cash flow statement

Understanding Your E-Commerce Cash Flow Statement

Besides the balance sheet and profit and loss statement, the statement of cash flows is another basic financial statement that a business must prepare. It is an important tool to determine the health of a business. The Cash Flow Statement for an e-commerce business is not different from any other business. But the sources through which cash flows to the business vary.

For instance, the cash inflows of an e-commerce business may arise from operational activities like cash received from customers, third-party sellers, advertisers, and content creators.

A cash flow statement is an important financial tool as it helps a business to determine whether it can meet its short-term obligations without running out of cash unexpectedly. Such obligations may include interest payments, fulfillment, and lease payments.

Note that cash does not include only cash in the form of physical banknotes and coins. It also includes everything expressed in cash, such as sales, bank loans, overheads, tax, insurance, etc.

Thus, Cash flow represents all the cash going in and out of the business. But it is different from profit. Profit is the positive difference between a firm’s total sales revenue and its total costs of production. It does not represent the net cash that a business has.

In this article, we will discuss a cash flow statement and how to analyze a cash flow statement for an e-commerce business.

Cash Flow Statement Definition

A Cash Flow Statement is a financial statement that presents a business’s cash inflows and outflows for a specified period. Such a statement also showcases a business’s noncash investing and financing activities for the same period. 

Cash and noncash information are important for business stakeholders, including lenders and suppliers. That’s because, using such information, they evaluate a business’s ability to generate and utilize the cash to meet its obligations.

Note that the judgments and estimates that financial managers make in determining revenues, expenses, and other accruals do not impact a business’s cash flows. That’s because the cash flow numbers are objective, not subjective, like those in the balance sheet and income statement.

Remember, financial managers of a business use cash flow statements along with other financial statements. It’s because such an analysis provides them with information that helps them evaluate the changes in a business’s net assets. 

Besides this, it also helps the users of such information to determine a business’s financial structure, including its liquidity and solvency. 

A cash flow statement helps a business understand its ability to influence the amounts and timing of cash flows. Such insights would help a business to adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities.

What’s the Purpose of a Cash Flow Statement for an E-Commerce Business? 

A Cash Flow Statement is prepared in addition to a business’s balance sheet and income statement. The purpose of cash flow statement preparation is simple.

The revenues and expenses of a business are recorded in the books of accounts irrespective of whether cash was paid or received at that time or a later date. This happens because an income statement is prepared on the accrual basis of accounting.

The accrual basis of accounting requires a business to record the revenues in the books of accounts when they are earned rather than when they are received in cash. Likewise, the recognition of related expenses on the income statement does not necessarily coincide with when such expenses are paid in cash. Expenses may be recognized before, at the same time, or after they are paid for.

However, cash flows for revenues and expenses are accounted for when cash is exchanged. As a result, profit and cash flow differ in the timing of recognition of revenues and expenses. This means that income generated by a business during a period has no direct relationship with the cash flows associated with the operations. Thus, it becomes important for a business to prepare cash flow statements separately. 

Besides this, a cash flow statement provides information about the cash flows associated with a business’s operating, investing, and financing activities during an accounting period. Such information is important for stakeholders like the shareholders, lenders, employees, suppliers, and the local communities that levy taxes.

For instance, a portion of shareholders’ return on investment in the form of dividends is dependent on the business’s cash flows. Likewise, interest payments and principal repayment to lenders require cash. Also, other stakeholders, like employees, suppliers, and the local communities, depend on the company’s ability to generate adequate cash flows. 

Also, a statement of cash flows showcases inflows and outflows of cash from different business activities during a specified period. Such activities may include operating, investing, and financing activities. This information is useful to assess a business entity’s ability to generate cash and cash equivalents and the timing and certainty of such cash flows. Additionally, it demonstrates the enterprise’s requirement to utilize those cash flows. Thus, based on such information, the stakeholders can take economic decisions.

What are the Benefits of Cash Flow Statement Analysis for an E-Commerce Business?

