Working capital is a financial term that means the amount of cash a company has available to meet short-term obligations, such as paying employees and suppliers.
Companies with adequate working capital have more liquidity and are better able to grow their business. On the other hand, businesses with insufficient working capital often have trouble paying their debts and are more likely to go bankrupt.
Cash flow and working capital are two important aspects of your business’s financial health. Understanding the differences between the two can help you avoid financial mishaps and keep your business afloat.
Cash flow measures the cash or money that enters and exits your business within a particular period of time. It does not account for unpaid balances in accounts receivable (money owed to your company from its customers) or accounts payable (money owed to your vendors and suppliers).
When companies have high cash flow they also typically have high working capital, however it is possible for these two measures to diverge. This happens when a company starts making large investments or paying old debts. This can result in a significant drain on cash and working capital even if it is generating large amounts of cash from its normal operations.
Another factor that can impact cash flow and working capital is depreciation and amortization. These expenses subtract from net income but add back to cash flow by allocating the cost of an asset over its useful life.
Changes in working capital are a key indicator of the health of your company’s growth and profitability efforts. It’s a little like capital spending in that it’s money you are investing – in things such as inventory – to grow your business.
A negative value for changes in working capital indicates that your company is spending in advance of revenue growth, or it’s experiencing a problem with sales and inventory levels.
The best way to improve the performance of your working capital is to systematically track, report and understand it at the granular level. For example, if you do not have readily available data on how many days your current inventories will last at each location and stage of production, then you aren’t managing them effectively.
Likewise, if you don’t have a good handle on your accounts payable, then you aren’t efficiently managing the money you owe your suppliers.
Ultimately, the main difference between cash flow and working capital is that cash flow compares your company’s assets and liabilities while working capital compares your current liabilities to your future liabilities. Regardless of which one you focus on, both are crucial to your company’s short-term financial health.
Inventory is an important factor in working capital because it represents a business’s products that are ready for sale. Whether it’s raw materials, work-in-process or finished goods, inventory is an essential part of any company’s business model.
Generally speaking, there are three types of inventory: raw materials, work in progress and finished goods. Manufacturing companies typically purchase raw materials and components, store them until they’re ready for production and transform them into finished goods that they sell to customers. Nonmanufacturing companies, such as wholesale distributors and retailers, stock finished goods that they plan to sell to customers in the future.
The primary purpose of inventory is to ensure that a company has enough of the products it needs to meet customer demand. This allows a company to be responsive to changing trends in sales and customer demands.
In addition, stock is needed to buffer against variations in lead time and uncertainty surrounding the movement of goods. For example, if a supplier experiences a delay in transport or the result of a labor strike, a company might need to maintain enough inventory to cover a shortfall in sales until the issue is resolved.
Having too much inventory can be problematic because it costs a business money to store the items and can also lead to lost revenue if the inventory becomes damaged or is no longer available to sell. For this reason, it’s important to keep a close eye on your inventory levels and make adjustments as necessary.
Working capital is a measure of a company’s ability to pay suppliers, employees, bank loans and payroll taxes on time. This can be increased by adding current assets, such as accounts receivable or stocks, or by reducing current liabilities, such as long-term debt.
Managers can improve working capital by analyzing and resolving inventory issues, including managing the stock levels of key raw materials. For instance, if the inventory of one raw material is too high, managers might need to cut back on production.
Another tactic to increase working capital is re-negotiating payment terms with suppliers. If a company’s suppliers have long been demanding payment terms of 90 days or more, it might be a good idea to shorten those terms to 50 or 60 days. This can reduce a company’s interest expense and help them get back on top of cash flow.
Accounts payable is the amount of money that a company owes to vendors and suppliers for goods and services they have purchased. These payments are represented on a business’s balance sheet as current liabilities, which typically need to be paid within 30 days from the invoice date.
In the accrual basis of accounting, accounts payable is recorded as a liability, and in the cash-basis accounting method, it is an asset. A company’s cash flow can be affected by its accounts payable, as it can cause a shift in the amount of working capital available to cover short-term debt obligations.
A company’s cash flow can also be affected by its accounts receivable, which is the amount owed to a company for goods or services it has sold on credit terms. When a company sells goods or services on credit, it records the transaction in its accounts receivable subledger. Then, when the customer pays, the bookkeeper credits accounts receivable and debits cash to recognize the payment.
The company’s accounts payable department handles incoming bills and invoices from vendors. The department maintains vendor contact information and payment terms either manually or through a computer database. It also provides end-of-month aging analysis reports that allow management to see how much the company currently owes vendors.
One of the most important aspects of accounts payable is ensuring that it is paid on time, as it creates a creditor-debtor relationship between a company and its suppliers. Having accounts payable paid on time can help a company to build strong relationships with its vendors and avoid the accumulation of too much debt.
Some companies use a third-party vendor to handle their account payable process, which can save them money on the cost of an internal accounts payable department. This vendor may provide discounts on products or services that could benefit a company’s financial health.
Many companies also take advantage of special payment terms offered by their suppliers, which can save them money in the long run. For instance, some manufacturers offer their customers discounts on their items if they pay on time.
Accounts receivable (AR) are the monies that a business expects to receive from customers for goods or services it provided, but hasn’t yet received. Usually, companies extend credit to their customers, as it allows them to buy from them on an agreed-upon payment schedule. This allows the company to expand its customer base and generate more revenue. However, it also creates risk for the business because a company may not receive all of the money it expects from its customers.
AR is an important part of a company’s accounting process. It enables the company to track sales, invoices and payments. It also helps the business understand how strong its current asset and liability positions are.
According to Fontaine, a business should also track its accounts receivable turnover ratio (the percentage of accounts receivables that are being paid) to get a sense of how quickly the company collects on its customers’ accounts. This information can be used to determine if a company is getting its accounts paid on time, which can help to improve working capital.
Another key area of AR is advances, which are payments that a company makes to its customers for products it has already delivered. These payments are usually made within a period of mutually agreed-upon terms and should be recorded by the accounts department.
Businesses should also keep documentation on their customer accounts, including orders, conversations and agreed-upon terms. This documentation can help the company track its accounts and ensure that it has all of the financial information it needs to file tax returns.
Having a well-organized accounts receivable process is essential for the health of a company. A company that doesn’t pay attention to this area could run into cash flow issues, which can lead to a decline in revenue.
In addition, a well-organized process can help the business save time and reduce the risk of fraudulent payments. Finance and accounting software can automate the invoice processing process to streamline the payment cycle. These solutions also provide real-time insight into the entire accounts receivable process, so a company can identify and address potential problems more easily.