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The Ultimate Cash Flow Analysis Guide in 2024

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Cash flow statements are divided into three parts: Operating Activities, Investing Activities, and Financing Activities.

Positive cash flow indicates good financial health, while negative cash flow may suggest operational challenges.

What is a Cash Flow Analysis?

A cash flow analysis determines the inflows and outflows of cash regarding a business over a specific period. A cash flow analysis gives analysts, investors, finance teams, and executives insight into the cash inflows and outflows of any given company.

Investors conduct this analysis to determine if a company is profitable, in sound financial health, and, more importantly, if capital is worth investing in any given company. It can also help executives acquire insight into the financial environment of their company for them to make smarter business decisions to guide strategic planning.

A cash flow analysis begins by analyzing a cash flow statement. Through this analysis, an individual can identify anomalies, patterns, and trends in a business’s revenue. Understanding the nuances of cash flow is crucial for effective financial management, strategic planning, and risk assessment, making it a cornerstone in evaluating a company's overall financial well-being.

What Is a Cash Flow Statement?

Before we begin a cash flow analysis, we have to prepare a cash flow statement. The cash flow statement is a financial statement that summarizes the movement of cash that comes in and out of a company on a monthly, bi-monthly, or yearly basis. 

Here's an example of a cash flow statement:

An example of a cash flow statement.

This statement can help provide insight into a company’s financial health. 

A cash flow statement is divided into three parts.

  1. Cash flow from operations (operating cash flow) - Operating cash flow is the cash that’s generated from a company’s core operating activities, usually conducted during a specific period.
  2. Cash flow from investing - Cash flow from investing is the cash that’s generated from a company’s investing activities, which includes acquisitions and the disposal of long-term assets. The cash from investing typically includes capital expenditures, acquisitions, sales of assets, investments in securities, and proceeds from the sale of securities.
  3. Cash flow from finance - Cash from financing refers to the cash flows generated from a company’s financing activities during a specific period of time. Financing activities involve transactions with the company's owners (shareholders) and creditors (lenders).  These include cash received from common stocks, issuing bonds or taking loans, and cash payments made to shareholders as dividends.

Net Income

Net income is derived from the income statement and represents the company’s revenues minus its expenses. Net income is a key financial metric that reflects a company's profitability and is often used to assess its overall financial performance.

Common Misconceptions

Cash from financing activities and cash from investing activities are commonly mixed with one another. So, to help illustrate the differences between these two, we’ll present a table explaining each aspect.

  Investing Cash Flow Financing Cash Flow 
Nature of Activities Involves long-term asset and investment activities Deals with capital structure and financing activities
Objective Aims at long-term growth and strategic investments Focuses on raising and managing capital
Indicator of Company's investment strategy and long-term planning Company's capital structure and financial strategy
Key Considerations for Analysis Evaluation of growth and strategic decisions Assessment of capital raising and debt management
Impact on Cash Position Affects the overall cash position based on the success or failure of investments Affects the overall cash position by influencing the company's financial structure
Analytical Significance Important for assessing a company's commitment to growth and innovation Critical for understanding the company's financial health and how it manages its capital
Examples • Capital Expenditures (CapEx)
• Acquisitions
• Sales of assets
• Investments in securities
• Proceeds from the sale of securities
• Issuing or repurchasing common and preferred stock
• Issuing bonds or taking loans
• Repaying debt
• Dividends payments
• Share buybacks

How to Interpret a Cash Flow Statement?

It’s vital in any cash flow analysis to consider it from a business perspective. A cash flow statement can give insight into what phase a business is if they are a growing startup, a mature company, or in a declining phase. 

Based on these records, a company may be influenced by business decisions such as hiring, budgeting, and business expansion plans. Here are examples of interpretations:

  1. Positive Cash Flow - A positive cash flow shows that a business has more cash coming in than going out, which is an indicator of good financial health.
  2. Negative Cash Flow - A negative cash flow shows that a business has more cash going out than going in which may suggest operational challenges and liquidity issues. Though a negative cash flow could indicate that a company may be in financial struggle, it is also common for startup companies to not make a profit during the first three years of operations.
  3. Break-even cash flow - A break-even cash flow suggests that a business has equal cash going in and equal cash going out, which suggests a minimum level of cash flow needed to sustain operations and avoid financial losses.

