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When evaluating a company's ability to pay down short-term debt, liquidity ratios like the current and quick ratios often come to mind. 

However, another means of calculating liquidity is your business’ cash ratio. Your cash ratio provides financial planning & analysis teams with the means to determine whether your company has enough cash to pay down current liabilities.

In this article, we'll explore the cash ratio, its formula, and the limitations of its use.

What is the cash ratio?

The cash ratio is a liquidity metric calculated from certain line items on your balance sheet. The calculation results indicate whether your company has enough cash to cover all its short-term liabilities.

The cash ratio differs from other liquidity measures like the quick ratio (also known as the acid-test ratio) or current ratio. When evaluating a company's liquidity, the quick and current ratios consider all existing current assets, including accounts receivable and inventory. However, the cash ratio considers only fully liquid assets, such as your company's cash and cash equivalents.

Cash ratio formula

Here’s how to calculate your cash ratio: 

Cash ratio = cash and cash equivalents / current liabilities

In this formula, cash includes the balance of all checkings and savings accounts and any available cash on hand.

Cash equivalents include any readily convertible assets. Examples of cash equivalents include money market accounts, marketable securities, and T-bills.

Current liabilities encompass all short-term debts due in one year or less. Current accounts payable, accrued liabilities, and any short-term installment debts are examples of current liabilities.

How to calculate your business’ cash ratio

Calculating your cash ratio is a relatively simple exercise. Consider Company XYZ. Company XYZ has the below total assets and liabilities on its year-end balance sheet.

  • $8M Cash
  • $1.5M Cash equivalents
  • $7M Accounts receivable
  • $1M Inventory
  • $2.5M Property and equipment
  • $4M Current accounts payable
  • $2.5M Accrued liabilities
  • $1.5M Installment debt
  • $7M Long-term debt

Using the cash ratio formula, we find that Company XYZ has a cash ratio of 1.1875:

Cash ratio = ($8M cash + $1.5M cash equivalents) / ($4M accounts payable + $2.5M accrued liabilities + $1.5M installment debt)

According to the cash ratio formula, Company XYZ has enough cash and cash equivalents to pay for all of its short-term obligations without needing additional means of alternative funding.

Notice that we do not include the value of other assets and liabilities, such as inventory, accounts receivable, property and equipment, and long-term debt in the cash ratio calculation.

The cash ratio does not consider the value of inventory, accounts receivable, and property and equipment as easily convertible liquid assets. Accounts receivable usually take time to collect, and inventory, property, and equipment are not readily convertible to cash.

Companies classify long-term debt as due over a period longer than twelve months. Because of this, organizations do not consider long-term debt when using the cash ratio formula.

What the cash ratio tells you (and what it doesn't)

The cash ratio helps evaluate your company's overall liquidity position. In general, this financial ratio provides analysts and business managers with the following information:

Availability of cash-on-hand to cover short-term debts

The cash ratio indicates the ability of your company to cover all its short-term debts; in some cases, with short-term assets. A cash ratio of 1 or more demonstrates that the organization can cover all its short-term debts without additional financing. If the cash ratio falls below 1, the company will be unable to pay all current liabilities without diving into other resources or obtaining a loan.

Indication of potential growth prospects

Organizations with healthy cash flow have strong growth potential. Company managers or owners can use the excess money to expand the business or purchase other firms to grow their customer base. Conversely, a company without much cash may find it difficult to grow without a cash influx from a loan or investment.

Conservative measurement of cash

Cash ratio analysis is considered a conservative measure of a company's liquidity since it doesn't include accounts receivables or inventory.

The strictness of the cash ratio is helpful for analysts who only want to consider the actual available funds of the business. They don't want to incorporate the value of accounts receivable, which may decline if customers don't pay their bills, or the value of inventory, which can vary depending on how the company uses it.

Helpful for creditors seeking insight into a company's ability to service a loan

Banks and other financial institutions (like lenders) predominantly use the cash ratio when evaluating a company's repaying loan prospects. Banks are more likely to fund organizations with a more substantial cash ratio. A good cash ratio is between 0.5 to 1.0.

If the company has a cash ratio below 0.5, it may not have enough money to repay its debts. Cash ratios above 1.0 indicate that the company isn't using its cash for growth-generating activities, like expansion or research and development.

Best for long-term financial analysis

The cash ratio doesn't fully tell you how to evaluate a company's financial performance. It's best to calculate the cash ratio over the long term. For instance, a cash ratio measured every quarter can help determine if the company's cash reserves remain stable or are falling.

Comparing the cash ratio among companies in the same industry is also beneficial. An organization with a cash ratio significantly higher or lower than other businesses in the same market sector helps evaluate company performance compared to its peers.

The cash ratio is only one measurement that a company can use to measure liquidity and improve working capital. Using the cash ratio in combination with other financial management strategies and ratios provides the most insights into a company's financial health.

Common challenges of calculating and interpreting cash ratio

The cash ratio is relatively easy to calculate. As long as the company creates a balance sheet that classifies its general ledger accounts into the proper categories, financial analysts can quickly obtain the values necessary for calculating the cash ratio.

Problems arise when general ledger accounts do not properly segregate current liabilities. For instance, the cash ratio may be skewed if accounts payable or accrued liabilities include debts due in periods extending past one year.

Analysts must also be careful not to incorporate assets that are not considered cash equivalents, like inventory or accounts receivables.

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What is the difference between a cash ratio and a cash turnover?

The cash ratio is a liquidity valuation, while cash turnover is an efficiency ratio. The cash ratio allows analysts to determine how much cash is on hand to pay the company's total current liabilities. It considers only details found on the company's balance sheet.

Cash turnover evaluates how quickly the company generates cash. It incorporates the company's revenue, money, and cash equivalents obtained from its financial statements. The cash turnover does not consider the company's debts or ability to pay for them.

What is the relationship between a company's cash ratio and its liquidity?

The cash ratio indicates a company's ability to pay its debts without needing to obtain outside financing. Companies with a cash ratio of 1 or above are fully liquid, meaning they can pay off their debts immediately using their available resources.

What does a low cash ratio mean?

A cash ratio below 0.5 is considered low. Companies with a low cash ratio may struggle with covering their short-term debts and have meager growth potential. Their efforts for expansion through research and development, mergers and acquisitions, or other means are limited. Organizations with a low cash ratio may have difficulty obtaining a bank loan and may be unattractive to investors.

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