Discounted Cash Flow: Formula, Definition, Examples

By Intrinio
August 7, 2023

The Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method is a widely used financial valuation technique that helps determine the intrinsic value of an investment by considering the time value of money. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of Discounted Cash Flow, explain the DCF formula, guide you through the process of calculating DCF, provide examples for better understanding, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using the DCF model as a valuation tool. We’ll also provide some helpful tips about how to gather the underlying data required to perform a discounted cash flow analysis.

What is Discounted Cash Flow?

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) is a financial valuation method used to estimate the present value of an investment's expected future cash flows. It takes into account the concept of the time value of money, which posits that the value of money received in the future is less than the value of money received today due to factors such as inflation and the opportunity cost of capital.

DCF Formula

The DCF formula calculates the present value of expected cash flows by discounting them to their present value. The formula is as follows:

DCF = CF1 / (1+r)^1 + CF2 / (1+r)^2 + ... + CFn / (1+r)^n


  • CF1, CF2, ..., CFn represent the expected cash flows in each period.
  • r denotes the discount rate or the required rate of return.
  • n represents the number of periods or the investment's time horizon.

How to Calculate Discounted Cash Flow:

To calculate the DCF of an investment, follow these steps:

Step 1: Estimate the expected cash flows the investment is likely to generate over its lifespan. 

Step 2: Determine an appropriate discount rate based on factors such as the investment's risk profile, industry norms, and the opportunity cost of capital. 

Step 3: Apply the discount rate to each cash flow by dividing it by (1 + r) raised to the power of the respective period. 

Step 4: Sum up the present values of all cash flows to obtain the DCF.

Example of DCF

Let's consider an example to illustrate the calculation of DCF. Suppose you are evaluating an investment opportunity in a project that is expected to generate cash flows of $10,000 per year for the next five years. The discount rate is assumed to be 8%.

Using the DCF formula, we can calculate the DCF as follows:

DCF = $10,000 / (1 + 0.08)^1 + $10,000 / (1 + 0.08)^2 + $10,000 / (1 + 0.08)^3 + $10,000 / (1 + 0.08)^4 + $10,000 / (1 + 0.08)^5

Simplifying the calculation, we find:

DCF = $9,259.26 + $8,564.81 + $7,937.25 + $7,369.50 + $6,855.71 DCF = $40,986.53

In this example, the DCF of the investment is $40,986.53, representing its estimated present value.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the DCF Model


  • Time value of money: The DCF model considers the time value of money, providing a more accurate valuation by discounting future cash flows to their present value.
  • Flexibility: The DCF model can be applied to various types of investments, including stocks, bonds, real estate, and business projects.
  • Intrinsic valuation: DCF focuses on the fundamentals of an investment, such as its cash flows and discount rate, rather than relying solely on market factors, allowing for a more comprehensive assessment of the investment's value.


  • Sensitivity to assumptions: The accuracy of DCF calculations heavily relies on the accuracy of cash flow projections and the discount rate. Small changes in these assumptions can significantly impact the final valuation.
  • Subjectivity: Determining the appropriate discount rate can be subjective and may vary based on individual perspectives and market conditions. Different discount rates can lead to different valuations, introducing potential bias and uncertainty.
  • Limited predictive power: The DCF model relies on assumptions about future cash flows, which are inherently uncertain. External factors such as economic conditions and industry trends may deviate from initial projections, affecting the accuracy of the valuation.

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) is a powerful financial valuation tool that considers the time value of money to estimate the present value of an investment's expected cash flows. By discounting future cash flows, DCF provides a method for assessing the intrinsic value of an investment opportunity. While the DCF model has its advantages, such as its flexibility and focus on fundamentals, it also has limitations, including sensitivity to assumptions and potential subjectivity.

When utilizing the DCF model, it is crucial to ensure careful analysis of cash flow projections and the selection of an appropriate discount rate. Additionally, it is important to recognize that the DCF model is just one tool among many in the valuation process, and it should be used in conjunction with other financial metrics and qualitative factors to make well-informed investment decisions.

By understanding and applying the DCF formula, investors can assess the value and attractiveness of investment opportunities, aiding them in making informed decisions aligned with their financial goals and risk tolerance.

If you are a value investor, Benjamin-Graham follower, Warren Buffet fan, or fintech developer - you are going to need quite a bit of data to calculate your own DCF models. Thankfully, Intrinio has your back. You can use our historical fundamental data to identify past revenue trends or leverage our analyst estimates data to get a good idea of future cash flow projections for a particular company. 

Our fundamental and analyst estimates data is high quality, affordable, and super easy to get started using. Chat with us live on our website or request a consultation today to get started with a free trial - we can’t wait to help you get started building a DCF model!

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