What You Will Learn

  • How to calculate maintenance capex, when is it useful and when is it not
  • How to calculate maintenance capex using Wal-Mart as an example

Bruce Greenwald’s Method to Calculate Maintenance Capex or Maintenance Capital Expenditure

Capital Expenditure
Image source: The Blue Diamond Gallery

How to Calculate Maintenance Capital Expenditure

In a previous post on how to calculate maintenance capital expenditures, I outlined the general aka quick and dirty method of calculating maintenance capex which is

Maintenance Capital Expenditure = Depreciation and Amortization

Although if you smooth out all the depreciation values across several years, you’ll be okay with your numbers, but what if you want to go one step further?

Since depreciation can be misleading, you may be missing out on opportunities by unknowingly using a unrealistically high number for maintenance capex calculations. This is where Bruce Greenwald’s method of calculating maintenance capex makes a lot of sense.

Calculate the ratio of PPE to sales for each of the five prior years and find the average. We use this to indicate the dollars of PPE it takes to support each dollar of sales. We then multiply this ratio by the growth (or decrease) in sales dollars the company has achieved in the current year. The result of that calculation is growth capex. We then subtract it from total capex to arrive at maintenance capex. – pg96 of Bruce Greenwald’s EPV book.

The above text in an understandable manner is as follows: (from my Value Idea)

  • Calculate the Average Gross Property Plant and Equipment (PPE)/ sales ratio over 7 years
  • Calculate current year’s increase in sales
  • Multiply PPE/Sales ratio by increase in sales to arrive to growth capex
  • Maintenance capital expenditure is the capex figure from the cash flow statement less growth capex calculated above, which is the true depreciation for the company

I also have been able to implement this into the stock investment spreadsheet to perform the calculations automatically with just a single ticker input. I’ll be using screenshots of the investment spreadsheet to take you through the examples. (The stock value calculation spreadsheet that supports EPV and the images below will be released in October)

Maintenance Capital Expenditure Calculations

Wal-Mart is an easy example to start off with because of its consistency.

Capital Expenditure

Walmart Maintenance Capital Expenditure

  • From 2005 to 2009, WMT PPE as a percentage of sales ranged from 21.2% to 25.4%.
  • The 2nd line shows the sales increase. It is simply calculated by this years sales minus last year sales
  • Capex line is the actual stated amount of capital expenditures in the financial statements
  • To calculate the maintenance capital expenditures for 2009 you do 25.4% x $26,808 = $6,809
    • The $6,809 value is the growth capex so then subtract the result from Capex to get $11,499-$6,809=$4,690
    • $4690 is the maintenance capital expenditure amount WMT used in 2009.

Compare the value of $4690 to the stated depreciation and amortization amount of $6,739. Look at the difference in values between 2005-2009. Since depreciation and amortization is a straight line approach in accounting, the amount is increasing while maintenance capital fluctuates depending on the business cycle.

So it seems like that the method Bruce Greenwald teaches is a much more accurate representation of maintenance capex.

Heavy Capital Expenditure Companies

The only problem I see at the moment in applying this method is that the maintenance capex remains incorrect for capex heavy companies. Take Conoco Philips (COP) for example.

Capital Expenditure

The maintenance capex is negtive because the PPE % of sales applied to the sale growth is very high. Does this mean that capex has been understated where the maintenance capex was actually $19,099+$5435=$24,535 in 2009??

Please let me know if you have the answer to this.

Some Final Thoughts

So the Greenwald method is a good one and makes sense for consistent companies but won’t work if the sales growth number is greater than the capex figure.

The method isn’t perfect and still doesn’t seem to be able to determine the maintenance capital expenditure of commodity based businesses such as COP, ATW and NUE.

That is how you calculate Maintenance Capital Expenditure. Am I doing something incorrectly? If so, please leave a comment. I would love to know.

Article by Jae Jun, Old School Value