Trend Analysis – Liquidity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 7th, 2013

Economics 101

Liquidity can be More Important than Profitability to a Small Business Owner

Small business owners lose a lot of sleep worrying if they will have enough cash for tomorrow.  For next week.  For next month.  You can increase sales and add new customers but unless this creates cash those new sales and new customers may cause more problems than they help.  For a lot of businesses fail because they run out of cash.  Often times learning they have a cash problem only when they don’t have the cash to pay their bills.  So savvy business owners study their financial statements each quarter.  Even each month.  Looking for signs of trouble BEFORE they don’t have the cash to pay their bills.

Investors poor over corporations’ financial statements to make wise investment decisions.  Crunching a lot of numbers.  Analyzing a myriad of financial ratios.  Gleaning a lot of useful information buried in the raw numbers on the financial statements.  Small business owners analyze their financial statements, too.  But not quite to the extent of these investors.  They may look at some key numbers.  Focusing more on liquidity than profitability.  For profits are nice.  But profits aren’t cash.  As a lot of things have to happen before those profits turn into cash.  If they turn into cash.  The following are some balance sheet and income statement accounts.  Following these accounts are some calculations based on the values of these accounts.  With four quarters of data shown.

So what do these numbers say about this year of business activity?  Well, the business was profitable in all four quarters.  And rather profitable at that.  Which is good.  But what about that all important cash?  With each successive quarter the business had a lower cash balance.  That’s not as good as those profitability numbers.  And what about accounts receivable and inventory?  There seems to be some large changes in these accounts.  Are these changes good or bad?  What about accounts payable?  Accrued expenses?  Current portion of long-term debt?  These all went up.  What does this mean in the grand scheme of things?  Looking at these numbers individually doesn’t provide much information.  But when you do a little math with them you can get a little more information out of them.

In Trend Analysis a Downward sloping Current Ratio indicates a Potential Liquidity Problem

Current assets are cash or things that a business can convert into cash within the next 12 months.  Current liabilities are things a business has to pay within the next 12 months.  Current assets, then, are the resources you have to pay your current liabilities.  The relationship between current assets and current liabilities is a very important one.  Dividing current assets by current liabilities gives you the current ratio.  If it’s greater than one you are solvent.  You can meet your current financial obligations.  If it’s less than one you will simply run out of current resources before you met all of your current liabilities.  In our example this business has been solvent for all 4 quarters of the year.

Days’ sales in receivables is one way to see how your customers are paying their credit purchases.  The smaller this number the faster they are paying their bills.  The larger the number the slower they are paying their bills.  And the slower they pay their bills the longer it takes to convert your sales into cash.  Days’ sales in inventory tells you how many days of inventory you have based on your inventory balance and the cost of that inventory.  The smaller this number the faster things are moving out of inventory in new sales.  The larger this number is the slower things are moving out of inventory to reflect a decline in sales.  These individual numbers by themselves don’t provide a lot of information for the small business owner.  Big corporations can compare these numbers with similar businesses to see how they stack up against the competition.  Something not really available to small businesses.  But they can look at the trend of these numbers in their own business and gain very valuable information.

The above chart shows the 4-quarter trend in three important liquidity numbers.  Days’ sales in receivables increased after the second quarter upward for two consecutive quarters.  Indicating customers have paid their bills slower in each of the last two quarters.  Days’ sales in inventory showed a similar uptick in the last two quarters.  Indicating a slowdown in sales.  Both of these trends are concerning.  For it means accounts receivable are bringing in less cash to the business.  And inventory is consuming more of what cash there is.  Which are both red flags that a business may soon run short of cash.  Something the three quarters of falling current ratio confirm.  This business is in trouble.  Despite the good profitability numbers.  The downward sloping current ratio indicates a potential liquidity problem.  If things continue as they are now in another 2 quarters or so the business will become insolvent.  So a business owner knows to start taking action now to conserve cash before he or she runs out of it in another 2 quarters.

