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Jan 4th, 2015


Cost–benefit analysis(CBA), sometimes calledbenefit–cost analysis(BCA), is a systematic approach to estimating the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives that satisfy transactions, activities or functional requirements for a business. It is a technique that is used to determine options that provide the best approach for the adoption and practice in terms of benefits in labor, time and cost savings etc. (David, Ngulube and Dube, 2013). The CBA is also defined as a systematic process for calculating and comparing benefits andcostsof a project, decision orgovernment policy(hereafter, "project").

Broadly, CBA has two purposes:

1.  To determine if it is a sound investment/decision (justification/feasibility),

2.  To provide a basis for comparing projects. It involves comparing the total expected cost of each option against the total expected benefits, to see whether the benefits outweigh the costs, and by how much.[1]

CBA is related to, but distinct fromcost-effectivenessanalysis. In CBA, benefits and costs are expressed in monetary terms, and are adjusted for thetime value of money, so that all flows of benefits and flows of project costs over time (which tend to occur at different points in time) are expressed on a common basis in terms of their "net present value."

Closely related, but slightly different, formal techniques includecost-effectivenessanalysis,cost–utility analysis,risk–benefit analysis,economic impact analysis, fiscal impact analysis, andSocial return on investment(SROI) analysis.



·  1 Theory

·  2 Process

·  3 Evaluation

·  4 Time and discounting

·  5 Risk and uncertainty

·  6 History

o  6.1 Public policy

o  6.2 Transportation investment

o  6.3 CBA and Regulation under various US Administrations

·  7 Accuracy

·  8 See also

·  9 References

·  10 Further reading

·  11 External links


Cost–benefit analysis is often used by governments and other organizations, such as private sector businesses, to appraise the desirability of a given policy. It is an analysis of the expected balance of benefits and costs, including an account of foregone alternatives and thestatus quo. CBA helps predict whether the benefits of a policy outweigh its costs, and by how much relative to other alternatives (i.e. one can rank alternate policies in terms of the cost–benefit ratio).[2]Generally, accurate cost–benefit analysis identifies choices that increasewelfarefrom autilitarianperspective. Assuming an accurate CBA, changing the status quo by implementing the alternative with the lowest cost–benefit ratio can improvePareto efficiency.[3]An analyst using CBA should recognize that perfect appraisal of all present and future costs and benefits is difficult, and while CBA can offer a well-educated estimate of the best alternative, perfection in terms of economic efficiency and social welfare are not guaranteed.[4]


The following is a list of steps that comprise a generic cost–benefit analysis.[5]

1.  List alternative projects/programs.

2.  Liststakeholders.

3.  Select measurement(s) and measure all cost/benefit elements.

4.  Predict outcome of cost and benefits over relevant time period.

5.  Convert all costs and benefits into a common currency.

6.  Applydiscount rate.

7.  Calculatenet present valueof project options.

8.  Performsensitivity analysis.

9.  Adopt recommended choice.


CBA attempts to measure the positive or negative consequences of a project, which may include:

1.  Effects on users or participants

2.  Effects on non-users or non-participants

3.  Externalityeffects

4.  Option valueor other social benefits.

A similar breakdown is employed in environmental analysis oftotal economic value. Both costs and benefits can be diverse. Financial costs tend to be most thoroughly represented in cost-benefit analyses due to relatively abundant market data. The net benefits of a project may incorporate cost savings or publicwillingness to paycompensation (implying the public has no legal right to the benefits of the policy) orwillingness to acceptcompensation (implying the public has a right to the benefits of the policy) for the welfare change resulting from the policy. The guiding principle of evaluating benefits is to list all (categories of) parties affected by an intervention and add the (positive or negative) value, usually monetary, that they ascribe to its effect on their welfare.

The actual compensation an individual would require to have their welfare unchanged by a policy is inexact at best. Surveys (stated preferencetechniques) or market behavior (revealed preferencetechniques) are often used to estimate the compensation associated with a policy; however, survey respondents often have strong incentives to misreport their true preferences and market behavior does not provide any information about important non-market welfare impacts.

One controversy is valuing a human life, e.g. when assessing road safety measures or life-saving medicines. However, this can sometimes be avoided by using the related technique of cost-utility analysis, in which benefits are expressed in non-monetary units such asquality-adjusted life years. For example, road safety can be measured in terms ofcost per life saved, without formally placing a financial value on the life. However, such non-monetary metrics have limited usefulness for evaluating policies with substantially different outcomes. Additionally, many other benefits may accrue from the policy, and metrics such as 'cost per life saved' may lead to a substantially different ranking of alternatives than traditional cost–benefit analysis.

Another controversy is valuing the environment, which in the 21st century is typically assessed by valuingecosystem servicesto humans, such as air andwater qualityandpollution.[6]Monetary values may also be assigned to other intangible effects such as business reputation, market penetration, or long-term enterprise strategy alignment.

