Understanding Cash Flow Statements (2024)

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2023 Curriculum CFA Program Level I Financial Reporting and Analysis

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The cash flow statement provides information about a company’s cash receipts and cash payments during an accounting period. The cash-based information provided by the cash flow statement contrasts with the accrual-based information from the income statement. For example, the income statement reflects revenues when earned rather than when cash is collected; in contrast, the cash flow statement reflects cash receipts when collected as opposed to when the revenue was earned. A reconciliation between reported income and cash flows from operating activities provides useful information about when, whether, and how a company is able to generate cash from its operating activities. Although income is an important measure of the results of a company’s activities, cash flow is also essential. As an extreme illustration, a hypothetical company that makes all sales on account, without regard to whether it will ever collect its accounts receivable, would report healthy sales on its income statement and might well report significant income; however, with zero cash inflow, the company would not survive. The cash flow statement also provides a reconciliation of the beginning and ending cash on the balance sheet.

In addition to information about cash generated (or, alternatively, cash used) in operating activities, the cash flow statement provides information about cash provided (or used) in a company’s investing and financing activities. This information allows the analyst to answer such questions as:

  • Does the company generate enough cash from its operations to pay for its new investments, or is the company relying on new debt issuance to finance them?

  • Does the company pay its dividends to common stockholders using cash generated from operations, from selling assets, or from issuing debt?

Answers to these questions are important because, in theory, generating cash from operations can continue indefinitely, but generating cash from selling assets, for example, is possible only as long as there are assets to sell. Similarly, generating cash from debt financing is possible only as long as lenders are willing to lend, and the lending decision depends on expectations that the company will ultimately have adequate cash to repay its obligations. In summary, information about the sources and uses of cash helps creditors, investors, and other statement users evaluate the company’s liquidity, solvency, and financial flexibility.

This reading explains how cash flow activities are reflected in a company’s cash flow statement. The reading is organized as follows. Section 2 describes the components and format of the cash flow statement, including the classification of cash flows under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and the direct and indirect formats for presenting the cash flow statement. Section 3 discusses the linkages of the cash flow statement with the income statement and balance sheet and the steps in the preparation of the cash flow statement. Section 4 demonstrates the analysis of cash flow statements, including the conversion of an indirect cash flow statement to the direct method and how to use common-size cash flow analysis, free cash flow measures, and cash flow ratios used in security analysis. A summary of the key points and practice problems in the CFA Institute multiple-choice format conclude the reading.

Learning Outcomes

The member should be able to:

  1. compare cash flows from operating, investing, and financing activities and classify cash flow items as relating to one of those three categories given a description of the items;

  2. describe how non-cash investing and financing activities are reported;

  3. contrast cash flow statements prepared under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and US generally accepted accounting principles (US GAAP);

  4. distinguish between the direct and indirect methods of presenting cash from operating activities and describe arguments in favor of each method;

  5. describe how the cash flow statement is linked to the income statement and the balance sheet;

  6. describe the steps in the preparation of direct and indirect cash flow statements, including how cash flows can be computed using income statement and balance sheet data;

  7. convert cash flows from the indirect to direct method;

  8. analyze and interpret both reported and common-size cash flow statements;

  9. calculate and interpret free cash flow to the firm, free cash flow to equity, and performance and coverage cash flow ratios.


The cash flow statement provides important information about a company’s cash receipts and cash payments during an accounting period as well as information about a company’s operating, investing, and financing activities. Although the income statement provides a measure of a company’s success, cash and cash flow are also vital to a company’s long-term success. Information on the sources and uses of cash helps creditors, investors, and other statement users evaluate the company’s liquidity, solvency, and financial flexibility. Key concepts are as follows:

  • Cash flow activities are classified into three categories: operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities. Significant non-cash transaction activities (if present) are reported by using a supplemental disclosure note to the cash flow statement.

  • Cash flow statements under IFRS and US GAAP are similar; however, IFRS provide companies with more choices in classifying some cash flow items as operating, investing, or financing activities.

  • Companies can use either the direct or the indirect method for reporting their operating cash flow:

    • The direct method discloses operating cash inflows by source (e.g., cash received from customers, cash received from investment income) and operating cash outflows by use (e.g., cash paid to suppliers, cash paid for interest) in the operating activities section of the cash flow statement.

    • The indirect method reconciles net income to operating cash flow by adjusting net income for all non-cash items and the net changes in the operating working capital accounts.

  • The cash flow statement is linked to a company’s income statement and comparative balance sheets and to data on those statements.

  • Although the indirect method is most commonly used by companies, an analyst can generally convert it to an approximation of the direct format by following a simple three-step process.

  • An evaluation of a cash flow statement should involve an assessment of the sources and uses of cash and the main drivers of cash flow within each category of activities.

  • The analyst can use common-size statement analysis for the cash flow statement. Two approaches to developing the common-size statements are the total cash inflows/total cash outflows method and the percentage of net revenues method.

  • The cash flow statement can be used to determine free cash flow to the firm (FCFF) and free cash flow to equity (FCFE).

  • The cash flow statement may also be used in financial ratios that measure a company’s profitability, performance, and financial strength.


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As an expert in financial reporting and analysis, I've delved deep into the intricacies of topics like cash flow statements, income statements, and balance sheets. Let's break down the concepts mentioned in the article you provided:

  1. Cash Flow Statement: This financial statement tracks the cash entering and leaving a company during a specific period. It contrasts with the income statement, which records revenues and expenses regardless of when cash actually changes hands.

  2. Components of Cash Flow Statement:

    • Operating Activities: Cash flows from day-to-day business operations.
    • Investing Activities: Cash flows related to investments in assets.
    • Financing Activities: Cash flows from borrowing or repaying debt, issuing stock, or paying dividends.
  3. Importance of Cash Flow: While income is crucial, cash flow is vital for a company's survival. Cash flow statements reveal how well a company manages its operations, investments, and financing.

  4. Preparation of Cash Flow Statement:

    • Direct Method vs. Indirect Method: Companies can choose either method to report operating cash flow. The direct method lists actual cash inflows and outflows, while the indirect method adjusts net income for non-cash items and changes in working capital.
  5. Linkages with Other Financial Statements: The cash flow statement is connected to the income statement and balance sheet. It reconciles changes in cash with activities reported in these statements.

  6. Common-Size Cash Flow Analysis: Analysts use common-size statements to assess the proportions of cash inflows and outflows relative to total cash flows or net revenues.

  7. Free Cash Flow (FCF): This metric measures a company's cash flow available for distribution to all stakeholders after accounting for capital expenditures.

  8. Financial Ratios: Cash flow statements provide data for various financial ratios used to evaluate a company's profitability, performance, and financial strength.

In summary, mastering the cash flow statement is crucial for understanding a company's financial health and making informed investment decisions. From analyzing cash flow activities to interpreting financial ratios, a comprehensive understanding of these concepts is essential in the world of finance.

Understanding Cash Flow Statements (2024)
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