Fun with
Numbers

Back to Basics, Part 8

By Vince
Hanks

We've managed to plow our way through the entire balance sheet, defining
and examining each element as it appears. It's been a long journey
and now comes the reward: Math! There are a few formulaic tools we
can use to assess a company's strength in asset management and measure
its power of liquidity.

First up, the **Current Ratio **is a measure of a company's ability
to use its current assets to pay off its current liabilities. It's simply the
current assets divided by current liabilities. For instance, that hip dance club
Fischer's Fandango Fortress has current assets of $25 million and $17 million
in current liabilities, its current ratio would be:

Not bad, but it's about the cutoff of where we'd normally like to
see it. Generally speaking, a current ratio of 1.5 or higher is reasonably
sufficient to meet operational needs. Naturally, the higher the ratio,
the greater the financial strength of the company. However, too high
a current ratio may suggest that the company isn't optimizing its use
of current assets to run and grow its business.

Look at the trend of the current ratio from quarter to quarter to determine
if its financial position is maintaining or declining. It's also important
to look at the ratios of the company's peers within an industry. Some sectors
will have comparatively lower or higher norms than others.

The **Quick Ratio ** is also a measure of a company's ability
to cover its short-term liabilities. This ratio, however, is particularly focused
on the liquidity of current assets. Since inventories are not always readily
salable and are often sold at a deep discount to the amount recorded on the
balance sheet, the quick ratio eliminates inventories from the equation. To
determine a company's quick ratio, take current assets minus inventories, divided
by current liabilities.

If we look back at Fischer's Fandango Fortress, we notice that a large percentage
of its current assets are in the form of Citrus Zima, which has been piling
up in the basement. We'll remove the snappy citrus beverage and other inventories
from current assets in order to determine the quick ratio:

Fischer's may not be as ready to meet cash demands as we previously
thought. We generally want to see a quick ratio of 1.0 or higher, indicating
that a company has enough relatively liquid assets to pay off its current
liabilities. Our lively Spanish dance club could run into trouble as
it's forced to sell Zima for pennies a bottle and doesn't have enough
liquid assets to pay the bills.

As with the current ratio (and pretty much any ratio), you'll want to compare
the quick ratio with those of industry peers and also focus on its trend over
time.

The final measure of liquidity is what is known as **Working Capital **.
This is the fuel in the gastank of a company; what makes it zoom down the autobahn.
Working capital is simply current assets minus current liabilities. This is
the net amount the company has to funds its operations and provide growth.

Working capital is essential for the success of any business. If a company
has abundant working capital, it has the ability to pay for everything it needs
to and then some. If, however, its working capital is negative, it will lack
the ability to spend as it desires, as well as meet obligations.

An interesting measure of value is a company's current working capital relative
to its market capitalization. If you divide working capital by market capitalization,
you can determine how much of the company is actually backed by working capital.
Let's look at the working capital of Fischer's Fandango Fortress:

Now, if we divide that by Fischer's market cap of $20 million, we
get a working capital to market cap. ratio of 0.4 (8 / 20 = 0.4). 40%
of the dance club's market capitalization is backed by working capital.
Not terrible, but it could be better. Ratios of 50% or higher indicate
a company that's in pretty good shape. Compare Fischer's to other dance
clubs and see if it has more or less cash backing up its operations
than its peers.

These are three useful tools to use when examining a company and comparing
it with its peers. Keep those nuclear-powered calculators handy, as next week
we'll look at a few more and close out the series on the balance sheet.

__>> Balance Sheet Revisited >>__

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