The statement of cash flows is very important for financial accounting because generally accepted accounting principles require you to use the accrual method of accounting. This means that you record revenue when it is earned and realizable (regardless of when money changes hands), and you record expenses when they are incurred (regardless of when they are paid). On the flip side, when using the cash method of accounting, a transaction isn’t acknowledged until money changes hands. (A company may use a cash-basis statement for income tax return preparation.)The statement of cash flows gives the financial statement user a basis for understanding how noncash transactions showing up on the balance sheet and income statement affect the amount of cash the company has at its disposal.
Sources and uses of cashI tell my students that if I could choose only one of the three key financial statements to evaluate a company’s ability to pay dividends and meet fiscal obligations (both of which indicate a healthy business), I would pick the statement of cash flows. That’s because even though the income statement shows eventual sources and uses of cash, the statement of cash flows gives you a better idea of exactly how a business is paying its bills.
Not all cash is created equal. As a general rule, a business presents itself in a more positive position if its costs are being covered by cash it brings in from the day-to-day running of the business rather than from borrowed funds. As a potential investor or lender, I want to see that cash the company brings in through operations exceeds any cash brought in by selling assets or borrowing money. This is because selling assets and borrowing money can never be construed as continuing events the way bringing in cash from selling goods or services can be.
Financial accounting, which is done on the accrual basis, does not show the cash ins and outs of business operations. The statement of cash flows gives the user of the financial statements a better idea of cash payments and receipts during the year in two ways:
- By eliminating the effects of accounts receivable and payable
- By showing cash brought in by means other than the continuing operations of the business and cash paid out for items outside the scope of continuing operations — for example, for the purchase of fixed assets
Sections of the cash flow statementThere are three sections on a statement of cash flows: operating, investing, and financing. Each section addresses cash ins and outs that the business experiences under completely different circumstances:
- Operating: This section shows items reflecting on the income statement. The three big differences between the cash and accrual methods will be accounts receivable, which is money owed to the company by its customers; accounts payable, which is money the company owes to its vendors; and inventory, which are goods held by the business for resale to customers.
- Investing: This section usually shows the sale and purchase of long-term assets. The purchase of long-term assets reflects on the balance sheet. The sale of long-term assets reflects both on the balance sheet and income statement: It reflects on the balance sheet as a reduction of the amount of assets the company owns, and on the income statement as a gain or loss from disposing of the asset.
- Financing: The financing section shows the cash effects of long-term liability items (paying or securing loans beyond a period of 12 months from the balance sheet date) and equity items (the sale of company stock and payment of dividends).
A short statement of cash flowsThe following figure gives you a very abbreviated version of what a statement of cash flows looks like.
There are two different ways to prepare a statement of cash flows: the direct method and the indirect method:
- The direct method reports cash receipts and disbursements.
- The indirect method starts with net income from the income statement and adjusts for noncash items reflecting on the income statement such as depreciation, which is allocating the cost of long-lived assets over their useful life.