How to analyze a financial statement

October 6, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

It's obvious financial statement have a lot of numbers in them and at first glance it can seem unwieldy to read and understand. One way to interpret a financial report is to compute ratios, which means, divide a particular number in the financial report by another. Financial statement ratios are also useful because they enable the reader to compare a business's current performance with its past performance or with another business's performance, regardless of whether sales revenue or net income was bigger or smaller for the other years or the other business. In order words, using ratios can cancel out difference in company sizes.

There aren't many ratios in financial reports. Publicly owned businesses are required to report just one ratio (earnings per share, or EPS) and privately-owned businesses generally don't report any ratios. Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) don't require that any ratios be reported, except EPS for publicly owned companies.

Ratios don't provide definitive answers, however. They're useful indicators, but aren't the only factor in gauging the profitability and effectiveness of a company.

One ratio that's a useful indicator of a company's profitability is the gross margin ratio. This is the gross margin divided by the sales revenue. Businesses don't discose margin information in their external financial reports. This information is considered to be proprietary in nature and is kept confidential to shield it from competitors.

The profit ratio is very important in analyzing the bottom-line of a company. It indicates how much net income was earned on each $100 of sales revenue. A profit ratio of 5 to 10 percent is common in most industries, although some highly price-competitive industries, such as retailers or grocery stores will show profit ratios of only 1 to 2 percent.


Types of Costs

October 6, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Direct costs are those costs that cann be directly attributed to a product or product line, or to one source of sales revenue, or one business unit or operation of the business. An example of a direct cost would be the cost of tires on a new automobile.

Indirect costs are very different and can't be attached to any specific product, unit or activity. The cost of labor or benefits for an auto manufacturer is certainly a cost, but it can't be attached to any one vehicle. Each business has to devise a method of allocating indirect costs to different products, sources of sales revenue, business units, etc. Most allocation methods are less than perfect, and generally end up being arbitrary to one degree or another. Business managers and accounts should always keep an eye on the allocation methods used for indirect costs and take the cost figures produced by these methods with a grain of salt.

Fixed costs are those costs that stay the same over a relatively broad range of sales volume or production output. They're like an albatross around the neck of business and a company must sell its product at a high enough profit to at least break even.

Variable costs can increase and decrease in proportion to changes in sales or production level. Variable costs vary proportionately with changes in production/

Relevant costs are essentially future costs that could be incurred, depending on what strategic course a business takes. If an auto manufacturer decides to increase production, but the cost of tires goes up, than that cost needs to be taken into consideration.

Irrelevant costs are those that should be disregarded when deciding on a future course of action. They're costs that could cause you to make a wrong decision. Whereas relevant costs are future costs, irrelevant costs are those costs that were incurred in the past. The money's gone.


What is financial window dressing?

October 5, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Financial managers can do certain things to increase or decrease net income that's recorded in the year. This is called profit smoothing, income smoothing or just plain old window dressing. This isn't the same as fraud, or cooking the books.

Most profit smoothing involves pushing some amount of revenue and/or expenses into other years than they would normally be recorded. A common technique for profit smoothing is to delay normal maintenance and repairs. This is referred to as deferred maintenance. Many routine and recurring maintenance costs required for autos, trucks, machines, equipment and buildings can be delayed, or deferred until later.

A business that spends a significant amount of money for employee training and development may delay these programs until the next year so the expense in the current year is lower.

A company can cut back on its current year's outlays for market research and product development.

A business can ease up on its rules regarding when slow-paying customers are written off to expense as bad debts or uncollectible accounts receivable. The business can put off recording some of its bad debts expense until the next reporting year.

A fixed asset that is not being actively used may have very little current or future value to a business. Instead of writing off the un-depreciated cost of the impaired asset as a loss in the current year, the business might delay the write-off until the next year.

You can see how manipulating the timing of certain expenses can make an impact on net income. This isn't illegal although companies can go too far in massaging the numbers so that its financial statements are misleading. For the most part though, profit smoothing isn't much more than robbing Peter to pay Paul. Accountants refer to these as compensatory effects. The effects next year offset and cancel out the effects in the current year. Less expense this year is balanced by more expense the next year.


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