A company’s financial statements are like a report card that tells investors how much money a company has made, what it spends on and how much money it currently has. Knowing how to read a financial statement and understand the key performance indicators that it includes is essential for evaluating a company. Any investor conducting fundamental analysis will pull much of the information they need from past and present financial statements when valuing a stock and deciding whether to buy a stock.
Each publicly traded company in the United States must produce a set of financial statements every quarter. These include a balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. In addition, companies produce an annual report. Together with the company’s earnings call, these statements tell a fairly complete story about a company’s financial health. Reading financial statements can give investors clues about whether or not it’s a good idea to invest in a given company or perhaps to short it.
SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor
1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.
2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you're ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals get started now.
Understanding Each Section of a Financial Statement
1. Balance Sheet
A company’s balance sheet is a ledger that shows its assets, liabilities and shareholder equity at a given point in time. Assets are anything the company owns with quantifiable value. This includes tangible items, such as real estate, equipment, and inventory, as well as intangible items like patents and trademarks. The cash and investments a company holds are also considered assets.
On the other side of the balance sheet are liabilities — the debts a company owes, including rent, taxes, outstanding payroll expenses and money owed to vendors. When liabilities are subtracted from assets, the result is shareholder value, or owner equity. This figure is also known as book value and represents the amount of money that would be left over if a company shut down, sold all its assets and paid off its debt. This money belongs to shareholders, whether public or private.
2. Income Statement
The income statement, also known as the profit and loss (P&L) statement, shows a detailed breakdown of a company’s financial performance over a given period. It’s a summary of how much a company earned, spent and lost during that time. The top of the statement shows revenue, or how much money a company has made selling goods or providing services.
The income statement subtracts the costs associated with running the business from revenue. These include expenses, costs of goods sold and asset depreciation. A company’s revenues less its costs are its bottom-line earnings.
The income statement also provides information about net income, earnings per share, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
3. Cash Flow Statement
A cash flow statement is a detailed view of what has happened with regards to a business’ cash over the accounting period. Cash flow refers to the money that’s flowing in and out of a company, and it is not the same as profit. A company’s profit is the money left over after expenses have been subtracted from revenue. The cash flow statement is broken down into three sections:
- Cash flow from operating activities is cash generated by the regular sale of a company’s goods and services.
- Cash flow from investment activity usually comes from buying or selling assets using cash, not debt.
- Cash flow from financing activity details cash flow that comes from debt and equity financing.
At established companies, investors typically look for cash flow from operating activities to be greater than net income. This positive cash flow may indicate that a company is financially stable and has the ability to grow.
4. Annual Report and 10-K
Public companies must publish an annual report to shareholders detailing their operations and financial conditions. Look for an annual report to include the following:
- A letter from the company’s CEO that gives investors insight into the company’s mission, goals and achievements. There may be other letters from key company officials, such as the CFO.
- Audited financial statements that describe financial performance. This is where you might find a balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. A summary of financial data may provide notes or discussion of financial statements.
- The auditor’s report lets investors know whether the company complied with generally accepted accounting principles as they prepared their financial statements.
- Management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A).
In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires companies to produce a 10-K report that offers even greater detail and insight into a company’s current status and where it hopes to go. The annual report and 10-K are not the same thing. They share similar data, but 10-Ks tend to be longer and denser. The 10-K must include complete descriptions of financial activities. It must outline corporate agreements, an evaluation of risks and opportunities, current operations, executive compensation and market activity. They must be filed with the SEC 60 to 90 days after the company’s fiscal year ends.
The management’s discussion and analysis provides context for the financial statements. It’s a chance for company management to provide information they feel investors should have to understand the company’s financial statements, condition and how that condition has changed or might change in the future. The MD&A also discloses trends, events and risks that might have an impact on the financial information the company reports.
It can be really tempting to skip footnotes as you read financial statements, but they can reveal important clues about a company’s financial health. Footnotes can help explain how a company’s accountants arrived at certain figures and help explain anything that looks irregular or inconsistent with previous statements.
Financial Statement Ratios and Calculations
Financial statements can be the source of important ratios investors use for fundamental analysis. Here’s a look at some common examples:
To calculate debt-to-equity, divide total liabilities by shareholder equity. It shows investors whether the debt a company uses to fund its operation is tilted toward debt or equity financing. For example, a debt-to-equity ratio of 2-to-1 suggests that the company takes on twice as much debt as shareholders invest in the company.
2. Price-to-earnings (P/E)
Calculate price-to-earnings by dividing a company’s stock price by its earnings per share. This ratio gives investors a sense of the value of a company. Higher P/E suggests that investors expect continued growth in earnings, but a P/E that’s too high could indicate that a stock is overvalued compared to its earnings.
3. Return on equity (ROE)
Calculated by dividing net income by shareholder’s equity, return on equity (ROE) shows investors how efficiently a company uses its equity to turn a profit.
4. Earnings per share
Calculate earnings per share by dividing net earnings by total outstanding shares to understand the amount of income earned for each outstanding share.
5. Current Ratio
This metric measures a company’s ability to pay off its short-term liabilities with its current assets. Find it by dividing current assets by current liabilities.
6. Asset turnover
Used to measure how well a company is using its assets to generate revenue, you can calculate asset turnover by dividing net sales by average total assets.
The financial statements that a company provides are all related to one another. For instance, the income statement reflects information from the balance sheet, while cash flow statements will tell you more about the cash on the balance sheet.
Whether you’re opening your first IRA or you’re an experienced investor, understanding financial statements can give you clues that will help you determine whether a stock is a good value and whether it makes sense to buy or sell.
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC. SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
More from MediaFeed:
Tips for teaching your kids about investing
Featured Image Credit: artisteer / istockphoto.