The Purpose of Financial Statements

by Alex Burke; Updated September 26, 2017

Throughout the existence of a business many requests will be made for its financial statements. Financial statements are formal presentations of the flow of money into, through and out of a business. Financial statements are comprised of four main areas—balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements and retained earnings. Each statement is part of the framework for financial statements. This framework is called the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, or GAAP. Each area of a financial statement has a purpose and provides specific information about a company's financial stability.

The Balance Sheet

The balance sheet's purpose is to show the assets of the company. Balance sheets are based on a fix point called a reporting period—a day, a month, a quarter, a year. A quick glance at a balance sheet will show you what the company owns and how much it owes. Balance sheets include assets (property, cash, anything owned of value), liabilities (debt owed) and shareholder's equity.

Income Statements

Income statements show the revenue earned during a reporting period. Included in this report are the expenses and cost of creating the revenue. Once the expenses and costs are removed from the total revenue, the bottom line of the report reveals whether or not the company lost money or made money. This report is sometimes referred to as the profit and loss statement. Another feature of the income statement is the EPS, or earnings per share. This reveals what a shareholder would receive if you were being paid dividends per each share owned.

Cash Flow Statements

Cash on hand is important because it supports the daily activities of a business. There must be enough cash on hand to pay expenses and buy assets as needed. Cash flow statements track the inflow and outflow of cash. They reveal whether or not cash was generated by the business. The data for a cash flow statement comes from an income statement and the balance sheet. The cash flow statement reveals net decreases or increases of cash for the reporting period.

Retained Earnings

Once liabilities and assets are known and a balance sheet is created, it is known whether or not the shareholders have a positive or negative equity. From the equity is taken retained earnings. Retained earnings are broken down and explained in the statement of retained earnings. This statement reveals what the company keeps and does not distribute to the owners and how that amount changes over the reporting period. Losses are called accumulated losses, retained losses or accumulated deficit.

Financial Statements

Once a set of financial statements are prepared they can be used for loan applications, fund-raising or to place a value on a business. But they are typically used for making business decisions that will affect operations. The numbers and calculations in the financial statements are also used to calculate ratios and make further analysis. Common figures derived are operating margins, debt-to-equity ratio, P/E, working capital and inventory turnover.

About the Author

Alex Burke holds a degree in environmental design and a Master of Arts in information management. She's worked as a licensed interior designer, artist, database administrator and nightclub manager. A perpetual student, Burke writes Web content on a variety of topics, including art, interior design, database design, culture, health and business.

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