Friday, June 5, 2009

How is accounting used in business?

It might seem obvious, but in managing a business, it's important to understand how the business makes a profit. A company needs a good business model and a good profit model. A business sells products or services and earns a certain amount of margin on each unit sold. The number of units sold is the sales volume during the reporting period. The business subtracts the amount of fixed expenses for the period, which gives them the operating profit before interest and income tax.

It's important not to confuse profit with cash flow. Profit equals sales revenue minus expenses. A business manager shouldn't assume that sales revenue equals cash inflow and that expenses equal cash outflows. In recording sales revenue, cash or another asset is increased. The asset accounts receivable is increased in recording revenue for sales made on credit. Many expenses are recorded by decreasing an asset other than cash. For example, cost of goods sold is recorded with a decrease to the inventory asset and depreciation expense is recorded with a decrease to the book value of fixed assets. Also, some expenses are recorded with an increase in the accounts payable liability or an increase in the accrued expenses payable liability.

Remember that some budgeting is better than none. Budgeting provides important advantages, like understanding the profit dynamics and the financial structure of the business. It also helps for planning for changes in the upcoming reporting period. Budgeting forces a business manager to focus on the factors that need to be improved to increase profit. A well-designed management profit and loss report provides the essential framework for budgeting profit. It's always a good idea to look ahead to the coming year. If nothing else, at least plug the numbers in your profit report for sales volume, sales prices, product costs and other expense and see how your projected profit looks for the coming year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What does an audit report contain?

Most audit reports on financial statements give the business a clean bill of health, or a clean opinion. At the other end of the spectrum, the auditor may state that the financial statements are misleading and should not be relied upon. This negative audit report is called an adverse opinion. That's the big stick that auditors carry. They have the power to give a company's financial statements an adverse opinion and no business wants that. The threat of an adverse opinion almost always motivates a business to give way to the auditor and change its accounting or disclosure in order to avoid getting the kiss of death of an adverse opinion. An adverse audit opinion says that the financial statements of the business are misleading. The SEC does not tolerate adverse opinions by auditors of public businesses; it would suspend trading in a company's stock share if the company received an adverse opinion from its CPA auditor.

One modification to an auditor's report is very serious - when the CPA firm says that it has substantial doubts about the capability of the business to continue as a going concern. A going concern is a business that has sufficient financial wherewithal and momentum to continue it normal operations into the foreseeable future and would be able to absorb a bad turn of events without having to default on its liabilities. A going concern does not face an imminent financial crisis or any pressing financial emergency. A business could be under some financial distress but overall still be judged a going concern. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, the CPA auditor assumes that the business is a going concern. If an auditor has serious concerns about whether the business is a going concern, these doubts are spelled out in the auditor's report.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What does an audit do?

If a business breaks the rules of accounting and ethics, it can be liable for legal sanctions against it. It can deliberately deceive its investors and lenders with false or misleading numbers in its financial report. That's where audits come in. Audits are one means of keeping misleading financial reporting to a minimum. CPA auditors are like highway patrol officers who enforce traffic laws and issue tickets to keep speeding to a minimum. An audit exam can uncover problems that the business was not aware of.

After completing an audit examination, the CPA prepares a short report stating that the business has prepared its financial statements, according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), or where it has not. All businesses that are publicly traded are required to have annual audits by independent CPAs. Those companies whose stocks are listed on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq must be audited by outside CPA firms. For a publicly traded company, the expense of conducting an annual audit is the cost of doing business; it's the price a company pays for going into public markets for its capital and for having its shares traded in the public venue.

Although federal law doesn't require audits for private businesses, banks and other lenders to private businesses may insist on audited financial statements. If the lenders don't require audited statements, a business's owners have to decide whether an audit is a good investment. Instead of an audit, which they can't really afford, many smaller businesses have an outside CPA come in on a regular basis to look over their accounting methods and give advice on their financial reporting. But unless a CPA has done an audit, he or she has to be very careful not to express an opinion of the external financial statements. Without a careful examination of the evidence supporting the amounts reported in the financial statements, the CPA is in no position to give an opinion on the financial statements prepared from the accounts of the business.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What is accounting fraud?

Accounting fraud is a deliberate and improper manipulation of the recording of sales revenue and/or expenses in order to make a company's profit performance appear better than it actually is. Some things that companies do that can constitute fraud are:

  1. Not listing prepaid expenses or other incidental assets
  2. Not showing certain classifications of current assets and/or liabilities
  3. Collapsing short- and long-term debt into one amount.

Over-recording sales revenue is the most common technique of accounting fraud. A business may ship products to customers that they haven't ordered, knowing that those customers will return the products after the end of the year. Until the returns are made, the business records the shipments as if they were actual sales. Or a business may engage in channel stuffing. It delivers products to dealers or final customers that they really don't want, but business makes deals on the side that provide incentives and special privileges if the dealers or customers don't object to taking premature delivery of the products. A business may also delay recording products that have been returned by customers to avoid recognizing these offsets against sales revenue in the current year

The other way a business commits accounting fraud is by under-recording expenses, such as not recording depreciation expense. Or a business may choose not to record all of its cost of goods sold expense fore the sales made during a period. This would make the gross margin higher, but the business's inventory asset would include products that actually are not in inventory because they've been delivered to customers.

