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A horse called “Read The Footnotes” ran in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. He finished seventh, but if he had won, it would have been a victory for financial literacy proponents everywhere. It’s so important to read the footnotes. The footnotes to financial statements are packed with information. Here are some of the highlights:  

  • Significant accounting policies and practices – Companies are required to disclose the accounting policies that are most important to the portrayal of the company’s financial condition and results. These often require management’s most difficult, subjective or complex judgments. 
  • Income taxes – The footnotes provide detailed information about the company’s current and deferred income taxes. The information is broken down by level – federal, state, local and/or foreign, and the main items that affect the company’s effective tax rate are described. 
  • Pension plans and other retirement programs – The footnotes discuss the company’s pension plans and other retirement or post-employment benefit programs. The notes contain specific information about the assets and costs of these programs, and indicate whether and by how much the plans are over- or under-funded. 
  • Stock options – The notes also contain information about stock options granted to officers and employees, including the method of accounting for stock-based compensation and the effect of the method on reported results.  

Read the MD&A 

You can find a narrative explanation of a company’s financial performance in a section of the quarterly or annual report entitled, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.” MD&A is management’s opportunity to provide investors with its view of the financial performance and condition of the company. It’s management’s opportunity to tell investors what the financial statements show and do not show, as well as important trends and risks that have shaped the past or are reasonably likely to shape the company’s future.  

The SEC’s rules governing MD&A require disclosure about trends, events or uncertainties known to management that would have a material impact on reported financial information. The purpose of MD&A is to provide investors with information that the company’s management believes to be necessary to an understanding of its financial condition, changes in financial condition and results of operations. It is intended to help investors to see the company through the eyes of management. It is also intended to provide context for the financial statements and information about the company’s earnings and cash flows.  

Financial Statement Ratios and Calculations 

You’ve probably heard people banter around phrases like “P/E ratio,” “current ratio” and “operating margin.” But what do these terms mean and why don’t they show up on financial statements? Listed below are just some of the many ratios that investors calculate from information on financial statements and then use to evaluate a company. As a general rule, desirable ratios vary by industry.  

  • Debt-to-equity ratio compares a company’s total debt to shareholders’ equity. Both of these numbers can be found on a company’s balance sheet. To calculate debt-to-equity ratio, you divide a company’s total liabilities by its shareholder equity, or 

Debt-to-Equity Ratio = Total Liabilities / Shareholders’ Equity 

If a company has a debt-to-equity ratio of 2 to 1, it means that the company has two dollars of debt to every one dollar shareholders invest in the company. In other words, the company is taking on debt at twice the rate that its owners are investing in the company.  

  • Inventory turnover ratio compares a company’s cost of sales on its income statement with its average inventory balance for the period. To calculate the average inventory balance for the period, look at the inventory numbers listed on the balance sheet. Take the balance listed for the period of the report and add it to the balance listed for the previous comparable period, and then divide by two. (Remember that balance sheets are snapshots in time. So the inventory balance for the previous period is the beginning balance for the current period, and the inventory balance for the current period is the ending balance.) To calculate the inventory turnover ratio, you divide a company’s cost of sales (just below the net revenues on the income statement) by the average inventory for the period, or 

Inventory Turnover Ratio = Cost of Sales / Average Inventory for the Period 

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