The Components of Risk

When a firm makes an investment, in a new asset or a project, the return on that investment can be affected by several variables, most of which are not under the direct control of the firm. Some of the risk comes directly from the investment, a portion from competition, some from shifts in the industry, some from changes in exchange rates and some from macroeconomic factors. A portion of this risk, however, will be eliminated by the firm itself over the course of multiple investments and another portion by investors as they hold diversified portfolios.

The first source of risk is project-specific; an individual project may have higher or lower cashflows than expected, either because the firm misestimated the cashflows for that project or because of factors specific to that project. When firms take a large number of similar projects, it can be argued that much of this risk should be diversified away in the normal course of business. For instance, Disney, while considering making a new movie, exposes itself to estimation error - it may under or over estimate the cost and time of making the movie, and may also err in its estimates of revenues from both theatrical release and the sale of merchandise. Since Disney releases several movies a year, it can be argued that some or much of this risk should be diversifiable across movies produced during the course of the year.3

The second source of risk is competitive risk, whereby the earnings and cashflows on a project are affected (positively or negatively) by the actions of competitors. While a good project analysis will build in the expected reactions of competitors into estimates of profit margins and growth, the actual actions taken by competitors may differ from these expectations. In most cases, this component of risk

Project Risk: This is risk that affects only the project under consideration, and may arise from factors specific to the project or estimation error.

Competitive Risk: This is the unanticipated effect on the cashflows in a project of competitor actions - these effects can be positive or negative.

will affect more than one project, and is therefore more difficult to diversify away in the normal course of business by the firm. Disney, for instance, in its analysis of revenues from its Disney retail store division may err in its assessments of the strength and strategies of competitors like Toys'R'Us and WalMart. While Disney cannot diversify away its competitive risk, stockholders in Disney can, if they are willing to hold stock in the competitors.4

The third source of risk is industry-specific risk — those factors that impact the earnings and cashflows of a specific industry. There are three sources of industry-specific risk. The first is technology risk, which reflects the effects of technologies that change or evolve in ways different from those expected when a project was originally analyzed. The second source is legal risk, which reflects the effect of changing laws and regulations. The third is commodity risk, which reflects the effects of price changes in commodities and services that are used or produced disproportionately by a specific industry. Disney, for instance, in assessing the prospects of its broadcasting division

(ABC) is likely to be exposed to all three risks; to technology risk, as the lines between television entertainment and the internet are increasing blurred by companies like Microsoft, to legal risk, as the laws governing broadcasting change and to commodity risk, as the costs of making new television programs change over time. A firm cannot diversify away its industry-specific risk without diversifying across industries, either with new projects or through acquisitions. Stockholders in the firm should be able to diversify away industry-specific risk by holding portfolios of stocks from different industries.

3 To provide an illustration, Disney released Treasure Ph million to make and resulted in a $98 million write-c animated Disney movie made hundreds of millions of dollars and became one of the biggest hits of 2003.

4 Firms could conceivably diversify away competitive risk by acquiring their existing competitors. Doing so would expose them to attacks under the anti-trust law, however and would not eliminate the risk from as yet unannounced competitors.

Industry-Specific Risk: These are unanticipated effects on project cashflows of industry-wide shifts in technology, changes in laws or in the price of a commodity.

International Risk: This is the additional uncertainty created in cashflows of projects by unanticipated changes in exchange rates and by political risk in foreign markets.

The fourth source of risk is international risk. A firm faces this type of risk when it generates revenues or has costs outside its domestic market. In such cases, the earnings and cashflows will be affected by unexpected exchange rate movements or by political developments. Disney, for instance, was clearly exposed to this risk with its 33% stake in EuroDisney, the theme park it developed outside Paris. Some of this risk may be diversified away by the firm in the normal course of business by investing in projects in different countries whose currencies may not all move in the same direction. Citibank and McDonalds, for instance, operate in many different countries and are much less exposed to international risk than was Wal-Mart in 1994, when its foreign operations were restricted primarily to Mexico. Companies can also reduce their exposure to the exchange rate component of this risk by borrowing in the local currency to fund projects; for instance, by borrowing money in pesos to invest in Mexico. Investors should be able to reduce their exposure to international risk by diversifying globally.

The final source of risk is market risk: macroeconomic factors that affect essentially all companies and all projects, to varying degrees. For example, changes in interest rates will affect the value of projects already taken and those yet to be taken both directly, through the discount rates, and indirectly, through the cashflows. Other factors that affect all investments include the term structure (the difference between short and long term rates), the risk preferences of investors (as investors become more risk averse, more risky investments will lose value), inflation, and economic growth. While expected values of all these variables enter into project analysis, unexpected changes in these variables will affect the values of these investments. Neither investors nor firms can diversify away this risk since all risky investments bear some exposure to this risk.

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