A business might also choose not to record asset losses that should be recognized, such as uncollectible accounts receivable, or it might not write down inventory under the lower of cost or market rule. A business might also not record the full amount of the liability for an expense, making that liability understated in the company's balance sheet. Its profit, therefore, would be overstated.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What are independent auditors?

Indpendent CPA auditors are like referees in the financial reporting arena. The CPA comes in, does an audit of the business's accounting system and methods and gives a report that is attached to the company's financial statements. Publicly owned businesses are required to have their annual financial reports audited by independent CPA firms and any privately owned businesses have audits done as well because they know that an audit report will add credibility to their financial reports.

An auditor judges whether the business's accounting methods are in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Generally everything is in place and the financial report is a reliable document. But at times an auditor will wave a yellow or red flag. Some indicators of potential trouble include when the business's capability to continue normal operations is in doubt because of what are known as financial exigencies, which could mean a low cash balance, unpaid overdue liabilities, or major lawsuits that the business doesn't have the cash to cover.

An auditor must exercise professional skepticism, meaning the auditor should challenge the accounting methods and reporting practices of the client in order to make sure that its financial statement conform with accounting standards and are not misleading - in short, that the financial statement are fairly presented. Indeed, the words "fairly presented" are the exact words used in the auditor's report.

A good auditor need technical know-how, but also needs to know how to be tough on the accounting methods of the client. His job is to be the agent of the shareholders and other users of the business's financial report. It's incumbent on an auditor to strictly uphold GAAP, and not let any irregularities slide.

There are a number of well-known companies that engaged in accounting fraud recently and that fraud was not discovered by the CPA auditors. Enron is one of these companies. In this case, the auditing firm, Arthur Anderson was found guilty of obstruction of justice because it destroyed audit evidence.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What is acid test ratio and ROA ratio?

Investors calculate the acid test ratio, also known as the quick ratio or the pounce ratio. This ratio excludes inventory and prepaid expenses, which the current ratio includes, and it limits assets to cash and items that the business can quickly convert to cash. This limited category of assets is known as quick or liquid assets. The acid-text ratio is calculated by dividing the liquid assets by the total current liabilities.

This ratio is also known as the pounce ratio to emphasize that you're calculating for a worst-case scenario, where the business's creditors could pounce on the business and demand quick payment of the business's liabilities. Short term creditors do not have the right to demand immediate payment, except in unusual circumstances. This ratio is a conservative way to look at a business's capability to pay its short-term liabilities.

One factor that affects the bottom-line profitability of a business is whether it uses debt to its advantage. A business may realize a financial leverage gain, meaning it earns more profit on the money it has borrowed than the interest paid for the use of the borrowed money. A good part of a business's net income for the year may be due to financial leverage. The ROA ratio is determined by dividing the earnings before interest and income tax (EBIT) by the net operating assets.

An investor compares the ROA with the interest rate at which the corporation borrowed money. If a business's ROA is 14 percent and the interest rate on its debt is 8 percent, the business's net gain on its capital is 6 percent more than what it's paying in interest.

ROA is a useful ratio for interpreting profit performance, aside from determining financial gain or loss. ROA is called a capital utilization test that measures how profit before interest and income tax was earned on the total capital employed by the business.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What are other ratios used in financial reporting

The dividend yield ratio tells investors how much cash income they're receiving on their stock investment in a business. This is calculated by dividing the annual cash dividend per share by the current market price of the stock. This can be compared with the interest rate on high-grade debt securities that pay interest, such as Treasure bonds and Treasury notes, which are the safest.

Book value per share is calculated by dividing total owners' equity by the total number of stock shares that are outstanding. While EPS is more important to determine the market value of a stock, book value per share is the measure of the recorded value of the company's assets less its liabilities, the net assets backing up the business's stock shares. It's possible that the market value of a stock could be less than the book value per share.

The return on equity (ROE) ratio tells how much profit a bus8iness earned in comparison to the book value of its stockholders' equity. This ratio is especially useful for privately owned businesses, which have no way of determining the current value of owners' equity. ROE is also calculated for public corporations, but it plays a secondary role to other ratios. ROE is calculated by dividing net income by owners' equity.

The current ratio is a measure of a business's short-term solvency, in other words, its ability to pay it liabilities that come due in the near future. This ratio is a rough indicator of whether cash on hand plus the cash to be collected from accounts receivable and from selling inventory will be enough to pay off the liabilities that will come due in the next period. It is calculated by dividing the current assets by the current liabilities. Businesses are expected to maintain a minimum 2:1 current ratio, which means its current assets should be twice its current liabilities.