Keynesian Stimulus Spending can give a Business a Current Ratio trending towards Insolvency

In fact, this business was already having cash problems.  The outstanding balance in accounts payable increased over 100% in these four quarters.  Not having the cash to pay the bills the business paid their bills slower and the balance in outstanding accounts payable rose.  Substantially.  As the cash balance fell the business owner began borrowing money.  As indicated by the increasing amounts under current portion of long-term debt and interest expense.  Which would suggest substantial borrowings.  Putting all of these things together and you can get a picture of what happened at this business over the past year.  Which started out well.  Then experienced a burst of growth.  But that growth disappeared by the 3rd quarter.  When sales revenue began a 2-quarter decline.

Something happened to cause a surge in sales in the second quarter.  Something the owner apparently thought would last and made investments to increase production to meet that increased demand.  Perhaps hiring new people.  And/or buying new production equipment.  Explaining all of that borrowing.  And that inventory buildup.  But whatever caused that surge in sales did not last.  Leaving this business owner with excess production filling his or her inventory with unsold goods.  And the rise in days’ sales in receivables indicates that this business is not the only business dealing with a decline in sales.  Suggesting an economic recession as everyone is paying their bills slower.

So what could explain this?  A Keynesian stimulus.  Such as those checks sent out by George W. Bush to stimulate economic activity.  Which they did.  Explaining this sales surge.  But a Keynesian stimulus is only temporary.  Once that money is spent things go right back to where they were before the stimulus.  Unfortunately, this business owner thought the stimulus resulted in real economic activity and invested to expand the business.  Leaving this owner with excess production, bulging inventories, aging accounts receivable and a disappearing cash balance.  And a current ratio trending towards insolvency.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus spending does not work.  Most businesses know it is temporary and don’t hire or expand during this economic ‘pump priming’.  While those that do risk insolvency.  And bankruptcy.

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Statement of Cash Flows

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2012

Economics 101

No Business will be able to Repay any Loan unless their Business Operations can Generate Cash

In business cash is king.  As it is in life.  We need cash to buy food to survive.  Just as a business needs cash to pay its bills to survive.  Cash is so important to a business that there is a special financial statement to summarize cash flows in a business.  It looks something like this.

The above are made up numbers that could be similar to any statement of cash flows.  It shows the three sources of cash for a business.  Operating activities.  Investing activities.  And financing activities.  Every last dollar a business has came from one of these three sources.  And we can determine the health of the business just by seeing where its cash came from.

Not all business owners use a statement of cash flows.  Most small business owners probably don’t.  Having some other method to see where their cash is coming from.  And going to.  But if they plan on borrowing money from a bank they’re going to need one.  As bankers want to see a business’ ability to generate cash from their business operations.  For no business will be able to repay any loan unless their business operations can generate cash.

An Increase in Accounts Receivable indicates a Business’ Customers are Paying them Slower

A business generates cash from operating activities.  Which comes from sales.  Of course business have to spend a lot of money to create those sales.  So the net cash generated is basically net income with a few adjustments.  In accrual accounting we expense a portion of what we spent on an asset as a depreciation expense each accounting period.  Because although we pay for an asset in one year we may use that asset for the next 5 years.  Or more.   So we expense a portion of that asset each accounting period.  But we don’t have to write a check to pay for depreciation.  It is a non-cash transaction.  So to adjust net income to show net cash generated we have to add back this depreciation expense.

An increase in accounts payable indicates a business is paying their bills slower.  And when you pay your bills slower you free up cash for other things.  Becoming a source of cash.  With each payroll a business has to withhold taxes from their employees’ paychecks.    Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, the employee’s federal and state withholding taxes.  With each payroll these liabilities accrue and are payable to the various government agencies.  You  can free up some cash by paying these taxes late.  But it is not recommended.  For the penalties for doing so can be severe.

