Ratio Analysis: Nature and Interpretation
Ratio analysis is a technique of analysis and interpretation of financial statements. It is the process of establishing and interpreting various ratios for helping in making certain decisions. However, ratio analysis is not an end in itself. It is only a means of better understanding of financial strengths and weaknesses of a firm.
Calculation of mere ratios does not serve any purpose, unless several appropriate ratios are analyzed and interpreted. There are a number of ratios which can be calculated from the information given in the financial statements, but the analyst has to select the appropriate data and calculate only a few appropriate ratios from the same keeping in mind the objective of analysis. The ratios may be used as a symptom like blood pressure, the pulse rate or the body temperature and their interpretation depends upon the calibre and competence of the analyst.
The following are the four steps involved in the ratio analysis:
(i) Selection of relevant data from the financial statements depending upon the objective of the analysis.
(ii) Calculation of appropriate ratios from the above data.
(iii) Comparison of the calculated ratios with the ratios of the same firm in the past, or the ratios developed from projected financial statements or the ratios of some other firms or the comparison with ratios of the industry to which the firm belongs.
(iv) Interpretation of the ratios.
Uses of Ratio Analysis:
The ratio analysis is one of the most powerful tools of financial analysis. It is used as a device to analyze and interpret the financial health of enterprise. Just like a doctor examines his patient by recording his body temperature, blood pressure, etc. before making his conclusion regarding the illness and before giving his treatment, a financial analyst analyses the financial statements with various tools of analysis before commenting upon the financial health or weaknesses of an enterprise.
‘A ratio is known as a symptom like blood pressure, the pulse rate or the temperature of an individual.’ It is with help of ratios that the financial statements can be analyzed more clearly and decisions made from such analysis. The use of ratios is not confined to financial managers only. There are different parties interested in the ratio analysis for knowing the financial position of a firm for different purposes.
The supplier of goods on credit, banks, financial institutions, investors, shareholders and management all make use of ratio analysis as a tool in evaluating the financial position and performance of a firm for granting credit, providing loans or making investments in the firm. With the use of ratio analysis one can measure the financial condition of a firm and can point out whether the condition is strong, good, questionable or poor. The conclusions can also be drawn as to whether the performance of the firm is improving or deteriorating.
Thus, ratios have wide applications and are of immense use today:
(a) Managerial Uses of Ratio Analysis:
- Helps in decision-making:
Financial statements are prepared primarily for decision-making. But the information provided in financial statements is not an end in itself and no meaningful conclusion can be drawn from these statements alone. Ratio analysis helps in making decisions from the information provided in these financial statements.
- Helps in financial forecasting and planning:
Ratio Analysis is of much help in financial forecasting and planning. Planning is looking ahead and the ratios calculated for a number of years work as a guide for the future. Meaningful conclusions can be drawn for future from these ratios. Thus, ratio analysis helps in forecasting and planning.
- Helps in communicating:
The financial strength and weakness of a firm are communicated in a more easy and understandable manner by the use of ratios. The information contained in the financial statements is conveyed in a meaningful manner to the one for whom it is meant. Thus, ratios help in communication and enhance the value of the financial statements.
- Helps in co-ordination:
Ratios even help in co-ordination which is of utmost importance in effective business management. Better communication of efficiency and weakness of an enterprise results in better coordination in the enterprise.
- Helps in Control:
Ratio analysis even helps in making effective control of the business. Standard ratios can be based upon proforma financial statements and variances or deviations, if any, can be found by comparing the actual with the standards so as to take a corrective action at the right time. The weaknesses or otherwise, if any, come to the knowledge of the management which helps in effective control of the business.
- Other Uses:
These are so many other uses of the ratio analysis. It is an essential part of the budgetary control and standard costing. Ratios are of immense importance in the analysis and interpretation of financial statements as they bring the strength or weakness of a firm.
(b) Utility to Shareholders/Investors:
An investor in the company will like to assess the financial position of the concern where he is going to invest. His first interest will be the security of his investment and then a return in the form of dividend or interest. For the first purpose he will try to asses the value of fixed assets and the loans raised against them. The investor will feel satisfied only if the concern has sufficient amount of assets.
Long-term solvency ratios will help him in assessing financial position of the concern. Profitability ratios, on the other hand, will be useful to determine profitability position. Ratio analysis will be useful to the investor in making up his mind whether present financial position of the concern warrants further investment or not.
