Trend Analysis—Long-Term Debt-Paying Ability

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2013

Economics 101

To Help with the Decision Making Process Small Business Owners look at Past Results and Trends

A small business owner has a lot on his or her mind.  Most of which have something to do with cash.  If they will have enough for their short-term needs.  And their long-term needs.  Because if they don’t there’s a good chance he or she will be a small business owner no more.  So with every decision a small business owner makes he or she asks this question.  What will be the cash-impact of this decision?  Both short-term.  And long-term.

To help with this decision making process small business owners look at past results.  And the trend between accounting periods.  Either quarterly.  Or monthly.  For there is a lot more to a business’ health than net profit.  Or cash in the bank.  You can have neither and still be a healthy business.  And you can have both and be in a lot of danger.  Because these are only parts of the bigger picture.  It’s how they fit together with the other pieces that give small business owners useful information.  So let’s take a look at 4 quarters of fictitious data.  And what the data trends tell us.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt

Looking at these numbers you can arrive at different conclusions.  Sales were 1.7 million or higher for all 4 quarters.  That seems good.  But sales fell the last two quarters.  That seems bad.  But it’s hard to get a full grasp of what these numbers can tell us on their own.  But if we look at some ratios we can glean a lot more information.  And can graph these ratios and look at trends.

If the Debt Ratio is less than 1 it means the Business is Insolvent

If you divide current assets (Cash through Inventory) by current liabilities (Accounts Payable through Current Portion of L/T Debt) you get the current ratio.  A liquidity ratio.  Telling a small business owner his or her short-term (in the next 12 months) cash health.  If this ratio is greater than one than you have more current assets than current liabilities.  Meaning you should be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is good.  If it’s less than 1 it means you may not be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is bad.  But is there a ‘correct’ number for a small business?  No.  It could vary greatly depending on the nature of your business.  But the trend of the current ratio can provide valuable information.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Current Ratio

This business became more liquid from Q1 to Q2.  Meaning they should have been able to meet their short-term cash needs even easier in Q2 than Q1.  A good thing.  But they became less liquid from Q2 to Q3.  With their current ratio falling below 1.  Meaning they may not have had enough cash to meet their short-term cash needs.  Their short-term cash position improved in Q4.  But it was still below one.  So the current ratio trend for these 4 quarters shows a cause for concern.  Is it a problem?  It depends on the big picture.  So let’s look at more parts that make up the big picture.

Plotted on the same graph is a long-term debt-paying ability ratio.  The debt ratio.  Which we get by dividing Total Assets by Total Liabilities.  If this number is less than 1 it means Total Assets are greater than Total Liabilities.  Which is good.  If it’s greater than 1 it means the business is insolvent.  Which is bad.  As insolvency leads to bankruptcy.  The trend from Q1 to Q2 was good.  Their debt ratio fell.  But it rose between Q2 and Q3.  Rising above 1.  Which is a great cause for concern.  It fell between Q3 and Q4 but it was still below one.  Is this a problem?  It’s starting to look like it is.

There is no such thing as a Sure Thing for a Small Business Owner

Are they going to have trouble servicing their debt?  There are ratios for this, too.  Such as the Times Interest Earned (TIE).  Which shows how many times your recurring earnings can pay your interest costs.  In this example we have normal interest expense such as that paid on the business line of credit.  And the capitalized interest such as the interest portion on a car payment.  We calculate TIE by dividing recurring earnings by total interest expenses.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Times Interest Earned

In Q1 their recurring earnings had no trouble covering their interest expenses.  In Q2 recurring earnings grew as did their ability to pay their interest expenses.  But the trend following Q2 has been downward.  Either indicating a surge in debt.  And interest due on that debt.  Or a fall in recurring earnings.  In this case it was a fall in earnings.  Which plummeted following Q2.  Looking at another ratio we can see the extent of these poor earnings on their long-term debt-paying ability.  If we divide Total Liabilities by Owner’s Equity we get the debt to equity ratio.  If this number is 1 then the business is financed equally by debt and equity.  If it’s less than 1 more equity (typically produced by recurring earnings) than debt financed the business.  Which is preferable as equity financing doesn’t incur any costs or risk.  If it’s greater than 1 it means more debt than equity financed the business.  Which is not as preferable.  Because debt-financing incurs costs.  As in interest expense.  And risk.  The greater the debt the greater the interest.  And the greater risk that they may not be able to repay their debt.  Which could lead to bankruptcy.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Debt to Equity Ratio

This business was highly leveraged in Q1.  With virtually all financing coming from debt.  Probably because the owner drew a lot of money out during some profitable years.  Something banks don’t like seeing.  They like to see the owner sharing the risk with the bank.  If they don’t it can be a problem if the business owner wants to borrow money.  Which this one did in Q3.  Because business was doing so well this owner wanted to expand the business by adding another piece of production equipment.  But being so highly leveraged the owner had to put up a sizeable down-payment to get a loan for this new piece of production equipment.  As can be seen by the $20,000 owner contribution in Q3.  There was also a large decline in Owner’s Equity in Q3.  Indicating a one-time charge or correction.  With the loan the owner increased production.  And was looking forward to making a lot of money.  Which was not to happen.  For the economy fell into recession in Q3.

