Unsophisticated capital budgeting techniques

Simple (unsophisticated) capital budgeting techniques include average rate of return (ARR) and the payback method (also called PB or payback period).

Average Rate of Return

Average Rate of Return (ARR) is an unsophisticated budgeting technique and generally considered to be ineffective. Average Rate of Return (ARR) evaluates relative profitability of the investment. In other words, it evaluates how project affects accounting profits. Average Rate of Return (ARR) is calculated as follows:

ARR = Average income / Average investment

Average income refers to annual average net profits after tax (refer to income statement to see how net profits after tax are determined). Annual average net profits after tax is found by taking total net profits after tax over the useful life of the project and dividing it by number of years over useful life of the project. Average investment refers to average investment over the economic life of the project. The ARR capital budgeting technique does not consider the time value of money. It also considers net profits rather than cash inflows. Consequently, the technique overlooks the possibility of reinvestment of returns.

The positive side of this technique, as compared to payback period discussed below, is that it considers returns on investment over entire useful life of the project. However, this technique is generally not recommended.

Payback method

Payback period (PB), also called a payback method, is another unsophisticated budgeting technique. It determines how long it takes to recover the initial investment by taking into account cash inflows from the investment. If we deal with an annuity (an equal periodic cash flow over a specific period) than all we need to do is to divide initial investment by an annuity.

However, if we deal with a mixed stream of cash inflows (unequal cash flows during specific period with no precise pattern) than we need to add up cash flows until the initial investment is recovered.

Management needs to subjectively determine the maximum payback period and then projects are evaluated according to this. If the project’s payback period is below maximum than the project is acceptable and vice versa.

The payback period budgeting technique measures business’s risk exposure because the project’s risk level depends on how long it takes to recover the initial investment. However, it does not explicitly consider the time value of money.

Moreover, this budgeting technique is weak because it is subjective in nature since the minimum payback period is subjectively determined. Furthermore, it does not take into account the cash flows that occur after the payback period.

A variation of payback period capital budgeting technique allows to account for time value of money and risk (due to usage of discount rate which incorporates risk). Such variation is called discounted payback period technique. This technique determines how long it takes for discounted cash flows to recover the investment. However, this variation still does not consider cash flows after the payback period.

Test Yourself

ABC Corp has a proposed project A, which has expected cash inflows of $4,000 over 10 years period. The initial investment is $30,000. Find the payback period.


Payback period = 30,000/4,000 = 7.5 years

This means that it will take 7.5 years for ABC to recover its investment in project A.

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