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Thursday, March 24, 2011

How to read the Cash Flow Statement – Part 2

In last Tuesday’s post, I had covered the first part of the Cash Flow Statement – Cash Flow from Operating Activities. The next two parts will be discussed in this post.

Part 2: Cash Flow from Investing Activities 

To remain in business over the long haul, a company needs to grow. Without growth, a business will stagnate and eventually die or get acquired. But growth has a price. Cash has to be spent to buy land, machinery and related equipment, build factories and offices, acquire other companies, start subsidiaries or joint ventures, and make appropriate investments.

All of the above comes under Cash Flow from Investing Activities. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that this figure will be a (negative) one for most companies. Many mature companies, particularly those in the FMCG sector, don’t have much need for Capital Expenditure (i.e. spending cash on factories and equipment) because their rate of growth has slowed down.

Ideally, the depreciation amount in the Profit and Loss statement should be less than or equal to the amount of cash being spent in investing activities – because depreciation is meant to cover the notional loss due to wear and tear of the existing plant and machinery. If a company does not continuously spend on upgrading and modernising its facilities, it will not be able to compete with newer entrants who may have the latest technology and equipment.

The definition of Free Cash Flow is:

Cash Flow from Operating Activities – Capital Expenditure

This is a (negative) number for companies in their early growth stage, when cash generated from core operations may be insufficient to cover the cost of capital expenditure. But for well-established companies, positive Free Cash Flow is an indication of financial health. The more positive Free Cash Flow a company can generate, the easier it is for them to expand, acquire, pay dividend or buy back shares, and pay off loans.

Part 3: Cash Flow from Financing Activities 

What if a company has (negative) Free Cash Flow, or still worse, has (negative) Cash Flow from Operating Activities? Where will they get the cash to pay their suppliers, interest to banks for any loans taken, and for growing the business?

They can either resort to more borrowings, and/or issue more shares. If such companies are showing a net profit, then they are also expected to pay dividends to their shareholders. All inflows and outflows of cash due to loans, share issues, share buybacks, dividend payments come within Cash Flow from Financing Activities.

Financial prudence should dictate a company’s growth plans. As a thumb rule for selecting good stocks, about 60-70% of the Cash Flow from Investing Activities (Part 2) should be funded by positive Cash Flow from Operating Activities (Part 1); the balance 30-40% should come from Cash Flow from Financing Activities (Part 3).

Many companies forget the simple adage that one should cut one’s coat according to the cloth. They may even have positive Cash Flow from Operating Activities, but their ambitious growth plans require far more cash than they can afford. They resort to frequent borrowings and share issues in the hope of reaching the top quickly. One or two bad years can bring such companies down to their knees. Pantaloon and Suzlon come to mind.

(Note: The financial health of banks and financial institutions can’t be judged by analysing the Cash Flow Statement alone – because they need to borrow cash to give loans, and invariably have negative Cash Flow from Operating Activities. Price to Book Value and Return on Assets are better measures for such companies.)

Related Post

What is the Return on Assets (RoA) ratio?


Doctor Universe said...

Dear Subhankar

Thanks for these wonderful writings which help immensely. Maybe I am a bit gross so I seek your assistance through an eg..
Here net cash used in/from financing activities is negative...
What does this mean.does it imply that they have taken loans/borrowings to the tune of 3694 crores. Please help in clarification of this issue. It has troubled me for long. Thanks once again.

Subhankar said...

Thanks for your comments.

In the Cash Flow statement, a positive number means an inflow and a negative number means an outflow. Each of the 3 parts of the statement has several heads that need to be checked and analysed (from the Annual Report).

Cash Flow from Financing Activities (Part 3) can include loans, share issues, dividends, interest. The total number is negative in the case of IOC - which means there was a net outflow in the year ending Mar '10. It could be because of dividend payment, or interest payment or loan repayment or any combination of these.