Why is Cash Flow Analysis Vital For Your Company?

Without understanding the cash flow in your company, you do not know the direction, and you cannot accurately assess your financial situation, which is a dangerous position to be in with any business. There are a multitude of reasons why cash flow analysis is important, but we will name the main four in this article.

1. Liquidity Assessment 

Your cash flow determines your working capital, which is the amount of cash you have on hand to operate your business. If your working capital is low, then your liquidity is also low, which means you have less cash to spare during crises or emergencies. Thorough cash flow analysis helps prevent liquidity shortages and further prepare for future economic challenges.

2. Sound Risk Assessment  

Using the information from a cash flow analysis, in particular, cash flow ratios, a company executive can determine the amount of risk its enterprise can take. 

A company that shows cash flow problems may be less incentivized to take larger financial risks while a company that shows healthy cash flow is better equipped to take financial risks in the form of investments, expansions, and research/development.

3. Inspires Investor Confidence

A main benefit of conducting cash flow analysis is that it creates transparent financial reporting. Investors are more likely to invest in transparent companies that stay up-to-date with their financial reports. 

Furthermore, if there are any gaps in cash flow, a company can know the areas that they need to fix to make their company more attractive to investors.

4. Tax Planning

Cash flow analysis is vital in tax planning, as it helps businesses optimize their tax positions, manage liabilities, and ensure efficient use of financial resources. Cash flow projections can help in estimating and managing tax outcomes.

Cash Flow Analysis Examples in The Cash Flow Statement / Income Statement / Balance Sheet

A cash flow analysis is commonly conducted through the cash flow statement. However, there are other ways of utilizing financial reporting to conduct a cash flow analysis.

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement shows the ins and outs of cash flow—the most commonly used statement for cash flow analysis.

Income Statement/P&L Statement

It’s possible to analyze cash flow through the income statement, also known as a P&L statement. You can calculate cash flow through what you call the indirect method. The formula will be listed below:

Net Cash from Operating Activities = Net Income + Non-Cash Expenses (e.g., Depreciation and Amortization) + Changes in Working Capital + Non-Operating Gains/Losses

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet shows three pieces of information. Assets, liabilities, and shareholder equity. To put it in simple terms, if there are more assets, it implies cash inflow. If there are more liabilities there are, it implies cash outflow. In terms of financing activities on the balance sheet, more equity (issuing stock) shows higher cash inflow, while higher debt shows a cash outflow. 

Cash Flow Ratios

You can also conduct cash flow analysis through cash flow ratios. Here are some of the more common ones:

Formula: Operating Cash Flow Ratio = Operating Cash Flow / Current Liabilities

Explanation: The operating cash flow ratio shows the liquidity available to any given company. A ratio higher than one shows a company can meet its short-term obligations.

Formula: Free Cash Flow to Equity (FCFE) Ratio = Free Cash Flow / Average Shareholders' Equity

Explanation: This ratio indicates the percentage of cash flow available to the equity shareholders after covering all expenses, capital expenditures, and debt obligations. A higher FCFE ratio suggests better financial flexibility.

Formula: Cash Return on Assets (CROA) = Operating Cash Flow / Average Total Assets

Explanation: This ratio assesses how efficiently a company is generating cash from its total assets. A higher CROA indicates effective cash generation relative to the company's asset base.

Formula: Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC) = Days Inventory Outstanding + Days Sales Outstanding - Days Payable Outstanding

Explanation: The cash conversion cycle (CCC) measures the time it takes for a company to convert its investments in inventory and accounts receivable into cash minus the time it takes to pay its suppliers. A shorter CCC is generally considered more favorable, as it implies faster cash conversion.

 What is Free Cash Flow?

The biggest measure of profit used by analysts is free cash flow. A firm that has negative free cash flow indicates that the company is not profitable, while a positive free cash flow is usually a green flag for investors.

