Importance of Financial Stability Ratios

Common ratios to judge the financial stability of a business concern are gearing ratio, current ratio and liquid ratio. Gearing ratio shows the extent of a firm's reliance on debt to fund its activities. As the proportion of debt climbs (especially if it exceeds 65 percent of total funds for most businesses), the greater the risk of financial distress. This is the downside of financial leverage – It increases the financial risk.

Current ratio measures the number of times the current assets of a firm cover its current liabilities. This is a measure of solvency: the capacity of a firm to pay its debts through the normal cash cycle, selling inventory on credit, collecting debts and paying creditors. This ratio must normally exceed 1: 1 and should be closer to 2: 1. It should also be noted that an excess of current assets will result in poor asset utilization.

Liquid or quick ratio is a more tighter measure of short term financial stability. It measures the firms ability to pay its current liabilities from its liquid assets. Liquid assets are cash or near cash resources. In practice liquid assets include cash, bank, short term securities and accounts receivable, the assets that be readily converted into cash to meet immediate calls for payment from lenders and suppliers.

Accounts receivables are normally included in liquid assets, as they may be sold to a finance company at a discount for later collection from debtors. This is called debt factoring. Debt factoring is not common in all the countries. Debt factoring is used as a means of managing the cash flow from operations, rather than trying entity's funds up in accounts receivable. In arriving at liquid assets, the principle exclusion from current assets is inventory. As this may take some months to sell – and then often to credit customers – it can be many months before cash is collected from inventory. Among the current liabilities may be some debts that may not be due for many months. These may be excluded in calculating the liquid ratio. Examples include tax payable and a current portion of long term debt, both of which may not be due for some months. However, such adjustments should only be made if the repayment dates are known and are over six months later than balance sheet date.

One common (but risky) adjustment in calculating the liquid ratio is to exclude bank overdraft from current liabilities. This is not recommended. When a liquid ratio declines towards (or below) the 1: 1 level (including overdraft), this is most likely time that the bank will require repayment – on demand. Hence, an overdraft should only be left out of this calculation when the firm is perfectly liquid – When it does not matter anyway!

As these ratios are based on the statement of financial position, they represent only a 'snapshot' of the financial stability of the business, taken at one point in time. These ratios can be manipulated by referring payments or delaying purchases until the following period, or by invoicing customers in advance of delivery. Known as 'window dressing', such techniques show an improved solvency position at balance sheet date.