Sales fell just as they increased production.  Which led to a swelling inventory of unsold goods.  Worse, the recession was hurting everyone.  As can be seen by the growth in accounts receivable.  Because people were paying them slower they were paying their suppliers slower.  As is evident by the growth in their accounts payable.  Then a piece of equipment broke down.  They had no choice but to replace it.  Requiring another equity infusion of $10,000.  While some write-downs of bad debt reduced Owner’s Equity further.  (Or something similar.  With such low recurring profits by the time you add in other one-time and non-recurring costs this can lead to a net loss.  And a decline in Owner’s Equity.)  Despite this $30,000 equity infusion into the business the debt to equity ratio soared between Q3 and Q4.  Showing how poorly recurring operations were able to generate cash after that expansion in Q3.  Which explains their insolvency.  And as leveraged as they are it is very unlikely that they are going to be able to borrow money to help with their pressing cash needs.  Meaning that the decision to expand in Q3 may very well lead to bankruptcy.

This is just an example of the myriad concerns a small business owner has to consider before making a decision.  And a successful small business owner always has to factor in the possibility of a recession.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Being a small business owner.  For it’s a lot like gambling.  There is just no such thing as a sure thing.

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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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Working Capital

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2012

Economics 101

A Business Owner uses Start-Up Capital to Pay the Bills until the Business starts Making Money to Pay the Bills

Few people understand how business works.  Some think it’s a mystical entity that has an endless supply of money for the taking.  To be taken by the government.  The unions.  And their employees.  While some believe business is some evil entity that acquired its wealth by taking it from poor people.  Poor people that had no wealth to give.  Because they’re poor.  Who we define as being poor because they have no wealth.

But businesses aren’t mystical or evil.  They’re run by ordinary people.  Often doing extraordinary things.  In a constant battle to survive.  They start off by risking everything they’ve ever earned and saved.  Perhaps persuading family to invest in them and their idea.  Or mortgaging their house to the hilt.  Just to get the money to start their business.  Short term financing to pay the bills until the business starts making money to pay the bills.  If the business ever starts making money to pay the bills.

One of the most misunderstood things about business is that their prices are pure profit.  When you buy a $4.50 cup of coffee from Starbucks people think that’s $4.50 of profit.  But it’s not.  That price has to pay for the coffee beans.  The water.  The regular milk.  The low-fat milk.  The flavored syrup.  The cup.  The cup sleeve so you can hold it without burning you hand.  The lid.  The plastic stick that plugs the drinking hole in the lid.  The baristas working there.  The equipment to grind the coffee beans.  To make coffee.  To make espresso.  To make steam to heat the milk.  The point-of-sale cash registers.  The lights.  The heat.  The air conditioning.  The Internet access provided free to their customers.  The soap and toilet paper in the restrooms.  Garbage bags.  Cream.  Sugar.  Sugar substitute.  Coffee stirrers.  The rent.  The telephone bill.  Marketing.  Etc.  They have to recover all of these costs in the sales price of their coffee.  With enough left over to pay for growth.

For a Business to be able to Pay their Bills their Current Assets must be Greater than their Current Liabilities

Bills.  Everyone has them.  And business owners have more than most.  Because it takes money to make money.  A business owner has to spend a lot of money to make something to sell.  Like a cup of coffee.  So they incur a lot of costs.  Costs that their revenues have to pay.  For a business like Starbucks that’s mostly cash and credit card sales.  For other businesses that could be sales on account.  Or accounts receivable.  Sales that don’t result in cash.  But a promise to pay cash later.  Like a lot of those bills Starbucks has to pay.  Things they bought on account.  With the promise to pay cash later.

Businesses have current liabilities.  Which include the bills they owe.  Accrued payroll.  Accrued payroll taxes.  And everything else that they have to pay within one year.  All of which they have to pay with current assets.  Such as cash.  Or short-term assets they can convert into cash within one year.  Like accounts receivable.  Or things that conserve cash.  Like prepaid expenses.  For a business to be able to pay their bills their current assets must be greater than their current liabilities.  If their current liabilities are greater than their current assets, though, they will have some problems paying their bills.

The relationship between current assets and current liabilities is important.  If we divide current assets by current liabilities we get the current ratio.  If this is greater than one then a business will find it easier to pay their bills.  If it’s less than one then a business will struggle to pay their bills.  And may not be able to pay their bills.  If they can’t they are insolvent.  Meaning that they are not selling at high enough prices.  They’re not selling enough.  Or their costs are just too great at the prevailing market prices.  And if any of the above is true they may have no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.  Because they simply cannot pay their bills.

If a Business can’t Generate Cash (Working Capital) Borrowing Money will only Delay the Inevitable—Bankruptcy

Cash is king.  A business has to have it.  And if they’re business can’t generate it they have to get it someplace else.  Either by borrowing it from the bank.  From family.  Or taking out another mortgage on their home.  All of which are short-term solutions to a much bigger problem.  For if their business can’t generate cash borrowing money will only delay the inevitable.  Bankruptcy.  Which means they either have to raise their sales volume.  Raise their prices.  Or cut their costs.  To get their current ratio above one.  Making them solvent again.

When you subtract current liabilities from current assets you get a business’ working capital.  The greater a business’ working capital is the easier it is for them to pay their bills.  And the easier it is to grow their business.  Or to offer raises, bonuses, more generous benefits, etc.  For to do any of these things a business first has to be able to pay their bills.  If they can keep paying their bills and maintain a current ratio above one for a few consecutive accounting periods they will find themselves with a surplus of cash.  Or working capital.  Useable cash to expand business operations.  Or to better pay their employees.

Of course if a business is too generous with their employees it will dry up that working capital and make it harder to pay their other bills.  For example, when generous union contracts impose heavy costs on a business while the prevailing market prices prevents them from charging enough to be able to afford those generous union contracts a business will soon find itself in financial difficulties.  Leading to a possible bankruptcy.  Where a bankruptcy court allows them to renegotiate their union contracts.  So their sales at prevailing market prices can afford them.  As well as their other bills.  While leaving enough working capital left over to grow their business.  Replace some worn out equipment.  Or repay a loan.

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