This statement excludes the non-cash expenses of the income statement while including spending on equipment, assets as well as changes in working capital.


Investors often look at free cash flow to assess a company's financial health and its capacity to reward shareholders through dividends or share buybacks. Consistent positive free cash flow can inspire confidence among investors

Bertrand Theaud
Founder, Statrys

Calculating Free Cash Flow

To calculate free cash flow, you will need a measure called “capital expenditures.” Capital expenditure represents the cash spent on purchasing, upgrading, or maintaining physical assets such as property, plant, and equipment, and this metric will be deducted from operating cash flow to give you free cash flow. 

The most straightforward way to calculate free cash flow is through the direct method, which goes as follows:

Free Cash Flow = Operating Cash Flow − Capital Expenditures

The indirect method is a way of calculating free cash flow by adjusting net income for non-cash items and changes in working capital. To calculate free cash flow with the Indirect method, you can use:

Free Cash Flow = Net Income + Non−Cash Expenses (e.g., Depreciation) + Changes in Working Capital − Capital Expenditures

Differences between Operating Cash Flow, Free Cash Flow, and EBITDA

There are certainly differences between the three metrics of operating cash flow, free cash flow, and EBITDA. (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), which can be used in cash flow analysis. We’ll cover them below in this table.

  Free Cash Flow (FCF) Operating Cash Flow (OCF)  EBITDA 
Definition The cash generated by a company that is available for distribution to all stakeholders after necessary capital expenditures. The cash generated or used in the core operating activities of a business. A measure of a company's operating performance, indicating its ability to generate operating profits before considering interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
Calculation FCF = Operating Cash Flow - Capital Expenditures OCF = Net Income + Non-cash expenses (e.g., depreciation) + Changes in working capital EBITDA = Revenue - Operating Expenses (excluding interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)
Focus Emphasizes cash available for distribution to investors and debt reduction. Focuses on the cash generated from day-to-day operations of the business. Highlights operating profitability by excluding non-operating expenses and non-cash items.
Capital Expenditures Deducts capital expenditures from operating cash flow to arrive at the free cash available. Does not explicitly deduct capital expenditures but includes all operating cash flows. Does not account for capital expenditures or changes in working capital.
Non-Cash Items Includes adjustments for non-cash items such as depreciation and amortization. Includes non-cash items in the calculation, such as depreciation. Excludes non-cash items like depreciation and amortization.
Purpose Focuses on the company's ability to generate cash for future growth and shareholder returns. Evaluates the cash-generating capability of the core business operations. Provides a snapshot of a company's operating profitability without considering financing and accounting decisions.
Limitations Can be affected by changes in capital expenditure requirements. May not fully reflect the timing of cash receipts and payments. Excludes important elements like interest, taxes, and changes in working capital.

All three metrics measure different aspects of a company’s financial performance. Operating cash flow (OCF) and free cash flow (FCF) are more directly related to cash generation and usage, while EBITDA is an earnings metric that is often used in combination with other measures to assess a company's overall financial health. 

How to Perform Cash Flow Analysis

Here are the steps you need to take to conduct a cash flow analysis:

Step 1. Gather Financial Statements

  • Collect the necessary financial statements, including the Income Statement, Cash Flow Statement, and Balance Sheet. These statements provide essential data for analyzing cash flows.

Step 2. Understand the Cash Flow Statement

  • Review the Cash Flow Statement to understand the three main sections: Operating Activities, Investing Activities, and Financing Activities.
  • Identify how each section contributes to the overall cash flow.

Step 3. Focus on Operating Activities

  • Analyze the Operating Activities section of the Cash Flow Statement. This section provides insights into the company's core business operations and cash generation.
  • Adjust net income for non-cash items, such as depreciation and changes in working capital.

Step 4. Evaluate Changes in Working Capital

  • Examine changes in accounts receivable, accounts payable, and inventory.
  • Positive changes in working capital can consume cash, while negative changes can generate cash.

Step 5. Analyze Investing Activities

  • Assess cash flows related to investments in long-term assets, acquisitions, and sales of investments.
  • Identify significant capital expenditures and evaluate their impact on cash flow.

