H. J. Heinz: Estimating the Cost of Capital in Uncertain Times

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UV5147 Rev. Nov. 15, 2013
H. J. HEINZ: ESTIMATING THE COST OF CAPITAL IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.
—H. J. Heinz Founder Henry John Heinz
As a financial analyst at the H. J. Heinz Company (Heinz) in its North American Consumer Products division, Solomon Sheppard, together with his co-workers, reviewed investment proposals involving a wide range of food products. Most discussions in his office focused on the potential performance of new products and reasonableness of cash flow projections. But as the company finished its 2010 fiscal year at the end of April—with financial markets still in turmoil from the onset of the recession that started at the end of 2007—the central topic of discussion was the company’s weighted average cost of capital (WACC).
At the time, there were three reasons the cost of capital was a subject of controversy. First, Heinz’s stock price had just finished a two-year roller coaster ride: Its fiscal year-end stock price dropped from $47 in 2008 to $34 in 2009, then rose back to $47 in 2010, and a vigorous debate ensued as to whether the weights in a cost of capital calculation should be updated to reflect these changes as they occurred. Second, interest rates remained quite low—unusually so for longer-term bond rates; there was concern that updating the cost of capital to reflect these new rates would lower the cost of capital and therefore bias in favor of accepting projects. Third, there was a strong sense that, as a result of the recent financial meltdown, the appetite for risk in the market had changed, but there was no consensus as to whether this should affect the cost of capital of the company and, if so, how.
When Sheppard arrived at work on the first of May, he found himself at the very center of that debate. Moments after his arrival, Sheppard’s immediate supervisor asked him to provide a…...

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