Accounting is based upon accrual concepts that report revenues as earned and expenses as incurred, rather than when received and paid. Accrual information is perhaps the best indicator of business success or failure. However, one cannot ignore the importance of cash flows.

For example, a rapidly growing successful business can be profitable and still experience cash flow difficulties in trying to keep up with the need for expanded facilities and inventory. On the other hand, a business may appear profitable, but may be experiencing delays in collecting receivables, and this can impose liquidity constraints. Or, a business may be paying dividends, but only because cash is produced from the disposal of core assets. Sophisticated analysis will often reveal such issues.

Rather than depending upon financial statement users to do their own detailed cash flow analysis, the accounting profession has seen fit to require another financial statement that clearly highlights the cash flows of a business entity. This required financial statement is appropriately named the Statement of Cash Flows.

One objective of financial reporting is to provide information that is helpful in assessing the amounts, timing, and uncertainty of an organization’s cash inflows and outflows. As a result, the statement of cash flows provides three broad categories that reveal information about operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities. In addition, businesses are required to reveal significant noncash investing/financing transactions.


Operating, Investing, And Financing Activities


Cash inflows from operating activities consist of receipts from customers for providing goods and services, and cash received from interest and dividend income (as well as the proceeds from the sale of “trading securities”). Cash outflows consist of payments for inventory, trading securities, employee salaries and wages, taxes, interest, and other normal business expenses. To generalize, cash from operating activities is generally linked to those transactions and events that enter into the determination of income. However, another way to view “operating” cash flows is to include anything that is not an “investing” or “financing” cash flow.

Cash inflows from investing activities result from items such as the sale of longer-term stock and bond investments, disposal of long-term productive assets, and receipt of principal repayments on loans made to others. Cash outflows from investing activities include payments made to acquire plant assets or long-term investments in other firms, loans to others, and similar items.

Cash inflows from financing activities include proceeds from a company’s issuance of its own stock or bonds, borrowings under loans, and so forth. Cash outflows for financing activities include repayments of amounts borrowed, acquisitions of treasury stock, and dividend distributions.

There are potential distinctions between U.S. GAAP and international accounting standards. IFRS permits interest received (paid) to be disclosed in the investing (financing) section of a cash flow statement. The global viewpoint also provides more flexibility in the classification of dividends received (and paid). Additionally, international standards encourage disclosures of cash flows that are necessary to maintain operating capacity, versus cash flows attributable to increasing capacity.


Noncash Investing And Financing Activities

Some investing and financing activities occur without generating or consuming cash. For example, a company may exchange common stock for land or acquire a building in exchange for a note payable. While these transactions do not entail a direct inflow or outflow of cash, they do pertain to significant investing and/or financing events.

Under U.S. GAAP, the statement of cash flows includes a separate section reporting these noncash items. Thus, the statement of cash flows is actually enhanced to reveal the totality of investing and financing activities, whether or not cash is actually involved. The international approach is to present such information in the notes to the financial statements.


Did you learn?
What is the purpose of a statement of cash flows?
Understand the importance of the statement of cash flows in providing information about business solvency.
What three categories make up the major body of the statement of cash flows, and what other information is to be presented?
Define the form and content of the operating activities section.
Define the form and content of the investing activities section.
Define the form and content of the financing activities section.
Identify investing and financing activities that do not affect cash.