An e-commerce business, like any other business, needs cash to carry out its operations, meet financial obligations, and provide returns to owners. For instance, it needs cash for the payment towards implementing technology like data centers, product and content costs, fulfillment, customer service support, picking, packaging, shipment, etc.

A cash flow statement gives a snapshot of an e-commerce business’s sources and uses of cash during a specified period. For instance, Amazon Inc earns cash flows through its operations, including sales of electronic equipment, online content, AWS services, and sale of products through third-party sellers. When used with other financial statements like income statements and balance sheets, such a statement helps the stakeholders evaluate different attributes of an e-commerce business.

For example, a cash flow statement may help users determine changes in the net assets of the business, its financial structure, liquidity, solvency, and ability to generate cash flows. They can base their decisions on changing business affairs and opportunities. For instance, increasing cash flows may help an etailer to invest in new products and services, make capital expenditures, and improve customer experience.

E-commerce business owners can compare their operating performance with competitors using cash flow statements. They can make cash flow projections to compare the present value of their future cash flows and those of others. This will help them understand where they stand compared to their competitors.

Moreover, such a report helps an e-commerce business to balance its cash inflows and outflows and adapt to changing circumstances. For instance, an increase in the operating cash flows of an e-commerce business can help make strategic decisions. Such decisions may include increasing capital expenditures for investment in technology, lease property, intellectual property rights, etc.

Furthermore, when used in conjunction with other financial statements, a cash flow statement helps an e-commerce business examine the relationship between profitability and net cash flow. Plus, it gives a fair view of the impact of changing prices on the cash flows of a business.

To understand a cash flow statement for an e-commerce business, we first need to understand certain terms. These include cash and cash equivalents, cash flow, and profitability.

What are Cash and Cash Equivalents?

Like other businesses, the statement of cash flows for an e-commerce business highlights the inflows and outflows of cash and cash equivalents. The cash and cash equivalents are the ones that arise from different business activities within a certain period.

Take, for instance, the cash and cash equivalents of Amazon Inc. Its free cash flows are driven primarily by increasing operating income and efficiently managing current accounts. Such accounts may include accounts receivable, inventory, accounts payable, and cash capital expenditures, including our decision to purchase or lease property and equipment. 

Specifically,  its operating cash flows result primarily from the cash received from consumers, sellers, developers, enterprises, and content creator customers. Besides this, Amazon also generates operating cash flows from advertisers.

Thus, cash stands for cash in hand and demand deposits with banks. Cash equivalents include short-term investments that are highly liquid and can be readily converted into cash. For instance, Amazon has cash equivalents in marketable securities in foreign currencies, including Euros, British Pounds, and Japanese Yen.

These investments are low in risk as they are not subject to material changes in value. Also, they have a short maturity period of three months or less. 

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow means the movement of cash in and out of an e-commerce business during a specified period. An e-commerce business generates cash flows from operating, investing, and financing activities. 

For instance, cash flows from the operating activities of an e-commerce business may include cash from customers, third-party sellers, advertisers, content creators, and developers. Further, the net cash inflows from investing activities may include an e-commerce business, incentives received from property and equipment vendors, and proceeds from asset sales. It may also include sales and maturities of marketable securities. 

On the other hand, cash outflows arise from the payments made toward the business’ operating, investing, and financing activities. For instance, the cost of goods sold, interest and principal payments, and capital expenditures on technology are examples of cash outflows.

Classification of Activities in Cash Flow Statement

A cash flow statement of an e-commerce business may represent cash flows as operating, investing, and financial cash flows. Such classification makes it easy for the stakeholders to assess the impact of all these activities on the business’s financial position and cash and cash equivalents. 

Let’s understand each of these categories of cash flows.

Cash Flow from Operating Activities

The principal sources through which an e-commerce business generates cash flows are the ones that arise due to its operating activities. The operating activities of a business refer to the primary or principal revenue-generating activities of a business. These are the main activities of a business.

A business’s activities may include selling consumer goods and services and engaging with third-party sellers, content creators, advertisers, and developers receiving technology services.

