Working capital (WC) is a financial metric which represents operating liquidity available to a business, organization, or other entity, including governmental entity. Along with fixed assets, such as a plant and equipment, working capital is considered a part of operating capital.
Working capital can be found through the following formula:
The difference between the two, which is equivalent to the working capital, is a measurement of liquidity. It signals whether or not the company has enough assets to turn into cash to pay off upcoming liabilities. It is not a perfect signal, however.
Since most expenses and debt must be paid in cash, having positive working capital shows that the company has the ability to pay off expenses and debt that will arise or come due in the short term. Working capital, though, does not guarantee that a company can pay off all short-term expenses or liabilities. Simply having positive WC does not necessarily mean that a company will be able to pay off all expenses.
That means that the company has working capital of +$50.
One of their accounts payable comes due tomorrow, so the company owes $40. They have $20 of cash on hand, but can’t get the other $20 by tomorrow because they can’t collect $20 of accounts receivable by tomorrow. The company cannot pay a short-term expense, even though a positive WC says that the company should be able to pay off most expenses and loans in the short term.
Each company has different demands for how much working capital they need, but all companies prefer to have positive working capital.
Working capital can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing its two components:
|Increase Working Capital||Decrease Working Capital|
Increase Current Assets
Decrease Current Liabilities
Decrease Current Assets
Increase Current Liabilities
Working capital is important for businesses of any size in order to properly manage liquidity. Recall that we calculate working capital as the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Because of this, businesses need to carefully manage cash and cash equivalents, accounts receivable owed by customers, inventory, and short-term debt, such as trade credit.
|Working Capital Management||Description|
In establishing the appropriate level of cash, a business needs to make sure that it has cash on hand for daily operations in the delivery of products and services. It also needs to have cash on hand to service any short-term debt that is due to be paid. There also needs to be an additional level of cash on hand to meet critical expenses, like payroll. Finally, there is also a need to keep cash on hand to take advantage of any unforeseen investment opportunities that might present themselves.
It would be easy to say that a business should just keep as much cash as possible on hand to meet these needs, but that would lead to idle cash not being properly invested in other assets to meet income goals.
|Accounts Receivable||This involves the development and delivery of an appropriate credit policy that optimizes sales to customers while minimizing bad debt expense. It is important to have appropriate processes in place to make credit decisions. It is also important for businesses to know their customers!|
|Inventory||Working capital management involves identifying the appropriate level of inventory that ensures businesses who deliver products have the raw materials and finished inventory on hand to meet the demands of their customers. They also must avoid overproduction, which increases inventory storage costs.|
|Short-Term Financing||A business needs to be sure that it has the credit available to purchase raw materials needed to manufacture products or the inventory of supplies needed to support the delivery of services. Most often, businesses can take advantage of credit terms, where suppliers will offer terms for payment which may include the delivery of discounts. In the absence of trade credit, a business will want to have a working capital line of credit from a financial institution.|
Working capital is an important metric for all businesses, regardless of their size. Working capital is a signal of a company’s operating liquidity. Having enough working capital means that the company should be able to pay for all of its short-term expenses and liabilities.
Large companies pay attention to working capital for the same reason as small ones do; working capital is a measure of liquidity, and thus is a measure of their future creditworthiness. Companies who want to borrow by issuing bonds or purchasing commercial paper (a market of large, short-term loans for big companies) will find it more expensive if they do not have enough working capital. If they are a public company, their stock price may fall if the market doesn’t believe they have adequate working capital.
For small businesses and start-ups unable to access financial markets for borrowing, working capital has more dire implications. Working capital can also be described as the amount of money that a small business or start-up needs to stay in operation. Start-ups need to pay attention to their working capital because it is the amount of money they need to keep the business running until they break even or start earning a net profit.
On one hand, working capital is important because it is a measure of a company’s ability to pay off short-term expenses or debts. On the other hand, too much working capital means that some assets are not being invested in the long term, so they are not being put to good use in helping the company grow as much as possible.
Source: THIS CONTENT HAS BEEN ADAPTED FROM LUMEN LEARNING'S “Working Capital” TUTORIAL.