Metrics to Watch in Creating Company Value

key metrics and strategiesThere have been several in-depth studies that analyzed the financial performance of hundreds of companies around the world. Insights were provided by these companies into the key metrics and strategies used by the best performers. The following were found to be the most sustainable value creators, and where focus is concentrated in those companies successfully creating value. The key numbers to watch are:

  1. Sales
  2. Net income
  3. Cash flow from operations
  4. Total assets
  5. Total liabilities
  6. Total equity

Using these six key numbers, four ratios are tracked and trended:

  1. Asset turnover (revenue/assets)-the higher the turnover, the better utilization of assets experienced.
  2. Profit margin (net income/revenue)-the greater the margin, the more profits available to fund growth.
  3. Cash-flow yield (cash flow from operations/net income)-the higher the yield, the more success enjoyed in managing working capital (ie., current assets minus current liabilities).
  4. Debt-to-equity (total liabilities/total equity)-the higher the ratio, the more of other peoples’ money (leverage) being used to finance growth.

Successful organizations do well on all these numbers. If you are not doing well on the ratios, then drilling down into the six key numbers is needed.

The entire management team needs to understand how the ratios and underlying key numbers connect to value creation.

Standards of performance can be created by looking at historical numbers over time, which will reveal ranges and trends. Then look for comparable measures within your industry to see how you fare against industry peers. Follow this up by setting some annual targets for 1 to 5 years. In other words, “do what the big dogs do” whether you are local or national in scope, and whether you are for-profit or not-for-profit.

This sets the discipline for making good decisions with the goal being to achieve outstanding long-term return on investment.

Your present performance measures may have defects; and there may be no quick remedies. CFO-Pro can provide a strategic perspective on your financial performance measures. If you are interested in connecting the strategy of your company with the financial reports, and to speak to how your company intends to create value, please contact me directly at or 630-269-7646.

Using Z-Score Predictor

The media reports we’re experiencing the most unusual economy in 40 years. Interest rates are low, however banks are reluctant to lend; hence stalling the contribution of our nation’s small businesses. A growing percentage of home owners are upside down on their mortgages and struggling to find the motivation to pay their debt since there appears to be no benefit to them. Education costs are exorbitant and our students are saddled with school debt. Unemployment is 11%. Although these trends have been developing for years, businesses and consumers alike ignored the facts and continued to spend freely. What is there to learn from the wisdom of 40 years ago and how can we apply it to the reality of today’s situation?

What is there to learn from the wisdom of 40 years ago and how can we apply it to the reality of today’s situation?

Altman’s Z-Score Insolvency Predictor

Edward Altman (1941 – ) presently Max L. Heine Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business, New York University created the Altman Z-Score in 1968. Professor Altman combined a set of 5 financial ratios to determine, with tremendous accuracy, which businesses would flourish and which businesses could be headed for bankruptcy.

The Z combines a set of five financial ratios. It uses statistical techniques to predict a company’s probability of failure using eight variables from a company’s financial statements.

The Z-Score formula can be applied to publicly traded competitors, acquisition candidates, suppliers, customers, and other companies of interest. The Z-Score may also be useful for establishing trends in the financial condition of your own company. Sometimes a Z-Score analysis is needed to convince management and board of directors of the seriousness of a company’s condition so that turnaround efforts can be initiated.

Here are the 5 ratios and their respective weight factors:

ANet Sales/Total Assets
(simple measure of capital turnover using annual sales)
BEarnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT)/TotalAssets
(referred to as return on capital employed, this ratio incorporates all capital employed, both debt and equity)
CWorking Capital/Total Assets
(the difference between current assets and current liabilities divided by the total book value)
DRetained Earnings/Total Assets
(this ratio is lower for younger companies since retained earnings accrue over the lifetime of a company; this penalty for youth reflects the higher probability of failure among younger companies)
EMarket Value of Equity/Total Liabilities
(stock market capitalization for all classes of stock is used in this ratio)


Each ratio is then multiplied by its weighting factor and summed to calculate Z:

Z = (1.0)A + (3.3)B + (1.2)C + (1.4)D + (.6)E

Scores below 1.81 indicate a high likelihood of bankruptcy. Scores above 3.00 indicate a low likelihood of failure. Scores in the middle of this range are not clear indicators, but they are less likely to be associated with failure than low scores.

Repeat the analysis periodically and plot Z scores for companies of interest on a graph with Z scores on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal. Significant downward trends in Z scores signal a potential problem, and even if the Z score does not fall below 1.81 the source of the problem should be identified and evaluated. Look at trends within the component ratios to see why the Z score is falling and decide whether it represents a serious problem.

For Privately Held Companies

If you want to analyze a company that is not publicly traded, you will not be able to compute ratio E for the Z score formula. Many companies use smaller suppliers and sell to smaller customers that are privately held. Although Altman did not extend his study to these companies, the other 4 ratios can be computed from D&B reports and a partial Z computed by dropping E. The resulting measure will tend to be lower than the standard Z score. It is best used as a long-term tracking device, with significant declines considered a flag requiring closer scrutiny.

Interested in a Z-Score analysis for your company, customer base, public or privately held competitors, or potential acquisition target? We can conduct an analysis, allowing you to make informed decisions for a reasonable flat rate. Please give me a call at 630.778.7646 or email me at jlafferty@cfo-pro.comto discuss.

