Understanding Negative NPV

Negative NPV

The Net Present Value (NPV) is a widely used tool to evaluate the profitability of an investment project. It is a discounted cash flow technique that takes into account the time value of money and considers all future cash flows associated with the investment. NPV enables investors to compare alternative investments and decide which one offers the highest return on their capital. By calculating NPV, investors can assess whether or not a given project will be profitable over its lifetime.  A negative NPV would predict an unprofitable project.

Can NPV be Negative?

When it comes to evaluating the financial viability of a project, the net present value (NPV) is one of the most important metrics. A positive NPV is ideal, as it indicates that a project will generate more money than it costs. However, in some cases, a negative NPV can also be a possible outcome. A negative NPV means that the present value of all cash flows generated by the project are less than its initial cost. This can happen when there are higher costs associated with implementing and running the project or when future cash flows are uncertain and unpredictable.

Projects with a Negative NPV

Projects with a negative NPV are considered unprofitable and may not be feasible from a financial perspective. However, negative NPV does not necessarily mean that a project should be abandoned immediately. Some projects may have strategic, social, or environmental significance that may justify pursuing them despite a negative NPV. For example, a company may undertake a social welfare project or an environmental conservation project that has a negative NPV but generates non-financial benefits.

What Negative NPV Means

Negative Money

The NPV (Net Present Value) is an important metric in evaluating the profitability of a project. When the NPV is negative, it indicates that the project will not be profitable. This means that the rate of return from the investment is lower than the hurdle rate or rate of return required by the investors.

Negative NPV can also be used as an indicator for when a company should abandon a project. If a company continues to invest in a project with negative NPV, it could lead to losses and financial distress for the company. Therefore, it is important to understand what Negative NPV means and how it affects decision-making when evaluating projects.

Implications of Negative NPV

  1. Financial implications: A negative NPV indicates that the project is not generating sufficient returns to cover the cost of capital. This can have bad financial implications for the business.  A negative NPV can even lead to bankruptcy or insolvency
  2. Operational implications: A negative NPV can also have operational implications for a business. A failed investment can lead to a loss of resources, time, and effort that could have been invested in more profitable ventures. Moreover, a negative NPV can demotivate the employees, reduce their confidence in the management, and affect the overall morale of the organization.
  3. Reputational implications: A negative NPV can also have reputational implications for the business. A failed investment can  erode the trust of its stakeholders and a loss of business value.

Ways to Mitigate Negative NPV

A negative NPV can have significant implications for a business.   Here are some strategies to mitigate its impact:

  1.  Reevaluate the project: The first step to mitigate negative NPV is to re-evaluate the project and its assumptions. This involves reviewing the cash flow projections and the discount rate. Identify whether the factors that led to the negative NPV are temporary or permanent. If the issues are temporary, it may be possible to adjust the project plan or timeline to improve the NPV. If the issues are permanent, it may be best to abandon the project.
  2. Ensure that the numbers are correct.  Examine each of the numbers that were used in the NPV calculation.  Were the number correct or do they need to be adjusted?
  3. Improve the cash flows: Improve the NPV by increasing the net cash flows. This can be achieved by increasing the revenue and reducing the costs.
  4. Reduce the risk: Mitigate the negative NPV by reducing the risk associated with the project. This can be done by diversifying the portfolio and hedging the risks. By reducing the risks, it may justify increasing the predicted cash flows.  Increased cash flow projection can turn the NPV positive.
  5. Decrease the required rate of return: The required rate of return is the minimum percentage return that is expected from an investment. If the required rate of return is greater than the project's calculated rate of return, the NPV will be negative. One way to mitigate this is to lower the hurdle rate. The organization may additionally be willing to take a decreased level of return if the venture has attractive noneconomic features.

When is a Negative NPV Not a Bad Thing?

There are some projects that are required.  Examples of this might be legal requirements or safety.  It is known upfront that the project will not yield a profit. So, you use the NPV to compare different alternatives.  The alternative that is the least negative is the one you chose.



A negative NPV is not a good outcome for most investment projects. It indicates that the project is not generating sufficient returns to cover the costs of the investment. However, a negative NPV does not necessarily mean that a project should be abandoned immediately. Some projects may have non-financial benefits that justify pursuing them despite a negative NPV. Many projects with a negative NPV may not be salvageable and may result in significant losses. Mitigating negative NPV involves improving the cash flows, reducing the risk, and increasing the required rate of return.