What Is Net Cash Flow?
Net cash flow refers to the difference between a company's cash inflows and outflows in a given period. In the strictest sense, net cash flow refers to the change in a company's cash balance as detailed on its cash flow statement.
How Net Cash Flow Works (With Example)
You can approximate a company's net cash flow by looking at the period-over-period change in cash on the balance sheet. However, the statement of cash flows is a more insightful place to look. Net cash flow is the sum of cash flow from operations (CFO), cash flow from investing (CFI), and cash flow from financing (CFF).
Let's look at the 2010 cash flow statement for Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) as presented by Yahoo! Finance. At the bottom of the cash flow statement, we see that the change in cash and cash equivalents is calculated to be $632 million. This means that when the cash flow from operations, cash flow from investing, and cash flow from financing is added up, Wal-Mart added $632 million to its cash balance in 2010. The amount of $632 million is its net cash flow.
*All numbers in thousands
**Source: Yahoo! Finance
Why Net Cash Flow Matters
Net cash flow is the fuel that helps companies expand, develop new products, buy back stock, pay dividends, or reduce debt. It is essentially what allows companies to conduct their day-to-day business. This is why some people value net cash flow more than just about any other financial measure, including earnings per share. Revenues and expenses are important, too, because they are big drivers of net cash flow.
Without long-term positive net cash flow, a company will fail, but it can offset short-term negative cash flow by borrowing. It is important to note that short-term negative net cash flow is not always a bad thing. For example, if a company needs to spend cash to build a second manufacturing plant, the investment will pay off in the end as long as the plant eventually generates more cash than it cost to build.
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