How to Read a Financial Report Book Summary - How to Read a Financial Report Book explained in key points
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How to Read a Financial Report summary

John A. Tracy and Tage C. Tracy

Essential Information for Entrepreneurs, Lenders, Investors, Analysts, and Management

4.3 (28 ratings)
15 mins
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    How to Read a Financial Report
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    Financial statements 101

    Financial statements provide a wealth of critical insights into a company’s financial performance and health. Let’s walk through the three main statements, and what they tell us. 

    First, the balance sheet. The balance sheet is like a snapshot of the company’s financial position at a particular point in time. It lists the company’s assets, liabilities, and equity. Assets are all the things the company owns – cash, inventory, buildings, and so on. Liabilities are things that the company owes, like loans, accounts you need to pay, and taxes. Equity is the shares owned by the company’s shareholders. 

    By examining the balance sheet, you’re able to see a company’s ability to turn assets into cash to cover any short-term obligations, what we call a company’s liquidity. You can look at its capital structure, which is a comparison of the debt and equity (the amount you owe and the amount your shareholders own) to your actual capital. Finally, you can see your working capital, which is the excess of current assets over current liabilities. In other words, this is the amount of money or assets you’d have if you were to pay off everything and shows a company’s ability to fund things in the near term. 

    Next, you’ve got the income statement. This summarizes the company’s revenue and expenses over a period of time. Revenue is the amount of money you’ve got coming into the company but remember that it’s different from profit. You could be bringing a lot of money in, but it might be costing you just as much to make it happen. Your profit is the amount of money you have left after all your expenses are paid. 

    The key things you’re looking for here are the revenue growth trends, performance by business segment, and profitability margins. That last one is a bit confusing, so let’s take a closer look. 

    Your profitability margins look at your profit in a couple of different ways. There’s the gross profit margin, that compares your profit to all your sales. How much money does one sale make? The operating margin is similar but considers the cost of what it took to get that sale over the line. Your net profit compares your profit to the revenue – maybe you have a lot of money coming in, but it all might be funneled back into expenses. 

    Your last financial statement is the statement of cash flow. We’re going to look at this in a bit more detail in a moment but think of it as tracking where cash came from and where it’s being spent over a period of time. 

    Looking at all three financial statements together provides a comprehensive view of the company’s financial situation. They interact with each other, and analysts will look at all three to gain critical insight into the company’s health. For example, a statement might show sluggish revenue growth, but healthy margins and a strong cash flow with ample working capital. No one number can tell you everything about a company’s financial position. By looking at all three statements, you’ll paint a full picture of the company’s performance, health, structure, and cash flows.   

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    What is How to Read a Financial Report about?

    How to Read a Financial Report (1980) serves as a comprehensive guide that demystifies the complexities of evaluating a company's fiscal health. It explores balance sheets and income reports, clarifies the fundamentals of financial ratios, and explains any accompanying notes, offering tools for a clear and confident assessment of a business's economic status.

    Who should read How to Read a Financial Report?

    • Investors
    • Managers
    • Non-financial professionals 

    About the Author

    John A. Tracy is an award-winning Professor of Accounting at the University of Colorado.  With decades of experience in both academia and the financial world, he has authored several prominent books aimed at simplifying complex financial concepts, including the popular Accounting for Dummies and Accounting Workbook for Dummies

    Tage C. Tracy is a founder and operator of TMK & Associates, a financial consulting firm that launched in 1993. In his three decades in financial consulting, he has also co-authored four insightful books with his father aimed at demystifying complex financial topics for those within and outside the accounting field. Titles include Cash Flow for Dummies and Small Business Financial Management Kit for Dummies.

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