Amazon Inc sells goods to consumers through its online and physical stores. Plus, it sells electronic devices like Kindle, Fire tablet, Fire TV, Echo, Ring, and other devices. Besides this, Amazon also provides advertising to sellers, vendors, publishers, authors, and others through sponsored ads, display, and video advertising. It also serves developers and enterprises of all sizes with on-demand technology services.

Thus, cash generated from operating activities helps the stakeholders of a business to assess its solvency level. Besides this, it indicates the ability of the operations of an e-commerce business to generate cash. Remember that sufficient cash from operations helps a business maintain its operating capability and meet its financial obligations. These obligations may include making new investments and repaying loans.

Following are the examples of cash flows from operating activities:

I. Cash Inflows from Operating Activities

  • Cash receipts from sales of goods and services through online and offline stores
  • Cash receipts from developers for selling on-demand technology services, including computing, storage, database, analytics, machine learning, and other services.
  • Cash receipts from third-party sellers selling their products through the online store
  • Cash receipts from content authors and publishers selling content online

II. Cash Outflows from Operating Activities

  • Cash payments to employees
  • Cash payments toward leases
  • Cash payments of income taxes

Cash Flow from Investing Activities

Investing activities involve acquiring and disposing of long-term assets and investments not considered cash equivalents. Such cash outlays are necessary as these expenditures help an e-commerce business maintain its operating capacity. 

For instance, an e-commerce store may incur software development costs. These costs relate to products sold, leased, or marketed to external users, internal-use software, and websites. Then, capital expenditures on equipment for an e-commerce business may include assets such as servers and networking equipment, heavy equipment, and other fulfillment equipment.

Besides purchasing and selling long-term fixed assets, cash flows from investing activities also include cash flows from long-term investment securities. It may also include investments in joint ventures or affiliates.

In addition to changes in long-term assets, the calculation of capital expenditures also includes the amount of depreciation or amortization. This is because depreciation changes the net of property, plant, and equipment.

The following are examples of cash flows from investing activities for an e-commerce business:

I. Cash Inflows from Investing Activities

  • Cash receipts from sales of fixed assets
  • Cash proceeds from sales and maturities of marketable securities
  • Cash received as interest from loans and advances made to third parties
  • Cash received as dividends from investment in other businesses
  • Cash received by selling shares, warrants, or debt instruments of other enterprises

II. Cash Outflows from Investing Activities

  • Cash payments made to acquire fixed assets
  • Cash payments for the purchase of marketable securities
  • Cash payments made to acquire shares, warrants, or debt instruments of other enterprises

Cash Flow from Financial Activities

Financing activities typically refer to the capital or long-term funds a business has access. Such cash inflows and outflows resulting from the activities result in changes in the proportion and structure of the owner’s capital and borrowings of a business. 

For instance, an e-commerce business may take borrowings to meet its operating cash needs, capital expenditures, meet financial obligations, and strengthen its financial position. Besides borrowings, an e-commerce business can sell additional equity or debt securities, obtain credit facilities, obtain finance, and operating lease arrangements. It may also enter into financing obligations, repurchase common stock, pay dividends, or repurchase, refinance, or otherwise restructure debt for strategic reasons.

Thus, cash flows from financing activities of an e-commerce business include inflows from additional borrowing or equity financing and outflows due to debt repayment. The cash outflows may also include dividend payments and equity repurchases. 

The following are examples of cash flows from financing activities for an e-commerce business:

I. Cash Inflows from Financing Activities

  • Cash proceeds from issuing shares
  • Cash proceeds from issuing debentures, loans, etc
  • Cash proceeds of short-term debt and other and long-term-debt 

II. Cash Outflows from Financing Activities

  • Cash repayments of the amounts borrowed
  • Dividends paid on equity
  • Interest paid on debt
  • Cash payments toward finance leases and financing obligations 

An e-commerce business may come across scenarios that require it to treat certain cash flows differently in the cash flow statement. Let’s say a business buys a fixed asset on deferred payment. In this case, the business must consider interest and principal loan amounts to acquire the fixed asset. Accordingly, the interest will be showcased under financing activity. At the same time, the principal loan amount will be showcased under the investment activity. 

