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Case Studies: Table of Contents


Another important aspect of analyzing a case study and writing a case study analysis is the role and use of financial information. A careful analysis of the company's financial condition immensely improves a case write-up. After all, financial data represent the concrete results of the company's strategy and structure. Although analyzing financial statements can be quite complex, a general idea of a company's financial position can be determined through the use of ratio analysis. Financial performance ratios can be calculated from the balance sheet and income statement. These ratios can be classified into five different subgroups: profit ratios, liquidity ratios, activity ratios, leverage ratios, and shareholder-return ratios. These ratios should be compared with the industry average or the company's prior years of performance. It should be noted, however, that deviation from the average is not necessarily bad; it simply warrants further investigation. For example, young companies will have purchased assets at a different price and will likely have a different capital structure than older companies. In addition to ratio analysis, a company's cash flow position is of critical importance and should be assessed. Cash flow shows how much actual cash a company possesses.

Profit Ratios
Profit ratios measure the efficiency with which the company uses its resources. The more efficient the company, the greater is its profitability. It is useful to compare a company's profitability against that of its major competitors in its industry. Such a comparison tells whether the company is operating more or less efficiently than its rivals. In addition, the change in a company's profit ratios over time tells whether its performance is improving or declining. A number of different profit ratios can be used, and each of them measures a different aspect of a company's performance. The most commonly used profit ratios are gross profit margin, net profit margin, return on total assets, and return on stockholders' equity.

  1. Gross profit margin. The gross profit margin simply gives the percentage of sales available to cover general and administrative expenses and other operating costs. It is defined as follows:
    Gross Profit Margin=Sales Revenue - Cost of Goods Sold
    Sales Revenue
  2. Net profit margin. Net profit margin is the percentage of profit earned on sales. This ratio is important because businesses need to make a profit to survive in the long run. It is defined as follows:
    Net Profit Margin=Net Income
    Sales Revenue
  3. Return on total assets. This ratio measures the profit earned on the employment of assets. It is defined as follows:
    Return on
    Total Assets
    =Net Income Available to
    Common Stockholders
    Total Assets

    Net income is the profit after preferred dividends (those set by contract) have been paid. Total assets include both current and noncurrent assets.

  4. Return on stockholders' equity. This ratio measures the percentage of profit earned on common stockholders' investment in the company. In theory, a company attempting to maximize the wealth of it stockholders should be trying to maximize this ratio. It is defined as follows:
    Return on
    Stockholders' Equity
    =Net Income Available to
    Common Stockholders
    Stockholders' Equity
Liquidity Ratios
A company's liquidity is a measure of its ability to meet short-term obligations. An asset is deemed liquid if it can be readily converted into cash. Liquid assets are current assets such as cash, marketable securities, accounts receivable, and so on. Two commonly used liquidity ratios are current ratio and quick ratio.
  1. Current ratio. The current ratio measures the extent to which the claims of short-term creditors are covered by assets that can be quickly converted into cash. Most companies should have a ratio of at least 1, because failure to meet these commitments can lead to bankruptcy. The ratio is defined as follows:
    Current Ratio=Current Assets
    Current Liabilities
  2. Quick ratio. The quick ratio measures a company's ability to pay off the claims of short-term creditors without relying on the sale of its inventories. This is a valuable measure since in practice the sale of inventories is often difficult. It is defined as follows:
    Quick Ratio=Current Assets - Inventory
    Current Liabilities
Activity Ratios
Activity ratios indicate how effectively a company is managing its assets. Inventory turnover and days sales outstanding (DSO) are particularly useful:
  1. Inventory turnover. This measures the number of times inventory is turned over. It is useful in determining whether a firm is carrying excess stock in inventory. It is defined as follows:
    Inventory Turnover=Cost of Goods Sold

    Cost of goods sold is a better measure of turnover than sales, since it is the cost of the inventory items. Inventory is taken at the balance sheet date. Some companies choose to compute an average inventory, beginning inventory, plus ending inventory, but for simplicity use the inventory at the balance sheet date.

  2. Days sales outstanding (DSO), or average collection period. This ratio is the average time a company has to wait to receive its cash after making a sale. It measures how effective the company's credit, billing, and collection procedures are. It is defined as follows:
    DSO=Accounts Receivable
    Total Sales/360
    Accounts receivable is divided by average daily sales. The use of 360 is standard number of days for most financial analysis.
Leverage Ratios
A company is said to be highly leveraged if it uses more debt than equity, including stock and retained earnings. The balance between debt and equity is called the capital structure. The optimal capital structure is determined by the individual company. Debt has a lower cost because creditors take less risk; they know they will get their interest and principal. However, debt can be risky to the firm because if enough profit is not made to cover the interest and principal payments, bankruptcy can occur.