Time and discounting[edit]

CBA usually tries to put all relevant costs and benefits on a common temporal footing usingtime value of moneycalculations. This is often done by converting the future expected streams of costs and benefits into apresent valueamount using a discount rate. Empirical studies and a technical framework suggest that in reality, people do discount the future like this.[7]

The choice of discount rate is subjective. A smaller rate values future generations equally with the current generation. Larger rates (e.g. a market rate of return) reflects humans' attraction totime inconsistency—valuing money that they receive today more than money they get in the future. The choice makes a large difference in assessing interventions with long-term effects. One issue is theequity premium puzzle, in which long-term returns on equities may be rather higher than they should be. If so then arguably market rates of return should not be used to determine a discount rate, as doing so would have the effect of undervaluing the distant future (e.g. climate change).[8]

Risk and uncertainty[edit]

Risk associated with project outcomes is usually handled using probability theory. This can be factored into the discount rate (to have uncertainty increasing over time), but is usually considered separately. Particular consideration is often given torisk aversion—the irrational preference for avoiding loss over achieving gain.Expected returncalculations does not account for the detrimental effect of uncertainty.[citation needed]

Uncertainty in CBA parameters (as opposed to risk of project failure etc.) can be evaluated using a sensitivity analysis, which shows how results respond to parameter changes. Alternatively a more formal risk analysis can be undertaken usingMonte Carlo simulations.[9]


The concept of CBA dates back to an 1848 article byJules Dupuitand was formalized in subsequent works byAlfred Marshall. TheCorps of Engineersinitiated the use of CBA in the US, after the Federal Navigation Act of 1936 effectively required cost–benefit analysis for proposed federal waterway infrastructure.[10]TheFlood Control Act of 1939was instrumental in establishing CBA as federal policy. It demanded that "the benefits to whomever they accrue [be] in excess of the estimated costs.[11]

Public policy[edit]

The application for broader public policy started from the work ofOtto Eckstein,[12]who in 1958 laid out a welfare economics foundation for CBA and its application forwater resourcedevelopment. Over the 1960s, CBA was applied in the US for water quality,[13]recreation travel,[14]and land conservation.[15]During this period, the concept ofoption valuewas developed to represent the non-tangible value of preserving resources such as national parks.[16]

CBA was later expanded to address both intangible and tangible benefits of public policies relating to mental illness,[17]substance abuse,[18]college education,[19]and chemical waste policies.[20]In the US, theNational Environmental Policy Actof 1969 first required the application of CBA for regulatory programs, and since then, other governments have enacted similar rules. Government guidebooks for the application of CBA to public policies include the Canadian guide for regulatory analysis,[21]Australian guide for regulation and finance,[22]US guide for health care programs,[23]and US guide for emergency management programs.[24]

Transportation investment[edit]

CBA application for transport investment started in the UK, with theM1 motorwayproject in 1960. It was later applied on many projects includingLondon Underground'sVictoria line. Later, theNew Approach to Appraisal(NATA) was introduced by the thenDepartment for Transport, Environment and the Regions. This presented cost–benefit results and detailedenvironmental impact assessmentsin a balanced way. NATA was first applied to national road schemes in the 1998 Roads Review but subsequently rolled out to all transport modes. As of 2011 it was a cornerstone of transport appraisal in the UK and is maintained and developed by the Department for Transport.[25]

TheEU's 'Developing Harmonised European Approaches for Transport Costing and Project Assessment' (HEATCO) project, part of itsSixth Framework Programme, reviewed transport appraisal guidance across EU member states and found that significant differences exist between countries.[26]HEATCO's aim was to develop guidelines to harmonise transport appraisal practice across the EU.[27]

Transport Canadapromoted the use of CBA for major transport investments with the 1994 issuance of its Guidebook.[28]

In the US, both federal and state transport departments commonly apply CBA, using a variety of available software tools including HERS, BCA.Net, StatBenCost, Cal-BC, andTREDIS. Guides are available from theFederal Highway Administration,[29][30]Federal Aviation Administration,[31]Minnesota Department of Transportation,[32]California Department of Transportation(Caltrans),[33]and theTransportation Research BoardTransportation Economics Committee.[34]

CBA and Regulation under various US Administrations[edit]

The increased usage of CBA in the US regulatory process is often associated with PresidentRonald Reagan's administration. Though the use of CBA in US policy making dating back many decades, Reagan's Executive Order 12291 mandated the use of CBA in the regulatory process. Reagan campaigned on a deregulation platform, and once he took office in 1981 quickly issued this EO, which vested theOffice of Information and Regulatory Affairs(OIRA) with the authority to review agency regulations and required federal agencies to produce regulatory impact analyses when the annual impact could be estimated over $100M. Shortly thereafter, in the 1980s, academic and institutional critiques of CBA started to emerge. Three main criticisms[35]were:

1.  That CBA could be used for political goals. Debates on the merits of cost and benefit comparisons can be used to sidestep political or philosophical goals, rules and regulations.

