Definition of cash flow
cash flow (plural cash flows)
- The sum of cash revenues and expenditures over a period of time.
- A statement of such transactions.
Cash flow refers to the movement of cash into or out of a business, a project, or a financial product. It is usually measured during a specified, finite period of time. Measurement of cash flow can be used
- to determine a project's rate of return or value. The time of cash flows into and out of projects are used as inputs in financial models such as internal rate of return, and net present value.
- to determine problems with a business's liquidity. Being profitable does not necessarily mean being liquid. A company can fail because of a shortage of cash, even while profitable.
- as an alternate measure of a business's profits when it is believed that accrual accounting concepts do not represent economic realities. For example, a company may be notionally profitable but generating little operational cash (as may be the case for a company that barters its products rather than selling for cash). In such a case, the company may be deriving additional operating cash by issuing shares, or raising additional debt finance.
- cash flow can be used to evaluate the 'quality' of Income generated by accrual accounting. When Net Income is composed of large non-cash items it is considered low quality.
- to evaluate the risks within a financial product. E.g. matching cash requirements, evaluating default risk, re-investment requirements, etc.
Cash flow is a generic term used differently depending on the context. It may be defined by users for their own purposes. It can refer to actual past flows, or to projected future flows. It can refer to the total of all the flows involved or to only a subset of those flows. Subset terms include 'net cash flow', operating cash flow and free cash flow.
- Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
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