The Wisdom of Henry Hazlitt (1894 – 1993)

It is exports that pay for imports, and vice versa. The greater exports we have, the greater imports we must have, if we ever expect to get paid. Without imports we can have no exports, for foreigners will have no funds with which to buy our goods.

The clearing house for these transactions is known as foreign exchange where, in America, the dollar debts of foreigners are cancelled against their dollar credits. In England, the pound sterling debts of foreigners are cancelled against their sterling credits.

This mechanism does not differ essentially from what happens in domestic trade. Each of us must also sell something, even if for most of us it is our own services rather than goods, in order to get the purchasing power to buy. Domestic trade is also conducted in the main by crossing off checks and other claims against each other through clearing houses.

Among the arguments put forward in favor of huge foreign lending one fallacy is always sure to occupy a prominent place. It runs like this. Even if half (or all) the loans we make to foreign countries turn sour and are not repaid, this nation will still be better off for having made them, because they will give an enormous impetus to our exports.

It should be immediately obvious that if the loans we make to foreign countries to enable them to buy our goods are not repaid, then we are giving the goods away. A nation cannot grow rich by giving goods away. It can only make itself poorer. No one doubts this proposition when it is applied privately.

If this proposition is so simple when applied to a private company, why do apparently intelligent people get confused about it when applied to a nation? The reason is that the transaction must then be traced mentally through a few more stages. One group may indeed make gains—while the rest of us take the losses.

The U.S. government has been engaged for years in a “foreign economic aid” program the greater part of which has consisted in outright government-to-government gifts of many billions of dollars. What conceals the truth from many supporters of the program is that what is directly given away is not the exports themselves but the money with which to buy them. It is possible, therefore, for individual exporters to profit on net balance from the national loss—if their individual profit from the exports is greater than their share of taxes to pay for the program.

The real gain of foreign trade to any country lies not in its exports but in its imports. Its consumers are either able to get from abroad commodities at a lower price than they could obtain them for at home, or commodities that they could not get from domestic producers at all. Outstanding examples in the U.S. are coffee and tea. Collectively considered, the real reason a country needs exports is to pay for its imports.

— Paraphrased From Economics in One Lesson (1946)


Using Key Financial Indicators Effectively

key financial indicatorsA financial ratio has no single correct value.  It depends on one’s perspective and the competitive strategy employed.  Lenders like a high Current Ratio that suggests strong liquidity and high likelihood of repayment.  From an operating viewpoint, the important question is not whether the current ratio is too high, but whether the chosen strategy is best for the company.

How do you interpret ratios and other key financial indicators?  How do you decide whether a company is healthy or sick?  One way is to compare a company’s ratios to industry ratios (you can look up this information in RMA studies at your local library) to see how a company measures up to its peers.  Keep in mind, though, that company-specific differences can result in entirely justifiable deviations from industry norms.

The most useful way to evaluate ratios and indicators involves trend analysis (monthly), noting how the ratios change over time.  Ratios that show a negative trend mean that less cash is coming in. Here are my most used and recommended ratios:

Gross Profit Margin %Gross Profit / Sales• This is your most crucial ratio as it measures the % of each sales dollar available for covering overhead and producing bottom-line profits
Monthly Overhead $Expected Monthly Overhead Average for Current Year• This number (accumulated on your monthly P&L) will highlight any “creep” or outright jump; allowing you find the cause and take timely action
Interest Coverage RatioEBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation & amortization) / Interest Expense• This measures how easily you can repay your borrowings.  In good times this ratio should be at least 1.25; in bad times, only the banker knows
Current RatioTotal Current Assets / Total Current Liabilities• This measures the ease with which you can pay bills as they come due.  Ratios greater than 1 : 1 are easier to manage than 1 : 1 or less (e.g., .75 : 1)
Quick Ratio(Cash & Accounts Receivable) / Total Current LiabilitiesThis ratio is a good measure of a company’s short-term cash position.  A ratio of less than 1:1 means you’ll have to decide who gets paid when the next dollar comes in.  A worsening condition (i.e., a number lower than 1 in the first postion) means your sales aren’t keeping up with your bills
Days’ Sales in AR(Accounts Receivable / Sales) x 365• This number indicates the days, on average, your customers take to pay you. 45 and under is good; 60 and above is bad.  If this number rises it means you have less cash coming in and may have to borrow money to pay bills
Days’ Sales in AP(Accounts Payable / Sales) x 365• This is the number of days, on average, you take to pay your suppliers.  The closer this number is to the AR number, the easier it will be on cash flow.  Generally, you should pay your suppliers as close to “terms” as possible to maintain good relationships, and focus on tightening your AR collections times
Days’ Sales in Inventory(Inventory / Sales) x 365• This indicator measures the amount of time to convert inventory into sales.  This is another crucial number because you have to create a sale—and then collect that sale.  Bottom line: if this number is higher than the industry median, be sure there’s a valid reason
Debt to Equity RatioTotal Liabilities / Total Equity• You should pay close attention to this ratio.  In tough credit markets you want bankers to see you as a good candidate so manage this ratio by putting more equity into the business or by converting your loans to equity.  A higher ratio will force you to focus intently on cash flow and paying down debt—to the exclusion of business-building activities. What is a good ratio?  Only the banker knows