Saturday, 26 July 2014

What Is Cash Flow?

How to measure a company's life blood.

The cash flowing in and out of a company is a great indicator of its health. Companies need liquidity to be able to pay their bills and keep their bankers at bay.

But there's a confusing panoply of metrics: cash from operations, free cash flow, cash profits. If cash flow is the life blood of a business, how do you measure a company's blood pressure?

Cash flow statement
The starting point is the cash flow statement. International Accounting Standards require a business to split its cash flows into three categories: those associated with its operations, investing activities and financing activities.

Most commonly, you'll see this in a company's accounts looking something like this (which I've simplified by stripping out and combining lines):

The three categories of operations, investing and financing are clearly separated, and at the bottom there is a reconciliation of the cash flows to opening and closing cash balances.

Alice in Wonderland
The first thing to note is the Alice in Wonderland-like distinction between 'cash generated from operations' and 'net cash generated from operating activities'. "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean," as Humpty Dumpty said in the book.

Cash generated from operations is operating profit with depreciation added back, adjusted for changes in working capital. It is usually reconciled to profit in a note, making it one of the most important notes to look at in a company's accounts. It looks something like this:

Cash generated from operations indicates how much cash a company is making from its basic activities. Depreciation is added back because it's just an accounting entry. Profits with depreciation added back are sometimes called cash profits. Start-up companies that have invested heavily may make cash profits while they are still loss-making, because of high levels of depreciation.

Increases in inventory or receivables are also deducted in calculating cash generated from operations, because these absorb cash. A growing company might be increasing sales, but spending all its cash building up stock.

Most companies regard interest and tax as integral to their operations, so put them in the first segment of the cash flow. That produces net cash generated from operating activities. It's a mouthful, but a useful subtotal. Not all do: Rolls Royce (LSE: RR), for example, puts interest into the financing category. It also puts the reconciliation of cash to profit on the face of the cashflow statement, so at first sight it looks a very different statement.

Cash conversion refers to how efficiently a company is turning profits into cash. I prefer to measure it by comparing net cash generated from operating activities with operating profit. Remember operating profit has depreciation taken off, so the cash flow figure may be greater. If the ratio is much different from one, it's reason to look more closely.

The next section of the cash flow statement is more straightforward. Typically, companies invest cash in capital expenditure and acquiring new businesses. If the figures are large, you need to look at how they have been financed: from operations, or from new financing?

Some capital expenditure is necessary just to maintain a company's current activities, rather than to expand. That's usually called maintenance capex. It's an important concept as, long term, a company should generate enough cash from its operations to cover maintenance capex, otherwise it's running its plant into the ground.

The accounting standard encourages, but doesn't require, a company to disclose how much of its capex is maintenance capex. Usually, you can get a decent idea from the narrative in the accounts.

It's a useful number to estimate, and allows you to calculate a figure for an important concept: free cash flow. For our purposes, that's generally defined as net cash flow from operating activities less maintenance capex.

Free cash flow measures the cash that a firm is producing for its shareholders. For that reason it's often used a valuation metric, by calculating price to free cash flow (i.e. market cap divided by free cash flow). But beware, there is a multitude of variants for calculating free cash flow(including those used in discounted cash flow analysis which deduct tax-shielded interest charges).

The final, financing, segment of the cash flow statement would be clear cut, but for the inclusion of dividends. For most listed companies, dividends are not a discretionary expenditure, at least not without the share price collapsing. So it often makes sense to treat dividends as a fixed charge, like interest and tax.

Probably the easiest way to capture this is to compare net cash generated from operating activities to the dividend, a form of cash dividend cover. If the dividend is not covered, then it is being financed by property sales, lenders, or the shareholders themselves.

In summary
To recap, three useful measures are:
Cash conversion: net cash generated from operating activities ÷operating profit.

Price: free cash flow, where free cash flow = net cash generated from operating activities – maintenance capex.

Cash dividend cover = net cash generated from operating activities ÷ dividends paid.

BY Tony Reading
Published in Investing on 24 April 2012

The 13 Traits Every Successful Business Person Must Learn

The men and women we recognize today as the titans of business earned their titles not because they had great ideas, but because they practised certain behaviours. Their successes were the products of chemical reactions, with their natural and trained business acumens as the reactants and their great ideas as the catalysts.

Whether they were old world titans of industry and invention – such as John D. Rockefeller, Dale Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Cornelius Vanderbilt – or are the new world titans of technology – such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg – they all positioned themselves to see or predict issues in the (coming) world, and then went about solving those problems.

Regardless of the eras into which these individuals were born, they were bound to make waves of change in the modern world, so let’s dig deeper into what traits made them great so that you may one day join their ranks.

1. Take Responsibility
At the end of the day, everything your company does – good or bad – reflects on you as its leader. So whenever something goes awry, lead by example and be accountable for the mistakes and proactive about fixing them.

In addition, whenever your company does something right, take pride in it collectively and give honest accolades individually to the members of your team whom contributed to this success. Showing your humility lets your employees know that they are valued and that you recognize you can’t go it alone. This one took me a bit of time! As a trader I am a certified egomaniac and that makes me great..I truly believe I own the market and it bends to my whims when I am on my game. As a leader this type of behaviour will cause a fragmented team you will not be able to guide people to their full potential unless you can make them a partner in your vision.

2. Communicate Effectively
One of the most valuable traits of a business leader is his or her ability to communicate well with anyone, be it his or her superiors, equals, employees, partners, or competitors. 

