Vale (NYSE:VALE) has been on a roller coaster ride in recent months, but most of its action has resulted in a steady downward trend. With the stock now trading at the low end of our fair value range, is the risk-reward finally tilting in investors favor? Let's find out how we value Vale in this article.

But first, a little background to help you understand some of the terms we us. At Valuentum, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation and relative valuation versus industry peers is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy. This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index, which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Essentially, we're looking for firms that overlap investment methodologies, thereby revealing the greatest interest by investors (we like firms that fall in the center of the diagram below):

If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis, it scores high on our scale. Vale posts a VBI score of 3 on our scale, reflecting our 'fairly valued' DCF assessment of the firm, its neutral relative valuation versus peers, and bearish technicals. We compare Vale to peers BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), and Vulcan Materials (NYSE:VMC).

**Our Report on Vale**

**Investment Considerations**

**Investment Highlights**

• Vale earns a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT, the highest possible mark on our scale. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders for the past few years, a track record we view very positively. Return on invested capital (excluding goodwill) has averaged 18.6% during the past three years.

• The company looks fairly valued at this time. We expect the firm to trade within our fair value estimate range for the time being. If the firm's share price fell below $16, we'd take a closer look.

• Vale has an excellent combination of strong free cash flow generation and low financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 1.3% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 0.7 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 28.6%.

• The firm's share price performance has trailed that of the market during the past quarter. However, it is trading within our fair value estimate range, so we don't view such activity as alarming.

• The firm sports a very nice dividend yield north of 4%. We expect the firm to pay out about 28% of next year's earnings to shareholders as dividends.

**Business Quality**

**Economic Profit Analysis**

The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital (NASDAQ:ROIC) with its weighted average cost of capital (OTC:WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. Vale's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 18.6%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 8.9%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid grey line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.

**Cash Flow Analysis**

Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. Vale's free cash flow margin has averaged about 8.7% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively STRONG. The free cash flow measure shown above is derived by taking cash flow from operations less capital expenditures and differs from enterprise free cash flow (FCFF), which we use in deriving our fair value estimate for the company. For more information on the differences between these two measures, please visit our website at Valuentum.com. At Vale, cash flow from operations increased about 243% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 99% over the same time period.

**Valuation Analysis**

**Our discounted cash flow model indicates that Vale's shares are worth between $16.00 - $30.00 each.** The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's MEDIUM ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $23 per share represents a price-to earnings (P/E) ratio of about 3.2 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 2.9 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of -2.9% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 16.4%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 27.1%, which is below Vale's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 5.7% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Vale, we use a 8.9% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

**Margin of Safety Analysis**

Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $23 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRisk™ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock. In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for Vale. We think the firm is attractive below $16 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $30 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.

**Future Path of Fair Value**

We estimate Vale's fair value at this point in time to be about $23 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of Vale's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in Year 3 represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence. This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $28 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $23 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.

**Pro Forma Financial Statements**

**Disclosure: **I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.