (for the 11% interest rate) |
---|---|---|---|
$240 payment after one year | $240/(1 + 0.08) ^{1} = $222.20 | $240 payment after one year | $240/(1 + 0.11) ^{1} = $216.20 |
$3,240 payment after second year | $3,240/(1 + 0.08) ^{2} = $2,777.80 | $3,240 payment after second year | $3,240/(1 + 0.11) ^{2} = $2,629.60 |
Total | $3,000 | Total | $2,845.80 |
The first calculation shows that the present value of a $3,000 bond, issued at 8%, is just $3,000. After all, that is how much money the borrower is receiving. The calculation confirms that the present value is the same for the lender. The bond is moving money around in time, from those willing to save in the present to those who want to borrow in the present, but the present value of what is received by the borrower is identical to the present value of what will be repaid to the lender.
The second calculation shows what happens if the interest rate rises from 8% to 11%. The actual dollar payments in the first column, as determined by the 8% interest rate, do not change. However, the present value of those payments, now discounted at a higher interest rate, is lower. Even though the future dollar payments that the bond is receiving have not changed, a person who tries to sell the bond will find that the investment’s value has fallen.
Again, real-world calculations are often more complex, in part because, not only the interest rate prevailing in the market, but also the riskiness of whether the borrower will repay the loan, will change. In any case, the price of a bond is always the present value of a stream of future expected payments.
Present discounted value is a widely used analytical tool outside the world of finance. Every time a business thinks about making a physical capital investment, it must compare a set of present costs of making that investment to the present discounted value of future benefits. When government thinks about a proposal to, for example, add safety features to a highway, it must compare costs incurred in the present to benefits received in the future. Some academic disputes over environmental policies, like how much to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because of the risk that they will lead to a warming of global temperatures several decades in the future, turn on how one compares present costs of pollution control with long-run future benefits. Someone who wins the lottery and is scheduled to receive a string of payments over 30 years might be interested in knowing what the present discounted value is of those payments. Whenever a string of costs and benefits stretches from the present into different times in the future, present discounted value becomes an indispensable tool of analysis.
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