All of these folks need information from you, and if you can give it to them quickly and effectively, you’ll save everyone a lot of headaches and wasted time. You’ll also have a lot of things to communicate non-verbally – such as your strength as a leader, your personal character, and your mission – so keep in mind that communication is not solely limited to the transaction of words. This one was really hard for me. I am a great salesman and so I thought that made me a great communicator in our company but it didn't. I always expected people to work at my pace and my speed and do things the way I wanted but I was never able to relay how and why that is important. Then when things would fall behind or apart I would get angry. This was because I had no properly relayed my vision for how I saw our future and how we were gonna get there together. Once I showed my team what my vision was and had them pitch in to really turn it into a strategic objective our company took off.

3. Demand Quality
Demand good work from your employees work as well as from yourself. The fact that you hold yourself to high standards will encourage your employees to do the same, especially if they know that you don’t tolerate sub-par work from anyone. Additionally, always be serving something of value to your customers and they’ll keep coming back for that quality product. This is huge I am very hard on myself to turn out great work and make great trades and teach great classes. In our company we even keep track of metrics so that the team can see how well I am doing my functions. We manage results not personalities & people. This takes the politics out of things and makes us into a cohesive and productive team.

4. Value Consistency
Whether it means being punctual for every meeting, showing up early for work every day, or always hitting product deadlines, the fact that you and your company can get work done on a regular basis makes you an asset.

While the flashy worker on your team who always appears to do good work, it’s the dependable and consistent workers who keep the world turning. When you’re reliable, you’re useful, and then you’re useful, you’re valued.

5. Require Efficiency
Bloated and starving workplaces eventually start cutting into profits. So, adopt lean methodologies; trim the fat from the organization to morph it into a machine running on full-steam.

Don’t be afraid to replace the employee who’s dragging the team down with their procrastinating, Implement new systems that increase productivity, and/or reorganize your whole outfit so it can still do what it already does, just better and faster. This has been huge for us. My lack of ability as a CEO in the beginning really showed up in this. Here I am a trader, coach, leader, ceo I was holding a lot of hats. But I had no clue how to prioritize or delegate anything in a proper manner. We would have million dollar business ideas get lost in threads of emails that were 100 emails long! Then it would move to the bottom of the pile as we put our next fire or try a new idea. Putting in systems for everything we do and utilizing proper technology let us chop hours off what we did every single day.

6. Encourage Competitiveness
A healthy amount of competition can lead to great innovations and accomplishments. So rally your team by encouraging them to outpace your main competitor in the market, or setup monthly prizes for the workers who gather the most sales or complete the most work; just give them something more to work toward other than plain completion.

In fact, Carnegie was known for rewarding his workers with more pay and better positions in his steel company if they ever figured out better ways to save his company money. Odds are that your employees would appreciate a similar opportunity as well.

7. Remain Flexible
Smart leaders try to predict where their companies or markets will be so that they can, more often than not, motivate changes rather than react to them. By remaining flexible, they position themselves to maximize on these changes, while also retaining the ability to reflect and pivot if their predictions should prove false. Guys this is an ever changing market and when your good at something everyone copies you. When we started to really grow our model of how we marketed to the type of classes we did it all got copied. That's totally fine and a complement but you have to know in this age you only get a few months head start before the copycats are out. You need to constantly innovate and improve. You need to be flexible and admit when your on the wrong path and pivot quickly to the right one.

8. Ask the Right Questions, and Give the Right Answers
Great business leaders get to the root of a problem quickly, and then work hard alongside those whom are helping them to solve it. They never beat around the bush with their questions or answers, as they know that money is being lost every minute something is awry.

9. Retain Focus
As a leader, you’ll have to keep your eye simultaneously on the many moving parts of the company. But a great leader has selective tunnel vision – they can hone in on one thing at a time – while also keeping the larger picture in mind. As Thomas Edison once said, “Vision without execution is hallucination,” and you can’t run a business on vision alone. This is huge. All day I am talking with my guys about our Vision our strategic objective. They get so sick of hearing it but its so important. Everything we do, everything we build, every action we take should be with the expectation that this gets us to our strategic objective.

We have a slogan that we say all day everyday “ONE TEAM, ONE DREAM” we chant this all day to refocus us so that when times get tough we remember who we are and why we are doing this.

10. Embrace Failure
Have courage, tenacity, and patience when trying out new ideas. Inevitably, some of them will fail, but know that greatness and great learning often come from making mistakes. While it’s easier to always walk the known, safe path, it rarely ever leads to great fortune and opportunity.

11. Make Your Own Luck
All great businesspeople know that luck is a rare thing, if it exists at all. Rather, they work hard and set themselves up for success. These folks prime themselves to leap on great opportunities whenever they come near instead of sitting idle and hoping that the perfect opportunity will magically present itself out of nowhere and ask no work of them.

12. Remain Passionate
Passion doesn't simply arise from money or maximized profits. It’s important to keep the fire in your gut burning as, without passion or purpose, you can become complacent, and complacency kills both individuals and businesses. As Simon Sinek constantly repeats throughout his TED Talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” so always be communicating that passion to your customers in everything you do.

“skills are cheap, passion is priceless” I read that in the book CRUSH IT . It is so true and guides all my hiring and partnership decisions. I believe I can teach anyone almost anything about this business. But what I cant teach is the passion. I have so much that it will rub off on you but you still need it in your bones! It drives you to stay awake and push at all times.

13. Save Some Time for Personal Development
Every great man and woman in history, even those outside of the business world, always made sure to save time to do one personal thing every day.

Whether it was to read a book not in their field, write poetry, run a marathon, or learn how to bake, these leaders would also strive to improve themselves beyond their expected fields of expertise.

Inspiration comes from within, and from the things you love doing, not just the things you get paid to do professionally, so remember to be a well-rounded person who has a life beyond the workplace.

Being great is a process and a commitment. Consider the points listed above and set a course for greatness in your work and personal life.
Extracted article from

Quote for the day

“Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn't work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”  - Roger Von Oech