An increase in accounts receivable indicates their customers are paying them slower.  An increase in inventory indicates they’re buying more into inventory than they’re selling from inventory.  Prepayments will conserve cash in the future by paying for things now.  But they will leave you with less cash now.  A decrease in accrued liabilities indicates they’re catching up on paying some of their accrued expenses.  Like those payroll taxes.  (In the ideal world if you add up the increase and decrease in accrued liabilities they should net out. Indicating you’re paying your accrued expenses on time.  In this example the business has a balance of $3,000 they’re paying late.)  Increases in all of these items consume cash, leaving the business with less cash for other things.

When the Owner has to put in More of their Own Cash into the Business Things are not going Well

Cash flows from investing activities can include financial investments a business buys and sells with the excess cash they have.  In this example the only investment activities is the buying and selling of some plant assets.  Perhaps selling some old equipment that is costly to maintain and replacing it with new equipment.  Even replacing a vital piece of production equipment that breaks down.  Putting a business out of business.  Thus requiring a cash purchase to replace it as quickly as possible.  Short-term borrowing may be advances on their credit line while the settlement on short-term debt may be the repaying of some of those advances.  Proceeds from long-term debt may be a new bank loan.  While payments to settle long-term debt may be repaying a previous loan.  Finally, paid-in capital is money from the business owner.  Such as cashing in a 401(k) or getting a second mortgage on their house so they can put it into their business to make up for a cash shortage.

So what does all of this mean?  Is this business doing well?  Or are they having problems?  Well, the good news is that they are meeting their cash needs.  The bad news is that it’s not because of their operating activities.  They’re meeting their cash needs by paying their vendors slower.  In fact, if they didn’t they may have had a net loss of cash for the year.  Which means had they not paid their bills late they may have gone bankrupt.  And their cash problems are evident elsewhere.   For not only are they paying their vendors slower their customers are paying them slower.  Making them wait longer to get the cash from their sales.  And with more money going into inventory than coming out of inventory it indicates that sales are down.  Leaving them with less revenue to convert into cash.  And what’s particularly troubling is that increase in accrued liabilities.  Which could mean they’re paying their payroll taxes slower.  Accessing their credit line also indicates a cash problem.  Also, having to borrow $50,000 to help repay a $100,000 loan coming due is another sign of cash problems.  Finally, when the owner has to put in more of their own cash into the business things are not going well.

These are things a business owner has to deal with.  And things a loan officer will note when reviewing the statement of cash flows.  Some people may think a net increase in cash of $18,000 is a good thing.  But it’s not that good.  Considering they had to get that cash by paying their vendors slower, paying the government slower, borrowing money as well as investing more of their personal savings into the business.  Worse, despite having all of these cash problems the government is taxing away of lot of their cash.  Because their net income passing through to their personal income tax return is $235,000.  Putting them in the top 5% of income earners.  And into the crosshairs of those looking to raise tax rates on those who can afford to pay a little more.  To make sure they pay their ‘fair’ share.

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Planters, Money, Factors, Risk, Interest, Discounting, Accounts Receivable and Accounts Receivable Factoring

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2012

History 101

When a Factor advanced their Money to a Planter it could take up to 9 Months or more to Get it Back

It takes money to make money.  And in the early days before big banks there were few places to get big amounts of money.  Which you needed in the New World to grow large crops like tobacco.  You needed big amounts of money because it took a long time from planting a crop to getting it to market in Europe.  Planters needed money to plant, grow, harvest, bale, ship to a seaport where it then shipped by sail to a European market.  Then money from the eventual sale of that tobacco would take a couple of months to make it back to the planter.

It could take up to 9 months or more before they actually got the proceeds from the crops they grew.  And there were no large banks to provide financing for the planters.  So what did they do?  Enter rich people.  And merchant banks.  Factors.  Who advanced planters money to plant, grow, harvest, bale and ship their crops to a European market.  And when they sold those crops and the money worked its way back across the ocean it went to the factors.