Step 6. Examine Financing Activities

  • Review cash flows related to financing, such as debt issuance, repayment, equity transactions, and dividend payments.
  • Understand how financing decisions impact the company's overall cash position.

Step 7. Calculate Free Cash Flow

  • Calculate Free Cash Flow (FCF) by subtracting capital expenditures from operating cash flow.
  • FCF represents the cash available for distribution to stakeholders and for investment in growth opportunities.

Step 8. Use Financial Ratios

  • Calculate relevant financial ratios, such as the operating cash flow ratio, free cash flow ratio, and cash conversion cycle.
  • Ratios provide insights into liquidity, operational efficiency, and overall financial performance.

Step 9. Compare Historical Data

  • Compare current cash flows with historical data to identify trends and anomalies.
  • Understand the reasons behind significant changes in cash flow.

Step 10. Consider External Factors

  • Take external factors into account, such as industry trends, economic conditions, and regulatory changes.
  • Evaluate how these factors may impact the company's cash flow in the short and long term.

Step 11. Forecast Cash Flows

  • Use historical data and future projections to forecast cash flows.
  • This helps in planning for future capital needs, debt repayment, and strategic investments.

Tips for Small Businesses Conducting Cash Flow Analysis

1. Regularly Update Cash Flow Statements:

Keep your cash flow statement & other financial statements up to date to have a real-time understanding of your business's cash position. Regular updates help in identifying trends and addressing potential issues promptly.

2. Forecast Cash Flow

Develop cash flow forecasts to anticipate future inflows and outflows. This helps in planning for potential cash shortages and allows for proactive management.

3. Monitor Working Capital

Keep a close eye on working capital components, such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, and inventory. Efficient management of these elements can positively impact cash flow.

4. Negotiate Payment Terms

Negotiate favorable payment terms with suppliers and encourage early payments from customers. This can help in improving the cash conversion cycle and reducing the need for external financing.

5. Implement a Receivables Management Strategy

Have a clear strategy for managing accounts receivable, including timely and proactive invoicing, offering discounts for early payments, and following up on overdue payments.

6. Control Inventory Levels

Optimize inventory levels to avoid tying up excess cash in unsold products. Implement just-in-time inventory practices to reduce carrying costs and improve cash flow.

7. Evaluate Capital Expenditures

Assess the necessity of capital expenditures and prioritize projects based on their impact on cash flow. Consider alternatives such as leasing or financing to spread the costs over time.

8. Explore Financing Options

Be aware of various financing options, including lines of credit, small business loans, or alternative funding sources. Use these strategically to address short-term cash flow gaps.

9. Diversify Revenue Streams

Diversify your sources of revenue to reduce dependence on a single customer or market. This can provide stability during economic fluctuations and mitigate the impact of revenue declines.

10. Build a Cash Reserve

Establish and maintain a cash reserve for unexpected expenses or downturns in business. Having a buffer can help you navigate challenging periods without jeopardizing the operation.


Conducting a cash flow analysis should provide you with a big-picture overview of your business’s financial health, casting over a period of time. However, a cash flow analysis does not account for external factors such as industry trends, economic conditions, and regulatory changes that may impact a business’s bottom line that are outside of the business owner’s control.

Therefore, it’s sound advice to say that a cash flow analysis will always be up to the interpreter conducting the analysis to take into account various factors of why a business is in its current situation and, based on the reasons, pivot a company’s direction to improve its financial health better.

Analyzing a company's financial health entails more than just reporting; it involves delving into cash flow dynamics. The subsequent step is to identify the underlying factors influencing the current state and strategically replicate successful practices while eliminating detrimental ones. This approach is crucial for steering the company towards a more stable future.

Statrys mobile application dashboard showing a total balance in a business account.


What is cash flow analysis?

Cash flow analysis involves examining the inflows and outflows of cash within a business to assess its financial health and profitability.

Why is a cash flow statement important?


What are the three parts of a cash flow statement?


How does positive cash flow differ from negative cash flow?


How can I improve my business cash flow?


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