The cost of capital is a term used in the field of financial investment to refer to the cost of a company’s funds (both debt and equity), or, from an investor’s point of view “the shareholder’s required return on a portfolio of all the company’s existing securities”. It is used to evaluate new projects of a company as it is the minimum return that investors expect for providing capital to the company, thus setting a benchmark that a new project has to meet.
For an investment to be worthwhile, the expected return on capital must be greater than the cost of capital. The cost of capital is the rate of return that capital could be expected to earn in an alternative investment of equivalent risk. If a project is of similar risk to a company’s average business activities it is reasonable to use the company’s average cost of capital as a basis for the evaluation. A company’s securities typically include both debt and equity; one must therefore calculate both the cost of debt and the cost of equity to determine a company’s cost of capital. However, a rate of return larger than the cost of capital is usually required.
The WACC is the minimum return that a company must earn on an existing asset base to satisfy its creditors, owners, and other providers of capital, or they will invest elsewhere. Companies raise money from a number of sources: common equity, preferred equity, straight debt, convertible debt, exchangeable debt, warrants, options, pension liabilities, executive stock options, governmental subsidies, and so on. Different securities, which represent different sources of finance, are expected to generate different returns. The WACC is calculated taking into account the relative weights of each component of the capital structure. The more complex the company’s capital structure, the more laborious it is to calculate the WACC.