But why would rich people do this?  Why would they take a risk with their money?  When they advanced their money it could take up to 9 months or more before they got it back.  A lot could happen in 9 months.  A drought could have wiped out their crop.  Insect infestation could have eaten their crop.  Fire could have destroyed the crop as it made its way to an ocean going sailing ship.  And that sailing ship could have suffered damage in a storm and sank.  So there was a lot of risk these rich people took.  So why did they?

Factors bought a Future Crop at a Discount from what they Expected it would Sell For

Well, they could mitigate some of this risk by purchasing marine insurance.  To cover the cost of their cargo in the event it was lost at sea.  But insurance policies aren’t free.  They cost money, too.  Not to mention the shipping costs to get these crops to market.  Costs that had to come out of those crops.  So there are costs.  And some work.  Back then you didn’t buy insurance or pay for transportation electronically.  People went to places and negotiated these things with other people.  People who earned wages and didn’t work for free.

Today when someone borrows large sums of money they pay interest.  Which helps to offset any costs incurred.  And let’s people earn money by loaning money.  Which provides an incentive to loan money.  Which is the only way people can borrow money.  When people are willing to loan it.  And people only loan money when it’s worth their while.  People save their money in the bank to earn interest.  They don’t put it there so others can borrow it for free.  But before large banks they needed another way to get money to people who needed it.  Which brings us back to those factors.

Factors made their money by discounting.  Which is a way of earning interest without charging interest.  When you buy a Treasury bill you are acting like a factor.  You may pay $970 dollars for a Treasury bill with a face value of $1,000.  When you redeem this Treasury bill the government pays you $1,000.  Giving you a $30 financial gain.  Which works out to an effective interest rate of 3%.  People like buying treasury securities because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.  So there is little risk.  Whereas factors took a huge risk.  So they didn’t do it on any promise to pay.  They got collateral.  They bought a future crop at a discount from what they expected it would sell for.  Which became theirs.  And when that crop sold they got all the proceeds from that sale.  Hopefully they got as much as they thought it would sell for.  Or more.  But, of course, they took the risk that it might have sold for less.

Accounts Receivable Factoring is a Quick and Easy Way for a Business Owner to Raise Cash

Many small businesses will struggle to grow if they don’t offer credit.  Allowing their customers to buy things on account.  And then paying for all of their monthly purchases at one time at the end of the month.  This convenience encourages repeat customers to buy more.  And it allows them to buy things that they can sell later.  Like a restaurant owner who buys food from a restaurant supplier.  After selling prepared meals in his or her restaurant customers pay them.  Which allows the restaurant owner to pay his or her restaurant supplier at the end of the month.  A system that works well.  And benefits both supplier and customer.  That is, as long as people are dining at that restaurant.

But sometimes people stop going to restaurants.  And stop buying from other businesses.  Making it difficult for these businesses to pay their bills.  So they start paying their bills slower.  Instead of paying them in full at the end of the month they may take an extra month.  Or two.  So businesses who sold things on account have a growing list of outstanding invoices.  Or accounts receivable (A/R).  They print out their A/R aging report and they slowly see their open invoices go from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days.  Leaving them short of cash to pay their own bills.  And if they already maxed out their credit line they may be unable to borrow money.  So what other option do they have?  Here’s a hint.  Most of their outstanding accounts receivable will eventually become cash.  In time.  All they need is a way to get someone else to wait for that time to pass.

What they need is a factor.  Someone to buy their accounts receivable.  Giving them the cash they need.  While the factor will then pursue the collection of those outstanding invoices.  Most of which the customers will pay.  And it’s these invoices a factor will buy at a discount.  The small business owner loses some profit but they make up for that by getting the cash they need to pay their bills.  Accounts receivable factoring is a quick and easy way for a business owner to raise cash.  For unlike a loan there is no review of a company’s assets and liabilities.  No collateral to pledge.  No financial statement analysis.  For the owner is selling an asset.  His or her accounts receivable.  Which is the only thing a factor looks at.  The quality of those receivables.  Which they converted into cash.  Giving business owners the money they need to get back to the business of making money.  Much like those planters did in colonial America.

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