2.  That CBA is inherently anti-regulatory, therefore not a neutral analysis tool. This is an ethical argument: that the monetization of policy impacts is an inappropriate tool for assessing things such as mortality risks and distributional impacts.

3.  That the length of time necessary to complete CBA can create significant delays, which can impede policy regulations.

These criticisms continued through the 1990s under the Clinton administration, who furthered the anti-regulatory environment through his Executive Order 12866.[36]EO 12866 changed some of Reagan's language, requiring benefits to justify, rather than exceed costs, and added "reduction of discrimination or bias" as one of the benefits to be analyzed. Criticisms of aspects of CBA, including uncertainly valuations, discounting future values, and the calculation of risk, were used to argue that CBA should play no part in the regulatory process.[37]The use of CBA in the regulatory process continues today under the Obama administration, though the debate over its practical and objective value continues. Some analysts oppose the use of CBA in policy making, while those in favor of its use favor improvements to the analysis and calculations.


The value of a cost–benefit analysis depends on the accuracy of the individual cost and benefit estimates. Comparative studies indicate that such estimates are often flawed, preventing improvements inParetoandKaldor-Hicks efficiency.[citation needed]Causes of these inaccuracies include:[citation needed]

1.  Overreliance on data from past projects (often differing markedly in function or size and the skill levels of the team members)

2.  Use of subjective impressions by assessment team members

3.  Inappropriate use of heuristics to derive money cost of the intangible elements

4.  Confirmation biasamong project supporters (looking for reasons to proceed).

Interest groups may attempt to include or exclude significant costs from an analysis to influence the outcome.[38]

In the case of theFord Pinto(where, because of design flaws, the Pinto was liable to burst into flames in a rear-impact collision), the company's decision was not to issue a recall. Ford's cost–benefit analysis had estimated that based on the number of cars in use and the probable accident rate, deaths due to the design flaw would cost it about $49.5 million to settlewrongful deathlawsuits versus recall costs of $137.5 million. Ford overlooked (or considered insignificant) the costs of thenegative publicitythat would result, which forced a recallanddamaged sales.[39]

Inhealth economics, some analysts think cost–benefit analysis can be an inadequate measure because willingness-to-pay methods of determining the value of human life can be influenced by income level. They support use of variants such ascost–utility analysisandquality-adjusted life yearto analyze the effects of health policies.[40]

In environmental and occupational health regulation, it has been argued that if modern cost–benefit analyses had been applied prospectively to decisions such as whether to mandate the removal ofleadfrom gasoline, build theHoover Damin theBlack Canyon of the Colorado, and regulate workers' exposure tovinyl chloride, these measures would not have been implemented even though they are considered to be highly successful in retrospect.[41]TheClean Air Acthas been cited in retrospective studies as a case where benefits exceeded costs, but the knowledge of the benefits (attributable largely to the benefits of reducingparticulate pollution) was not available until many years later.[41]

See also[edit]

·  Guns versus butter model

·  Business case

·  Have one's cake and eat it too

·  Opportunity cost

·  Scarcity

·  Tax choice

·  There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

·  Trade-off


1.  Jump up^ [1][dead link]

2.  Jump up^ Cellini, Stephanie Riegg; Kee, James Edwin. "Cost-Effectiveness and Cost-Benefit Analysis".

3.  Jump up^ http://www.finance.gov.au/obpr/docs/Decision-Rules.pdf

4.  Jump up^ Weimer, D.; Vining, A. (2005). Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice (Fourth ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-183001-5.

5.  Jump up^ Boardman, N. E. (2006). Cost-benefit Analysis: Concepts and Practice (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.ISBN 0-13-143583-3.

6.  Jump up^ Campbell, Harry F.; Brown, Richard (2003). "Valuing Traded and Non-Traded Commodities in Benefit-Cost Analysis".Benefit-Cost Analysis: Financial and Economic Appraisal using Spreadsheets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.ISBN 0-521-52898-4. Ch. 8 provides a useful discussion of non-market valuation methods for CBA.

7.  Jump up^ Dunn, William N. (2009). Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction. New York: Longman. ISBN 978-0-13-615554-6.

8.  Jump up^ Newell, R. G. (2003). "Discounting the Distant Future: How Much Do Uncertain Rates Increase Valuations?". Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 46 (1): 52–71.doi:10.1016/S0095-0696(02)00031-1.

9.  Jump up^ Campbell, Harry F.; Brown, Richard (2003). "Incorporating Risk in Benefit-Cost Analysis". Benefit-Cost Analysis: Financial and Economic Appraisal using Spreadsheets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52898-4. Ch. 9 provides a useful discussion of sensitivity analysisand risk modelling in CBA.

