Pre-operating cashflow utilisation for funding

Ramp-up or commissioning period which starts prior to formal project Completion can complicate financial modelling. This tutorial demonstrates how to model such pre-operating cashflows to fund construction in a transparent way. The inclusion of these cashflows is very important to sponsors but often ignored by lenders due to their inherent uncertainty. Examples are: staged opening of a toll road, commissioning of a power station or mining processing plant.

For illustration, we have prepared a case study of a simple project finance model. Screenshots 1 and 2 below show the Input worksheet, which contains the model timing and operations assumptions.


Screenshot 1: Input page (Timing)


Screenshot 2: Input page (Operations)

The project has 12 months of construction and the target commercial operation date is on 1-Jan-10 (COD). There is a ramp-up of production which starts 4 months prior to COD (Sep-09). Hence the project will generate pre-operating revenue as well as the pre-operating operating costs.

Pre-operating cashflow can be utilized to fund the construction costs and their effect on cashflows are

  • reducing utilization of capital funds (Debt / Equity)
  • possibly improving equity return (i.e. equity raisings could be reduced)
  • possibly improving project return and debt ratios

It would be clearer to illustrate the concept if we model the cashflows as shown in Screenshot 3. As demonstrated in row #21 there is approximately $1.85 million of net cashflow that could be utilized to fund the construction costs.


Screenshot 3: Extract of Cashflow

Next, we demonstrate how to model transparent construction funding so that the required funding line recognises that there are these early cashflows available. Usually in a Bank Base Case these cashflows might be sensitised or even switched off so that the financiers have the confidence that there are sufficient funds to complete the project without the need of early ‘testing’ cashflows.

Populate costs to be funded

The costs to be funded during construction in this case study are the usual costs during construction:

  • Construction CapEx
  • Any interests / financing costs during construction

Plus any pre-operating costs:

  • Pre-ops Variable OpEx (row #13 Screenshot 3)
  • Pre-ops Fixed OpEx (row #15 Screenshot 3)
  • Tax paid during construction (row #19 Screenshot 3)

Model the above costs in a worksheet, as demonstrated in Screenshot 4. Note: add other costs such as working capital adjustments during construction if applicable.

Modelling source of funds

The next step is to model the source of funds. As mentioned, the pre-operating costs can be utilized to reduce the disbursement of other available sources of funds (Equity or Debt). As shown in Screenshot 5, the sources of funds based on priority order of utilization are:


Screenshot 4: Costs to be funded

Modelling source of funds

The next step is to model the source of funds. As mentioned, the pre-operating costs can be utilized to reduce the disbursement of other available sources of funds (Equity or Debt). As shown in Screenshot 5, the sources of funds based on priority order of utilization are:

  • Pre-ops Revenue (row #24)
  • Initial Equity (row #27)
  • Debt (row #30)
  • Additional Equity (row #33)


Screenshot 5: Sources of Funds
Let’s focus on period Sep-09 (4 months prior to COD, Col R):

  • Row #21: Total cost to be funded is $5,474
  • Row #24: Pre-operating revenue is $486
  • Row #25: Remaining costs to be funded after utilizing the pre-operating revenue is $4,989
  • Row #30: Debt utilized in this period is $4,989

Note that if the pre-operating revenue is not utilized, then the drawn debt during this period would be higher ($5,474).

Linking the calculation to the cashflow

Linking the calculations in the step above to the cashflow waterfall is a straightforward exercise. Refer to the extract in Screenshot 6 and note that the cashflow after funding in row #37 is zero.

Income statement & balance sheet

Unlike the construction capex and financing costs during construction, pre-operating costs are usually not capitalized.

These costs are expensed outright when incurred – the costs appear in the income statement as an expense and no depreciation / amortization is involved.


Screenshot 6: Extract of Cashflow

However, there may be some exceptions where certain pre-operating costs can be capitalized and depreciated over a certain period. For example, in this case study the pre-ops Variable OpEx is shown to be capitalized and depreciated for five (5) years. In this case the cost would appear in the income statement / balance sheet such as shown in Screenshot 8.


Screenshot 7: Input page (Depreciation)


Screenshot 8: Extract of Income statement / Balance sheet

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