2020 Curriculum CFA Program Level I Financial Reporting and Analysis

Financial Analysis Techniques

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Financial analysis tools can be useful in assessing a company’s performance and trends in that performance. In essence, an analyst converts data into financial metrics that assist in decision making. Analysts seek to answer such questions as: How successfully has the company performed, relative to its own past performance and relative to its competitors? How is the company likely to perform in the future? Based on expectations about future performance, what is the value of this company or the securities it issues?

A primary source of data is a company’s annual report, including the financial statements and notes, and management commentary (operating and financial review or management’s discussion and analysis). This reading focuses on data presented in financial reports prepared under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and United States generally accepted accounting principles (US GAAP). However, financial reports do not contain all the information needed to perform effective financial analysis. Although financial statements do contain data about the past performance of a company (its income and cash flows) as well as its current financial condition (assets, liabilities, and owners’ equity), such statements do not necessarily provide all the information useful for analysis nor do they forecast future results. The financial analyst must be capable of using financial statements in conjunction with other information to make projections and reach valid conclusions. Accordingly, an analyst typically needs to supplement the information found in a company’s financial reports with other information, including information on the economy, industry, comparable companies, and the company itself.

This reading describes various techniques used to analyze a company’s financial statements. Financial analysis of a company may be performed for a variety of reasons, such as valuing equity securities, assessing credit risk, conducting due diligence related to an acquisition, or assessing a subsidiary’s performance. This reading will describe techniques common to any financial analysis and then discuss more specific aspects for the two most common categories: equity analysis and credit analysis.

Equity analysis incorporates an owner’s perspective, either for valuation or performance evaluation. Credit analysis incorporates a creditor’s (such as a banker or bondholder) perspective. In either case, there is a need to gather and analyze information to make a decision (ownership or credit); the focus of analysis varies because of the differing interest of owners and creditors. Both equity and credit analyses assess the entity’s ability to generate and grow earnings, and cash flow, as well as any associated risks. Equity analysis usually places a greater emphasis on growth, whereas credit analysis usually places a greater emphasis on risks. The difference in emphasis reflects the different fundamentals of these types of investments: The value of a company’s equity generally increases as the company’s earnings and cash flow increase, whereas the value of a company’s debt has an upper limit.

The balance of this reading is organized as follows: Section 2 recaps the framework for financial statements and the place of financial analysis techniques within the framework. Section 3 provides a description of analytical tools and techniques. Section 4 explains how to compute, analyze, and interpret common financial ratios. Sections 5 through 8 explain the use of ratios and other analytical data in equity analysis, credit analysis, segment analysis, and forecasting, respectively. A summary of the key points and practice problems in the CFA Institute multiple-choice format conclude the reading. 

Learning Outcomes

The member should be able to:

  • describe tools and techniques used in financial analysis, including their uses and limitations;
  • classify, calculate, and interpret activity, liquidity, solvency, profitability, and valuation ratios;

  • describe relationships among ratios and evaluate a company using ratio analysis;

  • demonstrate the application of DuPont analysis of return on equity and calculate and interpret effects of changes in its components;

  • calculate and interpret ratios used in equity analysis and credit analysis;

  • explain the requirements for segment reporting and calculate and interpret segment ratios;

  • describe how ratio analysis and other techniques can be used to model and forecast earnings.

Note: Changes in accounting standards as well as new rulings and/or pronouncements issued after the publication of the readings on financial reporting and analysis may cause some of the information in these readings to become dated. Candidates are not responsible for anything that occurs after the readings were published. In addition, candidates are expected to be familiar with the analytical frameworks contained in the readings, as well as the implications of alternative accounting methods for financial analysis and valuation discussed in the readings. Candidates are also responsible for the content of accounting standards, but not for the actual reference numbers. Finally, candidates should be aware that certain ratios may be defined and calculated differently. When alternative ratio definitions exist and no specific definition is given, candidates should use the ratio definitions emphasized in the readings. 


Financial analysis techniques, including common-size financial statements and ratio analysis, are useful in summarizing financial reporting data and evaluating the performance and financial position of a company. The results of financial analysis techniques provide important inputs into security valuation. Key facets of financial analysis include the following:

  • Common-size financial statements and financial ratios remove the effect of size, allowing comparisons of a company with peer companies (cross-sectional analysis) and comparison of a company’s results over time (trend or time-series analysis).

  • Activity ratios measure the efficiency of a company’s operations, such as collection of receivables or management of inventory. Major activity ratios include inventory turnover, days of inventory on hand, receivables turnover, days of sales outstanding, payables turnover, number of days of payables, working capital turnover, fixed asset turnover, and total asset turnover.

  • Liquidity ratios measure the ability of a company to meet short-term obligations. Major liquidity ratios include the current ratio, quick ratio, cash ratio, and defensive interval ratio.

  • Solvency ratios measure the ability of a company to meet long-term obligations. Major solvency ratios include debt ratios (including the debt-to-assets ratio, debt-to-capital ratio, debt-to-equity ratio, and financial leverage ratio) and coverage ratios (including interest coverage and fixed charge coverage).

  • Profitability ratios measure the ability of a company to generate profits from revenue and assets. Major profitability ratios include return on sales ratios (including gross profit margin, operating profit margin, pretax margin, and net profit margin) and return on investment ratios (including operating ROA, ROA, return on total capital, ROE, and return on common equity).

  • Ratios can also be combined and evaluated as a group to better understand how they fit together and how efficiency and leverage are tied to profitability.

  • ROE can be analyzed as the product of the net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This decomposition is sometimes referred to as DuPont analysis.

  • Valuation ratios express the relation between the market value of a company or its equity (for example, price per share) and some fundamental financial metric (for example, earnings per share).

  • Ratio analysis is useful in the selection and valuation of debt and equity securities and is a part of the credit rating process.

  • Ratios can also be computed for business segments to evaluate how units within a business are performing.

  • The results of financial analysis provide valuable inputs into forecasts of future earnings and cash flow. 

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