Negative Cash Flow

Updated on January 3, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Negative Cash Flow Meaning

Negative cash flow refers to the situation in the company when cash spending of the company is more than cash generation in a particular period under consideration; This implies the total cash inflow from the various activities, which include operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities during a specific period under consideration is less than total outflow during the same period.

In simple words, it means a business scenario when the firm spends more cash than it generates. It is a prevalent situation for firms in their growth phase as they need to spend money to fuel growth, acquire customers, or set up distribution channels. In simple terms, it’s a game of numbers where the incoming cash is less than the outgoing money. In such a situation, the deficit should be supported by equity infusion, debt funding, or both.

Formula

This concept is not new but very much implicit in the cash flow calculations. The simplest equation to understand this concept mathematically is understanding the negative cash flow calculation from core business activities.

Cash Flow = Cash Inflows – Cash Outflows

If this number is negative, it denotes a deficit and is termed negative cash flow.

Negative Cash Flow

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For eg:
Source: Negative Cash Flow (wallstreetmojo.com)

Basic Calculation (with Example)

Consider a firm XYZ with the following statement of cash flowsStatement Of Cash FlowsA Statement of Cash Flow is an accounting document that tracks the incoming and outgoing cash and cash equivalents from a business.read more.

statement

At first glance, the company looks in a very bad state as the cash flow is $ -80,000. However, if we dive in further and, rather than looking at the final cash flow number, look at its various constituents, our perception of the current state of the business might change. The cash flow from operating activitiesCash Flow From Operating ActivitiesCash flow from Operations is the first of the three parts of the cash flow statement that shows the cash inflows and outflows from core operating business in an accounting year. Operating Activities includes cash received from Sales, cash expenses paid for direct costs as well as payment is done for funding working capital.read more is positive, suggesting that the firm is doing well in core business activities. However, cash flow generated from investing Cash Flow Generated From InvestingCash flow from investing activities refer to the money acquired or spent on the purchase or disposal of the fixed assets (both tangible and intangible) for the business purpose. For instance, the purchase of land and joint venture investment is cash outflow, while equipment sale is a cash inflow.read more and financing activitiesFinancing ActivitiesThe various transactions that involve the movement of funds between the company and its investors, owners, or creditors in order to achieve long-term growth are referred to as financing activities. Such activities can be analyzed in the financial section of the company's cash flow statement.read more is negative. It might be because the management seeks good potential in future growth and wants to spend on it. For example, a large part of the money has been spent on buying additional equipment and plans, emphasizing that a firm is laying out plans for future expansion and growth.

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Practical Example

Consider below the snapshot of cash flow from operating activitiesOperating ActivitiesOperating activities generate the majority of the company's cash flows since they are directly linked to the company's core business activities such as sales, distribution, and production.read more of internet Major Netflix. Looking at the final numbers, it may seem like the firm is doing badly. However, diving further reveals that the firm is trying to increase content on its portal, leading to negative cash flow. Therefore, it should be a long-term strategic initiative as part of growth expansion plans.

snapshot of cash flow from operating activities

source: Netflix SEC Filings

Interpretation of Negative Cash Flow

  • #1 – Negative cash flow is very much a part of the business – No business across the globe has not faced such a situation. It might be a temporary situation that might have arisen due to the cyclic challenges to the business in which the firm operates or a new competitor entry, cash flow crunch due to some natural disaster, or sudden regulatory changes.
  • #2 – Better assessment of growth opportunities and evolution for the future – Negative cash flow is sometimes an indicator of how the firm is trying to expand and how aggressively it is doing so. A firm should consider it an opportunity cost to draw out its expansion plans and execute them. It becomes imperative for the firm to grow and evolve. Else the ruthless competition will kill them. We have numerous such examples in history where the firms were not only cash-rich but also market leaders. But they were too complacent and refused to evolve. Who can forget the words of the Nokia CEO – “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost.” They didn’t invest and adapt to the changing market conditions. Eventually, they were acquired by Microsoft.
  • #3 – Growth potential – It is an indicator of the firm’s financial health. I studied it as a pattern; it can help investors gauge their investments and calculate ROICalculate ROIThe return on investment formula measures the gain or loss made on an investment relative to the amount invested. The net income divided by the original capital cost of investment. Return on Investment Formula = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) * 100 read more. If the pattern suggests that negative cash flow is regularly decreasing, it should suggest that the firm is recovering well and the long-term strategic growth is intact. However, if there is acyclicity in a pattern, it should suggest that external factors play a lot in the firm’s business. For example, crude prices weigh a lot on the airline business. This is certainly not a favorable scenario for investors.

Disadvantages

Conclusion

Unless the problem of negative cash flow becomes a common practice across multiple quarters, investors need not worry. It is part of business activities where firms sometimes have to spend more to evolve and find growth opportunities. However, investors should exercise caution as it can be a sign of a flawed business plan, lack of growth opportunities, or a case of missed opportunities or fraud.

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