Besides this, there are cases when different businesses need to showcase a specific activity differently. For instance, the stock purchase is an operating activity for a stock brokerage business. At the same time, it is an investment activity for an e-commerce business.

Special Cases in Cash Flow

I. Extraordinary Items

As the name suggests, the extraordinary items are the ones that are not regular. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic is a one-time event. It has increased fulfillment costs and cost of sales as a percentage of net sales for e-commerce businesses like Amazon. These costs increased primarily due to lower productivity, increased employee hiring, and benefits, and costs to maintain safe workplaces.

Thus, a business must disclose cash flows related to such non-recurring items separately from operating, investing, and financing activities. Such disclosure will help the stakeholders understand the impact of such items on a business’s current and future cash flows.

II. Interest and Dividend

Those businesses having lending and borrowing as their primary operations must showcase the interest paid, interest received, and dividends received as operating activities. However, the dividend paid comes under the financing activity.

But, a business must showcase interest and dividend paid under financing activities if lending and borrowing is not their primary operation. While interest and dividends received must be showcased under investing activities in such a case.

III. Taxes on Income and Gains

An e-commerce business, like any other business, has taxes like income tax, dividend tax, and capital gains tax. 

Accordingly, it must disclose taxes on income separately, that is, under investing or financing activities. 

If it is not possible to identify such taxes with investing and financing activities of a business, then such cash flows should be showcased under operating activities.

This means:

  • Tax on operating profit is shown under operating activity
  • Dividend Tax, along with dividend paid, is shown under financing activity
  • Capital gains tax paid on the sale of fixed assets is showcased under the investing activity

I Noncash Transactions

A cash flow statement showcases only transactions in cash or cash equivalent. It does not showcase any noncash transactions. An e-commerce business may have noncash transactions like depreciation and amortization on equipment like data centers.

Such items are either a part of financing or investing activities. That’s because the transactions giving rise to such items are noncash. This d does not require the use of any cash or cash equivalents.

As a result, a business must exclude such transactions from its cash flow statement—for instance, procurement of machinery by issuing equity shares. 

How To Report Cash Flow from Operating Activities in an E-Commerce Cash Flow Statement?

The operating activities of an e-commerce business are its primary source for generating revenues and incurring expenditures. For instance, the operating activities of e-commerce businesses like Amazon include selling goods to consumers, AWS services to developers, and selling online content.

Now, there are two ways to report the Cash flows from operating activities for an e-commerce business and any other business. These include the direct method or indirect method.

Direct Method Cash Flow

I. Cash Flow From Operations

The e-commerce business using the direct cash flow method to represent cash flow from operations must showcase all the major categories of cash receipts and cash payments of its business. 

For instance, cash received from trade receivables, cash paid for inventory, cash paid to employees, etc., are considered under this method. 

Note that the operating incomes and expenses in the income statement are recorded on the accrual basis of accounting. Thus, certain adj statements must be made to convert them into cash. Here are a few of the adjustments:

  • Cash receipts from customers = Revenue from operations + trade receivables in the beginning – trade receivables in the end
  • Cash payments to suppliers = Purchases + trade payables in the beginning – trade payables in the end
  • Purchases = Cost of revenue from operations – opening inventory + closing inventory
  • Cash expenses = Expenses on an accrual basis + Prepaid expenses in the beginning and outstanding expenses in the end – Prepaid expenses in the end and outstanding expenses in the beginning

However, noncash items like depreciation should not be considered. Further, the direct method should also not consider items under the investing or financing activities—for instance, interest received.

