Negative Working Capital

Updated on May 13, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Negative Working Capital Meaning

Negative working capital is when the company’s current liabilities are more than its current assets, which suggests that the company has to pay off a bit more than the short-term assets it has for a particular cycle.

Key Takeaways

  • Negative working capital occurs when a company’s current liabilities exceed its current assets, indicating that it must pay more for short-term obligations than it has available in assets.
  • Industries such as retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, and fast-moving consumer goods often have negative working capital and generally don’t pose significant risks.
  • Negative working capital can be advantageous for a company that sells products or services for cash but pays its suppliers on credit. In contrast, having a very high level of working capital may not benefit the company, as it may result in missed investment opportunities for its available cash.

Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities

  • Most of the time, it is not considered a good sign, but there are cases where negative working capital is good for the organization.
  • Sometimes it means that the company can generate the cash so quickly that it gets time in between to pay off its suppliers and creditors. So basically, the company is using the suppliers’ money to run its day-to-day operations.
  • Though this means a good idea, having the negative working capital to its advantage is not everyone’s cup of tea. Companies that deal with cash-only businesses or where the receivables time is too short often have negative working capital.

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How to Check whether Negative Working Capital is Good or Bad?

A quick but may not be the best way to see if negative working capital is good for the company or not is to check the data of receivables and payables. If the payables period is longer than the receivable days, the company gets more time to pay back its due, and it gets its cash quite early.

So that’s a good sign. But if the receivables period is too high and payables are too low, the company has a negative working capital. It can pose a serious problem for the organization to run its day-to-day activities.

  • A firm’s working capital structure might change as the strategies of the companies change. McDonald’s had a negative working capital between 1999 and 2000, but if you see it now, it has a positive working capital.
  • The auto retailer company AutoZone had $155 million in its negative working capital. It primarily moved to an efficient inventory turnover, where it stopped having a bulk of inventory and sold goods as early as possible and freeing its own capital needs.
  • So it would be best if you studied the financial statements of a company for a few years, and then you can conclude whether it is good or bad for that particular company to have negative working capital.
  •  Though negative working may not always be good, too high positive working capital is also not ideal. Because if a company has too high positive working capital, it means it has a lot of current assets and very few current liabilities. So the company is not using its cash and cash equivalents to its optimum use and is just sitting on cash.
  • So there is an opportunity lost for the company because it can use the cash and cash equivalents somewhere else to have decent returns. Industry-Standard working capital is ideal, and it changes according to the sector/industry of the company and its needs.

Negative Working Capital Examples

The industries which are primarily expected to have negative working capital and don’t pose a serious risk are

  • Retailers
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery Stores
  • FMCG

Any industry that makes money through cash when it sells a product/service will have money at its hand. So it can pay back its supplier through a credit period and create a chain. The companies which have a higher credit period for their receivables may not be able to justify the negative working capital that is good for them.

Negative Working Capital

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Advantages

It has a great advantage because the company uses suppliers’ money and doesn’t have to depend on banks for funds. For example, if a company takes the product from a supplier and has a time of 60 days to pay the supplier. It sells its products to its customers in 20days and gets the money in cash; then the company gets 40 days to pay back to its supplier. The company can use this money to get products from another supplier. In this way, it can create a chain that uses the suppliers’ money to its advantage and doesn’t have to borrow money from a bank.

Disadvantages

Because ideally, not every year, a company will get to use the supplier’s money. So this can hamper the day-to-day activities of the company and bring the operations to a halt. It can pose a serious issue if the company has had the same structure for many years.

Conclusion

Analyze the company’s working capital for the past few years and then find out whether the working capital structure is as per the industry standards. If the company sells its products/services in cash and pays its suppliers with a credit period, then the negative working capital will be good for such a company. A too high positive working capital is not good because there is an opportunity loss for the company’s cash. After all, it is idle.

The working capital structure of a company can change depending on its strategies/goals for the future. So do analyze the rationale behind the change well and then decide the organization’s financial strength and whether it can run its day-to-day operations smoothly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is negative working capital acquisition? 

A negative working capital acquisition is when a company acquires another company with a negative working capital position. This can attract the acquiring company because it allows them to access the target company’s cash flow and working capital resources without investing additional funds. 

2. What is a negative working capital adjustment?

The negative working capital adjustment refers to a company’s financial statements changing to account for a negative working capital position. This may involve reclassifying certain items on the balance sheet or adjusting the timing of cash receipts and payments to better align with the company’s working capital needs.

3. Why do airlines have negative working capital?

Airlines often have negative working capital because they collect payment from customers (e.g., ticket sales) before incurring many of their costs (e.g., fuel, maintenance, and employee salaries). This allows airlines to use the cash collected from customers to finance their operations, which can help improve their liquidity and cash flow. 

This has been a guide to What is Negative Working Capital and its Meaning. Here we discuss how to check whether negative working capital is good or bad, along with examples, advantages, and disadvantages. You can learn more about excel modeling from the following articles –

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