Financial analysis tools can be useful in assessing a company’s performance and trends in that performance. In essence, an analyst converts data into financial metrics that assist in decision making. Analysts seek to answer such questions as: How successfully has the company performed, relative to its own past performance and relative to its competitors? How is the company likely to perform in the future? Based on expectations about future performance, what is the value of this company or the securities it issues?
A primary source of data is a company’s annual report, including the financial statements and notes, and management commentary (operating and financial review or management’s discussion and analysis). This reading focuses on data presented in financial reports prepared under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and United States generally accepted accounting principles (US GAAP). However, financial reports do not contain all the information needed to perform effective financial analysis. Although financial statements do contain data about the past performance of a company (its income and cash flows) as well as its current financial condition (assets, liabilities, and owners’ equity), such statements do not necessarily provide all the information useful for analysis nor do they forecast future results. The financial analyst must be capable of using financial statements in conjunction with other information to make projections and reach valid conclusions. Accordingly, an analyst typically needs to supplement the information found in a company’s financial reports with other information, including information on the economy, industry, comparable companies, and the company itself.
This reading describes various techniques used to analyze a company’s financial statements. Financial analysis of a company may be performed for a variety of reasons, such as valuing equity securities, assessing credit risk, conducting due diligence related to an acquisition, or assessing a subsidiary’s performance. This reading will describe techniques common to any financial analysis and then discuss more specific aspects for the two most common categories: equity analysis and credit analysis.
Equity analysis incorporates an owner’s perspective, either for valuation or performance evaluation. Credit analysis incorporates a creditor’s (such as a banker or bondholder) perspective. In either case, there is a need to gather and analyze information to make a decision (ownership or credit); the focus of analysis varies because of the differing interest of owners and creditors. Both equity and credit analyses assess the entity’s ability to generate and grow earnings, and cash flow, as well as any associated risks. Equity analysis usually places a greater emphasis on growth, whereas credit analysis usually places a greater emphasis on risks. The difference in emphasis reflects the different fundamentals of these types of investments: The value of a company’s equity generally increases as the company’s earnings and cash flow increase, whereas the value of a company’s debt has an upper limit.1
The balance of this reading is organized as follows: Section 2 recaps the framework for financial statements and the place of financial analysis techniques within the framework. Section 3 provides a description of analytical tools and techniques. Section 4 explains how to compute, analyze, and interpret common financial ratios. Sections 5 through 8 explain the use of ratios and other analytical data in equity analysis, credit analysis, segment analysis, and forecasting, respectively. A summary of the key points and practice problems in the CFA Institute multiple-choice format conclude the reading.