All financial statements are essentially historically historical documents. They tell what has happened during a particular period of time. However most users of financial statements are concerned about what will happen in the future. Stockholders are concerned with future earnings and dividends. Creditors are concerned with the company’s future ability to repay its debts. Managers are concerned with the company’s ability to finance future expansion. Despite the fact that financial statements are historical documents, they can still provide valuable information bearing on all of these concerns.
Financial statement analysis involves careful selection of data from financial statements for the primary purpose of forecasting the financial health of the company. This is accomplished by examining trends in key financial data, comparing financial data across companies, and analyzing key financial ratios.
Managers are also widely concerned with the financial ratios. First the ratios provide indicators of how well the company and its business units are performing. Some of these ratios would ordinarily be used in a balanced scorecard approach. The specific ratios selected depend on the company’s strategy. For example a company that wants to emphasize responsiveness to customers may closely monitor the inventory turnover ratio. Since managers must report to shareholders and may wish to raise funds from external sources, managers must pay attention to the financial ratios used by external inventories to evaluate the company’s investment potential and creditworthiness.
Although financial statement analysis is a highly useful tool, it has two limitations. These two limitations involve the comparability of financial data between companies and the need to look beyond ratios. Comparison of one company with another can provide valuable clues about the financial health of an organization. Unfortunately, differences in accounting methods between companies sometime makes it difficult to compare the companies’ financial data. For example if one company values its inventories by the LIFO method and another firm by average cost method, then direct comparisons of financial data such as inventory valuations are and cost of goods sold between the two firms may be misleading. Some times enough data are presented in foot notes to the financial statements to restate data to a comparable basis. Otherwise, the analyst should keep in mind the lack of comparability of the data before drawing any definite conclusion. Nevertheless, even with this limitation in mind, comparisons of key ratios with other companies and with industry averages often suggest avenues for further investigation.
An inexperienced analyst may assume that ratios are sufficient in themselves as a basis for judgment about the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conclusions based on ratio analysis must be regarded as tentative. Ratios should not be viewed as an end, but rather they should be viewed as a starting point, as indicators of what to pursue in greater depth. They raise may questions, but they rarely answer any question by themselves. In addition to ratios, other sources of data should be analyzed in order to make judgments about the future of an organization. They analyst should look, for example, at industry trends, technological changes, changes in consumer tastes, changes in broad economic factors, and changes within the firm itself. A recent change in a key management position, for example, might provide a basis for optimism about the future, even though the past performance of the firm may have been mediocre.
Few figures appearing on financial statements have much significance standing by themselves. It is the relationship of one figure to another and the amount and direction of change over time that are important in financial statement analysis. How does the analyst key in on significant relationship? How does the analyst dig out the important trends and changes in a company? Three analytical techniques are widely used; dollar and percentage changes on statements, common-size statements, and financial ratios formulas.