Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value.
~ Warren Buffett
What CASH? When Cash? WHY CASH?
Cash is the simplest, most widely accepted, and reliable form of payment in its physical form. That is the reason why many businesses prefer cash. Cheques can bounce, and credit cards can get declined, but cash-in-hand requires no extra processing.
Small companies often keep a petty cash account. Cash in this account is used for a number of processes including, but not limited to the following:
- To purchase items outright for the business.
- In other cases, it may be used to reimburse an employee.
- To pay customers and suppliers when they pay the business and need change.
Some companies maintain heavy cash accounts because credit terms are not good with suppliers, or suppliers don’t accept alternative forms of payments in the form of banker’s guarantee or other liquid money market instruments. Depending on the business, the cash requirements might vary widely.
However, our goal in this article is not to negate the importance of cash but rather to bolster it by saying that this wonderfully flexible asset can often be used for better purposes rather than as a defense against an uncertain future.
WHEN IT IS MINE, IT IS MINE, AND ONCE IT IS GONE, IT IS SOMEONE ELSE’S?
Although the above statement is valid for a risk-averse individual, it is pretty different for a company. A company by accounting term is separate from an individual. If what comes in (cash inflow) is simply more significant than what goes out, it does not necessarily mean good news for the company. It is one of the reasons why understanding the cash flow statement is crucial for any company owner. A cash flow statement has essentially three parts:
- Operating Cash Flow
- Investing Cash Flow
- Financing Cash Flow
A company’s effective cash flow is measured from the operating cash flow. Investing cash outflow and inflow measure the company’s investment made and its returns. Financing cash flow occurs because the company cannot fund everything with its own money if it wants to grow fast, so it raises loan/debt to fund certain projects/ assets. The inflow and outflow are investors providing money and taking back as principal and required return respectively.
So essentially, if the net cash flow is judged in singularity, then we might be looking at someone else’s money in our pocket. This can be costly because if we have taken the principal, we have to pay the interest regardless of how effectively we are using the money.
The COST of CASH
Quite evidently, the most explicit cost of cash is the cost of financing because banks will explicitly state the interest rate to be paid. However, the actual cost differs from the sum of all installments of interests paid. The thing about cash is that it always depreciates. A 100 rupee will most definitely be worth less tomorrow than today. To calculate the real cost of cash or the kind of real profit your company will have after the cash comes in, you need to have a few ingredients in place.
- You need to understand what kind of project you are taking the money for. For example, if you buy a machine, you need to understand what the machine will create and what the product will be sold for. What is the estimated life of the machine? Bottom line, you have to estimate, or instead, some consultant will estimate the cash flow generated by the machine (not profit, cash flows, i.e., profit not only written in books but is in your account). Ballpark estimates can be done, but it is always good to have a pessimistic assessment of cash flows. This should be done for pessimistic, normal, and optimistic cash flows.
- The interest rate the bank is charging, if it is floating, then further estimates need to be done to understand how this rate might change.
- The next step is to discount the cash flows (cash inflow due to project – cash outflow due to payment to an investor in the project). This can be done using excel NPV (rate,value1,value2..). The is the the rate of discount and value1, value2 are series of cash flows. Here it is considered the rate is a singular fixed rate. It is always good to tally your estimates of cash flows with that of your accountants.Naturally, no project should be undertaken if the NPV value is less than or equal to zeroThe real trouble is when it is no more about getting money from someone else and paying it back to another when it is no more a transaction. What about the cost of the cash that is already with you? It is challenging to capture the cost of this cash because, quite paradoxically, this cash kept in your account is used for different business purposes as mentioned earlier, and at the same time, the extra cash doesn’t do any work when idle (meaning the business is not using it and since legally business is a different entity it means that it doesn’t belong to your personal account either). It is pretty similar to one of your employees sitting idle. You are not paying his salary, but he is using a space in the office, using the coffee machine when he could have been paid a salary and made to do productive work in an alternative situation.
The question again is whether his work is valuable enough that he deserves the salary. Whether the cash can be employed somewhere and used effectively to bring more returns comes back to cash. What if the cash is utilized somewhere else, and too little cash is there for daily activities. The trade-off is real, and you have to understand your business well, and more importantly, you have to understand the future requirements of your business to understand how much cash you need to store in your account. However, refrain from hoarding too much cash as simply because you cannot see a cost stored in your bookkeeping doesn’t mean it’s not there. The cash you employ out in the world might bring you more returns but may not be liquid enough to get back when you need it. At the same time, cash in your account is not growing; and if it is not growing, it is depreciating.
Having said all of the above, cash requirements in different businesses are vastly different, and it most definitely should not be done looking at the books of some peer company. Understanding business requirements and proper consultancy are crucial before predicting cash requirements for the future.