Following is the format for Direct Method Cash Flow from operating activities:

Consolidated Cash Flow Statement ( Direct Method)
In millions fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2005 (52 weeks) fiscal year ended Jan. 1, 2005 (52 weeks) fiscal year ended Jan. 3, 2004 (53 weeks)
Cash flows from operating activities:
Cash receipts from sales $ 36,923.1 $ 30,545.8 $ 26,276.9
Cash paid for inventory (26,403.9) (22,469.2) (19,262.9)
Cash paid to other suppliers and employees (8,186.7) (6,528.5) (5,475.5)
Interest and dividends received 6.5 5.7 5.7
Interest paid (135.9) (70.4) (64.9)
Income taxes paid (591.0) (569.2) (510.4)
Net cash provided by operating activities 1,612.1 914.2 968.9
Cash flows from investing activities:
Additions to property and equipment (1,495.4) (1,347.7) (1,121.7)
Proceeds from sale-leaseback transactions 539.9 496.6 487.8
Acquisitions, net of cash and investments 12.1 (2,293.7) (133.1)
Cash outflow from hedging activities (32.8)
Proceeds from the sale or disposal of assets 31.8 14.3 13.4
Net cash used in investing activities (911.6) (3,163.3) (753.6)
Cash flows from financing activities:
Reductions in long-term debt (10.5) (301.5) (0.8)
Additions to long-term debt 16.5 1,204.1
Proceeds from the exercise of stock options 178.4 129.8 38.3
Dividends paid (131.6) (119.8) (105.2)
Additions to/(reductions in) short-term debt (632.2) 885.6 (4.8)
Net cash (used in) provided by financing activities (579.4) 1,798.2 (72.5)
Net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents 121.1 (450.9) 142.8
Cash and cash equivalents at the beginning of the year 392.3 843.2 700.4
Cash and cash equivalents at the end of the year $ 513.4 $ 392.3 $ 843.2
Reconciliation of net earnings to net cash provided by operating activities:
Net earnings $ 1,224.7 $ 918.8 $ 847.3
Adjustments required to reconcile net earnings to net cash provided by operating activities:
Depreciation and amortization 589.1 496.8 341.7
Deferred income taxes and other noncash items 13.5 (23.6) 41.1
Change in operating assets and liabilities providing/(requiring) cash, net of effects from acquisitions:
Accounts receivable, net (83.1) (48.4) (311.1)
Inventories (265.2) (509.8) 2.1
Other current assets (13.2) 35.7 (3.0)
Other assets (0.1) 8.5 (0.4)
Accounts payable 192.2 109.4 (41.5)
Accrued expenses (43.8) (144.2) 116.5
Other long-term liabilities (2.0) 71.0 (23.8)
Net cash provided by operating activities $ 1,612.1 $ 914.2 $ 968.9

Source: Oreilly

As we can see, the Net cash provided by operating activities is calculated by considering each cash income and expense item separately.  It veals the movement of cash about every income statement line item. 

II. Cash Flow from Investing and Financing Activities

The cash flows from investing and financing activities are showcased in the same way under both the direct and indirect methods of cash flows. A business must show se major items of cash receipts, cash payments, and net cash flows from investing and financing activities separately. 

These items should be represented separately under “Cash Flow from Investing Activities” and “Cash Flow from Financing Activities,” respectively.

The investing activities for an e-commerce business may include the following:

  • Cash capital expenditures, including leasehold improvements, incentives received from property and equipment vendors
  • Proceeds from asset sales 
  • Cash outlays for acquisitions
  • Investments in other companies and intellectual property rights
  • Purchases, sales, and maturities of marketable securities

If we consider the example of Amazon, the e-commerce giant made cash capital expenditures in 2020 to support their fulfillment operations. Besides this, they also invested in technology infrastructure to support AWS majorly.

Likewise, Amazon also made cash payments concerning the acquisition and other investment activities. Besides this, it also used cash to purchase or lease property and equipment and purchases, maturities, and sales of marketable securities. 

On the other hand, the financing activities for an e-commerce business may include:

  • Cash proceeds from short-term or long-term debt
  • Payments in cash towards short-term debt and other long-term debt
  • Cash payments toward other financial obligations

Amazon had taken short-term and long-term debt to fund its business operations and enhance technology and infrastructure. It also made payments towards financial leases and other financial obligations.

Indirect Method Cash Flow

Under the indirect cash flow method, a business must begin with its Net Profit or Net Loss while determining cash flows from operating activities. Unlike the Direct Method, a business must showcase each cash income and expense item separately.

In the indirect method, Net Profit or Net Loss is considered for calculating cash flows from operating activities. That’s because the income statement incorporates the effects of all business operating activities. 

