Financial statement analysis is the process of examining relationships among financial statement elements and making comparisons with relevant information. It is a valuable tool used by investors and creditors, financial analysts, and others in their decision-making processes related to stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments.
The goal in analyzing financial statements is to assess past performance and current financial position and to make predictions about the future performance of a company. Investors who buy stock are primarily interested in a company's profitability and their prospects for earning a return on their investment by receiving dividends and/or increasing the market value of their stock holdings. Creditors and investors who buy debt securities, such as bonds, are more interested in liquidity and solvency: the company's short-and long-run ability to pay its debts. Financial analysts, who frequently specialize in following certain industries, routinely assess the profitability, liquidity, and solvency of companies in order to make recommendations about the purchase or sale of securities, such as stocks and bonds.
Analysts can obtain useful information by comparing a company's most recent financial statements with its results in previous years and with the results of other companies in the same industry. Three primary types of financial statement analysis are commonly known as horizontal analysis, vertical analysis, and ratio analysis.
When an analyst compares financial information for two or more years for a single company, the process is referred to as horizontal analysis, since the analyst is reading across the page to compare any single line item, such as sales revenues. In addition to comparing dollar amounts, the analyst computes percentage changes from year to year for all financial statement balances, such as cash and inventory. Alternatively, in comparing financial statements for a number of years, the analyst may prefer to use a variation of horizontal analysis called trend analysis. Trend analysis involves calculating each year's financial statement balances as percentages of the first year, also known as the base year. When expressed as percentages, the base year figures are always 100 percent, and percentage changes from the base year can be determined.
When using vertical analysis, the analyst calculates each item on a single financial statement as a percentage of a total. The term vertical analysis applies because each year's figures are listed vertically on a financial statement. The total used by the analyst on the income statement is net sales revenue, while on the balance sheet it is total assets. This approach to financial statement analysis, also known as component percentages, produces common-size financial statements. Common-size balance sheets and income statements can be more easily compared, whether across the years for a single company or across different companies.
Ratio analysis enables the analyst to compare items on a single financial statement or to examine the relationships between items on two financial statements. After calculating ratios for each year's financial data, the analyst can then examine trends for the company across years. Since ratios adjust for size, using this analytical tool facilitates intercompany as well as intracompany comparisons. Ratios are often classified using the following terms: profitability ratios (also known as operating ratios), liquidity ratios, andsolvency ratios. Profitability ratios are gauges of the company's operating success for a given period of time. Liquidity ratios are measures of the short-term ability of the company to pay its debts when they come due and to meet unexpected needs for cash. Solvency ratios indicate the ability of the company to meet its long-term obligations on a continuing basis and thus to survive over a long period of time. In judging how well on a company is doing, analysts typically compare a company's ratios to industry statistics as well as to its own past performance.
Financial statement analysis, when used carefully, can produce meaningful insights about a company's financial information and its prospects for the future. However, the analyst must be aware of certain important considerations about financial statements and the use of these analytical tools. For example, the dollar amounts for many types of assets and other financial statement items are usually based on historical costs and thus do not reflect replacement costs or inflationary adjustments. Furthermore, financial statements contain estimates of numerous items, such as warranty expenses and uncollectible customer balances. The meaningfulness of ratios and percentages depends on how well the financial statement amounts depict the company's situation. Comparisons to industry statistics or competitors' results can be complicated because companies may select different, although equally acceptable, methods of accounting for inventories and other items. Making meaningful comparisons is also hampered when a company or its competitors have widely diversified operations.
The tools of financial statement analysis, ratio and percentage calculations, are relatively easy to apply. Understanding the content of the financial statements, on the other hand, is not a simple task. Evaluating a company's financial status, performance, and prospects using analytical tools requires skillful application of the analyst's judgment.