Three commonly used leverage ratios are debt-to-assets ratio, debt-to-equity ratio, and times-covered ratio.

  1. Debt-to-assets ratio. The debt-to-asset ratio is the most direct measure of the extent to which borrowed funds have been used to finance a company's investments. It is defined as follows:
    Debt-to-Assets Ratio=Total Debt
    Total Assets

    Total debt is the sum of a company's current liabilities and its long-term debt, and total assets are the sum of fixed assets and current assets.

  2. Debt-to-equity ratio. The debt-to-equity ratio indicates the balance between debt and equity in a company's capital structure. This is perhaps the most widely used measure of a company's leverage. It is defined as follows:
    Debt-to-Equity Ratio=Total Debt
    Total Equity
  3. Times-covered ratio. The times-covered ratio measures the extent to which a company's gross profit covers its annual interest payments. If the times-covered ratio declines to less than 1, then the company is unable to meet its interest costs and is technically insolvent. The ratio is defined as follows:
    Times-Covered Ratio=Profit Before Interest and Tax
    Total Interest Charges
Shareholder-Return Ratios
Shareholder-return ratios measure the return earned by shareholders from holding stock in the company. Given the goal of maximizing stockholders' wealth, providing shareholders with an adequate rate of return is a primary objective of most companies. As with profit ratios, it can be helpful to compare a company's shareholder returns against those of similar companies. This provides a yardstick for determining how well the company is satisfying the demands of this particularly important group of organizational constituents. Four commonly used ratios are total shareholder returns, price-earnings ratio, market to book value, and dividend yield.
  1. Total shareholder returns. Total shareholder returns measure the returns earned by time t + 1 on an investment in a company's stock made at time t. (Time t is the time at which the initial investment is made.) Total shareholder returns include both dividend payments and appreciation in the value of the stock (adjusted for stock splits) and are defined as follows:

    Total Shareholder Returns=Stock Price (t + 1) -
    Stock Price (t) + Sum of Annual Dividends per Share
    Stock Price (t)

    Thus, if a shareholder invests $2 at time t, and at time t + 1 the share is worth $3, while the sum of annual dividends for the period t to t + 1 has amounted to $0.2, total shareholder returns are equal to (3 - 2 + 0.2)/2 = 0.6, which is a 60 percent return on an initial investment of $2 made at time t.

  2. Price-earnings ratio. The price-earnings ratio measures the amount investors are willing to pay per dollar of profit. It is defined as follows:
    Price-Earnings Ratio=Market Price per Share
    Earnings per Share
  3. Market to book value. Another useful ratio is market to book value. This measures a company's expected future growth prospects. It is defined as follows:
    Market to Book Value=Market Price per Share
    Earnings per Share
  4. Dividend yield. The dividend yield measures the return to shareholders received in the form of dividends. It is defined as follows:
    Dividend Yield=Dividend per Share
    Market Price per Share
    Market price per share can be calculated for the first of the year, in which case the dividend yield refers to the return on an investment made at the beginning of the year. Alternatively, the average share price over the year may be used. A company must decide how much of its profits to pay to stockholders and how much to reinvest in the company. Companies with strong growth prospects should have a lower dividend payout ratio than mature companies. The rationale is that shareholders can invest the money elsewhere if the company is not growing. The optimal ratio depends on the individual firm, but the key decider is whether the company can produce better returns than the investor can earn elsewhere.
Cash Flow
Cash flow position is simply cash received minus cash distributed. The net cash flow can be taken from a company's statement of cash flows. Cash flow is important for what it tells us about a company's financing needs. A strong positive cash flow enables a company to fund future investments without having to borrow money from bankers or investors. This is desirable because the company avoids the need to pay out interest or dividends. A weak or negative cash flow means that a company has to turn to external sources to fund future investments. Generally, companies in strong-growth industries often find themselves in a poor cash flow position (because their investment needs are substantial), whereas successful companies based in mature industries generally find themselves in a strong cash flow position.

A company's internally generated cash flow is calculated by adding back its depreciation provision to profits after interest, taxes, and dividend payments. If this figure is insufficient to cover proposed new-investment expenditures, the company has little choice but to borrow funds to make up the shortfall or to curtail investments. If this figure exceeds proposed new investments, the company can use the excess to build up its liquidity (that is, through investments in financial assets) or to repay existing loans ahead of schedule.

Case Studies: Table of Contents

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