(c) Utility to Creditors:
The creditors or suppliers extend short-term credit to the concern. They are interested to know whether financial position of the concern warrants their payments at a specified time or not. The concern pays short- term creditor, out of its current assets. If the current assets are quite sufficient to meet current liabilities then the creditor will not hesitate in extending credit facilities. Current and acid-test ratios will give an idea about the current financial position of the concern.
(d) Utility to Employees:
The employees are also interested in the financial position of the concern especially profitability. Their wage increases and amount of fringe benefits are related to the volume of profits earned by the concern. The employees make use of information available in financial statements. Various profitability ratios relating to gross profit, operating profit, net profit, etc. enable employees to put forward their viewpoint for the increase of wages and other benefits.
(e) Utility to Government:
Government is interested to know the overall strength of the industry. Various financial statements published by industrial units are used to calculate ratios for determining short-term, long-term and overall financial position of the concerns. Profitability indexes can also be prepared with the help of ratios. Government may base its future policies on the basis of industrial information available from various units. The ratios may be used as indicators of overall financial strength of public as well as private sector, in the absence of the reliable economic information, governmental plans and policies may not prove successful.
(f) Tax Audit Requirements:
Section 44 AB was inserted in the Income Tax Act by the Finance Act, 1984. Under this section every assesse engaged in any business and having turnover or gross receipts exceeding Rs. 40 lakh is required to get the accounts audited by a chartered accountant and submit the tax audit report before the due date for filing the return of income under Section 139 (1). In case of a professional, a similar report is required if the gross receipts exceed Rs 10 lakh.
Clause 32 of the Income Tax Act requires that the following accounting ratios should be given:
(i) Gross Profit/Turnover
(ii) Net Profit/Turnover
(iv) Material Consumed/Finished Goods Produced.
Further, it is advisable to compare the accounting ratios for the year under consideration with the accounting ratios for the earlier two years so that the auditor can make necessary enquiries, if there is any major variation in the accounting ratios.
Limitations of Ratio Analysis:
The ratio analysis is one of the most powerful tools of financial management.
Though ratios are simple to calculate and easy to understand, they suffer from some serious limitations:
1. Limited Use of a Single Ratio:
A single ratio, usually, does not convey much of a sense. To make a better interpretation a number of ratios have to be calculated which is likely to confuse the analyst than help him in making any meaningful conclusion.
2. Lack of Adequate Standards:
There are no well accepted standards or rules of thumb for all ratios which can be accepted as norms. It renders interpretation of the ratios difficult.
3. Inherent Limitations of Accounting:
Like financial statements, ratios also suffer from the inherent weakness of accounting records such as their historical nature. Ratios of the past are not necessarily true indicators of the future.
4. Change of Accounting Procedure:
Change in accounting procedure by a firm often makes ratio analysis misleading, e.g., a change in the valuation of methods of inventories, from FIFO to LIFO increases the cost of sales and reduces considerably the value of closing stocks which makes stock turnover ratio to be lucrative and an unfavorable gross profit ratio.
5. Window Dressing:
Financial statements can easily be window dressed to present a better picture of its financial and profitability position to outsiders. Hence, one has to be very careful in making a decision from ratios calculated from such financial statements. But it may be very difficult for an outsider to know about the window dressing made by a firm.
6. Personal Bias:
Ratios are only means of financial analysis and not an end in itself. Ratios have to be interpreted and different people may interpret the same ratio in different ways.
Not only industries differ in their nature but also the firms of the similar business widely differ in their size and accounting procedures, etc. It makes comparison of ratios difficult and misleading. Moreover, comparisons are made difficult due to differences in definitions of various financial terms used in the ratio analysis.
8. Absolute Figures Distortive:
Ratios devoid of absolute figures may prove distortive as ratio analysis is primarily a quantitative analysis and not a qualitative analysis.
9. Price Level Changes:
While making ratio analysis, no consideration is made to the changes in price levels and this makes the interpretation of ratios invalid.
10. Ratios no Substitutes:
Ratio analysis is merely a tool of financial statements. Hence, ratios become useless if separated from the statements from which they are computed.
11. Clues not Conclusions:
Ratios provide only clues to analysts and not final conclusions. These ratios have to be interpreted by these experts and there are no standard rules for interpretation.