10.  Jump up^ "History of Benefit-Cost Analysis"Proceedings of the 2006 Cost Benefit Conference.

11.  Jump up^ Guess, George M.; Farnham, Paul G. (2000). Cases in Public Policy Analysis. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. pp. 304–308. ISBN 0-87840-768-5.

12.  Jump up^ Eckstein, Otto (1958). Water Resource Development: The Economics of Project Evaluation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

13.  Jump up^ Kneese, A. V. (1964). The Economics of Regional Water Quality Management. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

14.  Jump up^ Clawson, M.; Knetsch, J. L. (1966). Economics of Outdoor Recreation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

15.  Jump up^ Krutilla, J. V. (1967). "Conservation Reconsidered".American Economic Review 57 (4): 777–786.JSTOR 1815368.

16.  Jump up^ Weisbrod, Burton A. (1964). "Collective-Consumption Services of Individual-Consumption Goods". Quarterly Journal of Economics 78 (3): 471–477. doi:10.2307/1879478.

17.  Jump up^ Weisbrod, Burton A. (1981). "Benefit-Cost Analysis of a Controlled Experiment: Treating the Mentally Ill". Journal of Human Resources 16 (4): 523–548. JSTOR 145235.

18.  Jump up^ Plotnick, Robert D. (1994). "Applying Benefit-Cost Analysis to Substance Abuse Prevention Programs". International Journal of the Addictions 29 (3): 339–359.doi:10.3109/10826089409047385.

19.  Jump up^ Weisbrod, Burton A.; Hansen, W. Lee (1969). Benefits, Costs, and Finance of Public Higher Education. Markham.

20.  Jump up^ Moll, K. S.; et al. (1975). Hazardous wastes: A Risk-Benefit Framework Applied to Cadmium and Asbestos. Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute.

21.  Jump up^ Canadian Cost–Benefit Guide: Regulatory Proposals, Treasury Canada, 2007. [2]

22.  Jump up^ Australian Government, 2006. Introduction to Cost–Benefit Analysis and Alternative Evaluation Methodologies and Handbook of Cost–Benefit Analysis, Finance Circular 2006/01. http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/finance-circulars/2006/01.html

23.  Jump up^ US Department of Health and Human Services, 1993. Feasibility, Alternatives, And Cost/Benefit Analysis Guide, Administration for Children and Families, and Health Care Finance Administration.http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/systems/sacwis/cbaguide/index.htm

24.  Jump up^ Federal Emergency Management Administration, 1022. Guide to Benefit Cost Analysis.http://www.fema.gov/government/grant/bca.shtm

25.  Jump up^ [3][dead link]

26.  Jump up^ "HEATCO project site". Heatco.ier.uni-stuttgart.de. Retrieved 2013-04-21.

27.  Jump up^ [4] Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis of Major Projects. Evaluation Unit, DG Regional Policy, European Commission, 2008.

28.  Jump up^ Guide to Benefit-Cost Analysis in Transport Canada. Transport Canada. Economic Evaluation Branch, Transport Canada, Ottawa, 1994 [5]

29.  Jump up^ US Federal Highway Administration: Economic Analysis Primer: Benefit-Cost Analysis 2003 [6]

30.  Jump up^ US Federal Highway Administration: Cost-Benefit Forecasting Toolbox for Highways, Circa 2001 [7]

31.  Jump up^ US Federal Aviation Administration: Airport Benefit-Cost Analysis Guidance, 1999 [8] [9]

32.  Jump up^ Minnesota Department of Transportation: Benefit Cost Analysis. MN DOT Office of Investment Management [10]

33.  Jump up^ California Department of Transportation: Benefit-Cost Analysis Guide for Transportation Planning [11]

34.  Jump up^ Transportation Research Board, Transportation Economics Committee: Transportation Benefit-Cost Analysis [12]

35.  Jump up^ http://regulation.huji.ac.il/papers/jp5.pdf

36.  Jump up^http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/npr/library/direct/orders/2646.html

37.  Jump up^ Heinzerling, L. (2000), 'The Rights of Statistical People', Harvard Environmental Law Review 24, 189-208.

38.  Jump up^ Huesemann, Michael H., and Joyce A. Huesemann (2011).Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, Chapter 8, “The Positive Biases of Technology Assessments and Cost Benefit Analyses”, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, ISBN 0865717044, 464 pp.

39.  Jump up^ "Ford Fuel Fires". Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2011.

40.  Jump up^ Phelps, Charles (2009). Health Economics (4th ed.). New York: Pearson/Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0-321-59457-0.

41.  Jump up to:a b Ackerman; et al. (2005). "Applying Cost-Benefit to Past Decisions: Was Environmental ProtectionEvera Good Idea?"Administrative Law Review 57: 155.

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