Page 2: The importance of cash flow
Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”. What this means is that whilst it may look better to have large inflows of revenue from sales, the most important focus for a business is cash flow.
Many businesses may continue to trade in the short- to medium-term even if they are making a loss. This is possible if they can, for example, delay paying creditors and/or have enough money to pay variable costs. However, no business can survive long without enough cash to meet its immediate needs.
Cash inflow and outflow
Cash comes into the business (cash inflows), mostly through sales of goods or services and flows out (cash outflows) to pay for costs such as raw materials, transport, labour, and power. The difference between the two is called the net cash flow. This is either positive or negative. A positive cash flow occurs when a business receives more money than it is spending. This enables it to pay its bills on time.
A negative cash flow means the business is receiving less cash than it is spending. It may struggle to pay immediate bills and need to borrow money to cover the shortfall. The distinction between cash flow and profit is shown in the example. In accounting, negative figures are shown in brackets.
Businesses aim to provide greater financial returns than the level of interest earned by simply placing the cash in a bank. They can also hold too much cash. Cash does not earn anything so holding too much cash could mean potential losses of earnings. The cash situation is referred to as the liquidity position of the business. The closer an asset is to cash, the more 'liquid' it is. A deposit account at a bank or stock that can easily be sold are liquid. Assets such as buildings are the least liquid. Liquid assets are those that are most easily turned into cash.
Cash flow is always important, but especially when it is not easy to obtain credit. When the economy is in recession, financial service providers are reluctant to lend money. Borrowing also becomes more expensive as interest rates are raised to partially offset the risk of borrowers not paying back loans.
Controlling cash is essential and management accountants deal with a range of cash issues:
- ensuring that sufficient cash is available for investment by not tying up cash in stock unnecessarily
- putting procedures in place for chasing up outstanding debts
- controlling different levels of cash outflows in relation to the size of the business.
For example, a car repair garage buys parts and tyres whilst a hairdresser buys shampoos, equipment and pays for power. In each case, if the business has cash problems it may be slow to pay its bills to suppliers. This creates further cash problems which spread throughout the economy. If small suppliers are not paid they may go out of business. This in turn may affect businesses further up the ladder.