After considering the Net Profit or Net Loss, a business must adjust all noncash, non-operating items. Noncash items may include depreciation, and non-operating items may include interest paid.  

Such adjustments are made to the Net Profit or the Net Loss because the income statement is prepared on the accrual basis of accounting. As a result, it may include noncash items which need to be excluded from the Net Profit or Net Loss while calculating cash flows from operating activities.

Besides adjusting the noncash, non-operating items, other important adjustments must be made to the net profit/loss. These adjustments relate to changes in working capital. 

In other words, an increase in current assets and a decrease in current liabilities must be deducted from the operating profit while calculating net cash flow from operating activities. The current assets and liabilities decrease must be added to the operating profit.

The cash flows from investing and financing activities are calculated similarly to the direct method.

The following is the Cash Flows Statement of Amazon Inc. prepared using Indirect Method.

Consolidated Cash Flow Statement ( Indirect Method)

Period Ending: 12/31/2020 12/31/2019 12/31/2018 12/31/2017
Net Income $21,331,000 $11,588,000 $10,073,000 $3,033,000
Cash Flows-Operating Activities        
Depreciation $25,251,000 $21,789,000 $15,341,000 $11,478,000
Net Income Adjustments $6,001,000 $7,575,000 $6,352,000 $4,096,000
Changes in Operating Activities        
Accounts Receivable -$8,169,000 -$7,681,000 -$4,615,000 -$4,780,000
Changes in Inventories -$2,849,000 -$3,278,000 -$1,314,000 -$3,583,000
Other Operating Activities
Liabilities $24,499,000 $8,521,000 $4,886,000 $8,121,000
Net Cash Flow-Operating $66,064,000 $38,514,000 $30,723,000 $18,365,000
Cash Flows-Investing Activities        
Capital Expenditures -$40,140,000 -$16,861,000 -$13,427,000 -$11,955,000
Investments -$22,242,000 -$9,131,000 $1,140,000 -$3,054,000
Other Investing Activities $2,771,000 $1,711,000 -$82,000 -$12,075,000
Net Cash Flows-Investing -$59,611,000 -$24,281,000 -$12,369,000 -$27,084,000
Cash Flows-Financing Activities        
Sale and Purchase of Stock
Net Borrowings -$1,104,000 -$10,066,000 -$7,686,000 $9,928,000
Other Financing Activities
Net Cash Flows-Financing -$1,104,000 -$10,066,000 -$7,686,000 $9,928,000
Effect of Exchange Rate $618,000 $70,000 -$351,000 $713,000
Net Cash Flow $5,967,000 $4,237,000 $10,317,000 $1,922,000

Source: Nasdaq

As we can see, the Net Profit for Amazon is first adjusted for depreciation and net income adjustments. Then, the resulting Figure I was further adjusted for changes in current assets and liabilities to calculate cash flows from operating activities. 

This is unlike the direct method, where each cash item of the income statement is showcased separately to calculate cash flows from operating activities.

Direct Method Vs. Indirect Method of Cash Flows

S.No. Direct Method Indirect Method
1. The direct method of cash flows utilizes individual cash income and expense items to calculate cash flows from operating activities. The indirect method of cash flows utilizes net income as the starting point to calculate cash flows from operating activities. Then, it is adjusted for noncash items, non-operating items, and changes in working capital to calculate cash flows from operating activities.
2. The noncash, non-operating items are not considered, as no adjustments are made to the Net Profit or Net Loss. Cash income and cas expense items are considered separately. All noncash, non-operating items are considered for adjusting the business’s Net Profit or Net Loss.
3. This method’s cash flow statements are relatively accurate as each cash income and expense item is considered separately for calculating cash flows from operating activities. This method’s cash flow statements are relatively inaccurate as adjustments are made to the Net profit or Net Loss.
4. Very companies use the Direct Method to prepare their Cash Flow Statement. The majority of businesses use Indirect Method to prepare their Cash Flow Statements.
5. This method reconciles net earnings to net cash provided by operating activities. Net income gets converted into cash flows automatically.

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