Real options

Im Finanzbereich werden Optionen schon seit geraumer Zeit im Rahmen des Kaufs oder Verkaufs von Aktien, Anleihen, currency und anderen an der Börse gehandelten Objekte eingesetzt. Seit den 1980er Jahren finden die Gedanken der Optionspreistheorie auch Eingang in die Überlegungen zur Bewertung von Handlungsspielräumen von Industrie- und Dienstleistungsunternehmen.
Since this scope of action relates to processes actually running in a company, the corresponding options are referred to as "real options". An option grants its holder the right (but not the obligation) to buy (buy option) or sell (sell option) a precisely defined good at a fixed price (the base price) during a specified period of time (the term). If the option can be exercised at any time during the term, it is referred to as the "American option"; if the exercise is tied to a fixed date, this is called the “European option”.

The holder of an option will make use of his right if this gives him a financial advantage: If, for example, the value of the share of a call option at the end of the term (European option) is higher than the agreed strike price, the holder will exercise the option; if the value is below the base price, the holder will let the option lapse. The option thus evaluates the alternative course of action of buying or selling a share at a time / in a period of time.

In a company, option price theory can be used to map all investment projects that allow time for decision-making. These include, for example:

Deferment investments (The final investment decision will be postponed to a later date).

Demolition Investments (The investment project can be terminated in the event of changes in the external or internal environment (the market, the company, the technology, etc.) that do not correspond to expectations).

Change investments (The investment project can be changed in the event of developments (of the market, the company, the technology, etc.) that do not correspond to expectations).

Growth investments (Only through the investment project itself will further investment opportunities arise).
What all types of investment have in common is that the attempt is made to postpone final decisions about an investment until the decision-makers' level of information, which increases over time, enables a qualitatively better assessment of the investment. If the expectations about developments in the environment do not correspond to reality, the option is not exercised and the only loss is the value of the option.

In contrast to the well-known methods of investment calculation, the value of an investment does not only consist of the present value of the expected excess payments. It also includes the value of the real option, for example the value of being able to acquire a majority stake in a company based on a minority stake, which would not be possible or only at a higher price without the minority stake.

Various mathematical methods are proposed for calculating the investment value; the Black & Scholes model is usually used when calculating real options. In this model, the investment value is determined by five variables:

  • Present value of future payment surpluses (corresponds, for example, to the share price for financial options)
  • Necessary investments when exercising the option (corresponds to the exercise price / strike price for financial options)
  • risk-free interest rate
  • project-specific risk
  • Term of the option

Since the investment objects are usually not tradable (like stocks), the value of the investment is mapped in a portfolio of traded objects with the help of the risk-free interest rate and the project-specific risk. In contrast to options from the financial sector, it must be taken into account that real options are usually not only available to the owner, but also to competing companies.

The problem of reliably determining the influencing factors and the developments in the environment as well as the complexity of the mathematical calculation make it clear that real options should not be viewed as a replacement for existing investment calculation methods. The strength of the real options can rather be seen in the addition of these procedures to the evaluation of entrepreneurial flexibility. This flexibility is particularly important when making strategic decisions about the resources of a company, the purchase of company shares or the development of new products and technologies.

The attempt to determine real options as precisely as possible and thus "calculate out" the uncertainty of future developments does not do justice to the goal of this approach. The potential of the real options to support strategic decisions cannot be increased in this way.

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