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Making real options work for practitioners: a generic model for valuing R&D projects

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We propose a generic valuation framework for the appraisal of R&D projects based on real option theory. The added value of this approach is the presentation of a model that was implemented in a manner that allows corporate decision makers to use real options in an intuitive and standardized way. The project valuation procedure is separated into three main phases: project modeling, data and input collection, and result generation and analysis. The project model represents the structure of the real world R&D project with its investments, expected results, and decisions that need to be taken conditionally on the outcomes of research activities. The project model is represented in the form of a decision tree, where different research results or taken decisions lead to new branches. In this way, every possible situation the project can pass through can be represented. Uncertainties are separated into market uncertainties (e.g., market prices) and project specific, private uncertainties (e.g. uncertainty of research results). For both uncertainties, event trees are constructed which are then combined and merged with the above mentioned decision tree in order to represent the value evolution of the R&D project under given decisions and uncertainties. For every possible state of the project the real option value is calculated. By creating multidimensional trees, a multitude of decision steps and various kinds of real options (e.g., continue, expansion, switch, abandonment) can be modeled. The calculation complexity for the decision trees is given. From the tree structure we can calculate the real option value of starting an R&D project, i.e., the value of undertaking the first investment and thus acquiring the subsequent decision opportunities given by the completion of the first research effort. Furthermore, the optimal exercise strategy is derived from the decision tree. The exercise strategy gives the manager the possibility to have an a priori overview of where an R&D project may lead to, which decisions need to be taken in which circumstances, and when the project needs to be stopped in order not to generate losses. In an in-depth case study we use an illustrative R&D project to set up and discuss the three phases of project modeling in the real options framework: building the multidimensional decision tree, input generation, and calculation of the real option value as well as the optimal strategy for the R&D project.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: ETH Zurich, Measurement and Control Laboratory, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland ; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected] and [email protected], Email: [email protected] 2: Julius Baer & Co. Ltd., Zurich, Switzerland, Email: [email protected] 3: Swissquant Group AG, Zurich, Switzerland ; [email protected]; [email protected], Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 January 2008

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