How To Calculate Operating Cash Flow – Unlocking Financial Success

How To Calculate Operating Cash Flow

Operating cash flow is a critical financial metric that provides valuable insights into a company’s financial health. It reflects the amount of cash a business generates from its regular operating activities, excluding capital expenditures and investments.

Understanding how to calculate and analyze operating cash flow is essential for investors, business owners, and financial analysts.

An Overview

Operating cash flow is the cash generated by a company’s normal business operations. It indicates whether a company can generate sufficient positive cash flow to maintain and grow its operations, or if it may require external financing.

Calculating operating cash flow involves several components, including net income, depreciation, and changes in working capital.

Why is it Important?

This metric is a key indicator of a company’s financial health. It provides insights into the efficiency of a company’s operations and its ability to generate cash.

A positive operating cash flow indicates that a company is running efficiently, while a negative cash flow may signal financial troubles. It is also a crucial component in free cash flow calculation, another important financial metric.

Breaking Down the Formula

Breaking Down the Formula of Cash Flow

The operating cash flow formula might seem daunting at first, but breaking it down into its components makes it more manageable.

The Direct Method

The direct method of calculating operating cash flow involves summing up all the cash payments and receipts, including cash received from customers and cash paid for goods and services. This method provides a clearer picture of a company’s cash flow but requires detailed accounting records.

  • Cash received from customers
  • Cash paid for goods and services
  • Cash paid for operating expenses

The Indirect Method

The indirect method starts with net income and adjusts for changes in non-cash accounts. This method is more commonly used because it’s simpler and requires less detailed information.

  • Start with net income
  • Adjust for non-cash expenses (e.g., depreciation)
  • Adjust for changes in working capital

Here is an example of how to implement the indirect method and get the Operating Cash Flow.

Item Amount (in $) Description
Net Income 50,000 The company’s total profit after all expenses and taxes have been subtracted from revenues.
Depreciation +10,000 Non-cash expense for wear and tear on assets, added back to net income.
Amortization +5,000 Non-cash expense for gradual write-off of an intangible asset, added back to net income.
Increase in Accounts Receivable -7,000 Cash not received yet for sales made, subtracted from net income.
Increase in Inventory -8,000 Cash spent on additional inventory, subtracted from net income.
Increase in Accounts Payable +6,000 Cash not paid yet for expenses incurred, added back to net income.
Operating Cash Flow (OCF) 56,000 Net Income + Adjustments for Non-Cash Items + Changes in Working Capital

In this example, the company has a net income of $50,000. Non-cash expenses like depreciation and amortization are added back to the net income, resulting in an additional $15,000. Changes in working capital accounts are then accounted for, with an overall decrease of $9,000 in cash flow due to increases in accounts receivable and inventory, and an increase in accounts payable. The total Operating Cash Flow (OCF) for the company in this example is $56,000.

What are the Main Components?

What are the Main Components of Cashflow

To accurately calculate operating cash flow, it’s essential to understand and correctly handle its various components.

Net Income

Net income is the starting point for calculating operating cash flow using the indirect method. It represents a company’s total earnings, accounting for all revenues and expenses.

Depreciation and Amortization

These are non-cash expenses that reduce a company’s net income. Since they do not involve actual cash flow, they need to be added back to net income to calculate operating cash flow. In that matter, calculating the net cash flow is the first step.

Changes in Working Capital

Working capital is the difference between a company’s current assets and current liabilities. Changes in working capital can either increase or decrease operating cash flow.

Analyzing and Interpretation

Analyzing and Interpretation of Cash Flow

Calculating operating cash flow is one thing; understanding what the numbers tell you is another.

Positive vs. Negative Flow

A positive operating cash flow indicates that a company is generating enough cash to support its operations, while a negative cash flow could signal financial instability.

Trends and Patterns

Analyzing trends and patterns in operating cash flow over time can provide valuable insights into a company’s financial health and operational efficiency.

Comparing to Other Financial Metrics

Operating cash flow should not be looked at in isolation. Comparing it to other financial metrics, such as free cash flow and net income, provides a more comprehensive view of a company’s financial performance.

Advanced Techniques

After you learn the basics and how to implement them into the standard processes, you should also check out some advanced models that will help you calculate in-depth analysis and other more complex calculations.

Ratios and Benchmarks

Ratios and benchmarks are powerful tools in financial analysis, providing a standardized way to evaluate and compare a company’s performance over time or against its peers.

  • Operating Cash Flow to Sales Ratio: This ratio helps assess a company’s efficiency in generating cash from its sales. A higher ratio indicates better performance.
  • Operating Cash Flow to Total Debt Ratio: This ratio evaluates a company’s ability to cover its total debt with its operating cash flow, providing insights into its financial stability.

Trend Analysis and Forecasting

Understanding past trends and forecasting future performance are crucial for strategic planning and decision-making.

  • Historical Trend Analysis: Analyze the historical trends of a company’s operating cash flow to identify patterns or anomalies.
  • Cash Flow Forecasting: Use historical data and trend analysis to forecast future operating cash flows, aiding in budgeting and financial planning.

Assistance in Strategic Decision Making

Assistance in Strategic Decision Making for Cash Flow

Operating cash flow is not just a number on a financial statement; it’s a valuable tool for strategic decision-making.

Investment Decisions

A company’s operating cash flow provides insights into its ability to generate cash, which is crucial when evaluating potential investments or expansion opportunities.

  • Capital ExpendituresCompare operating cash flow to capital expenditures to assess a company’s ability to fund its investments with internal cash generation.
  • Investment Opportunities: Use operating cash flow analysis to evaluate the attractiveness and viability of potential investment opportunities.

Risk Management

Understanding and managing financial risks is crucial for long-term stability and success.

  • Liquidity Risk: Analyze operating cash flow to assess a company’s liquidity risk, ensuring it has enough cash to meet its short-term obligations.
  • Operational Risk: Use operating cash flow analysis to identify and mitigate operational inefficiencies and risks.

In-Depth Analytics and Performance

Operating cash flow plays a vital role in company valuation and performance measurement, providing a more accurate and reliable assessment than earnings-based metrics alone.


Operating cash flow is a key input in various valuation models, helping to determine a company’s intrinsic value.

  • Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Analysis: Use operating cash flow in DCF analysis to estimate a company’s present value based on its expected future cash flows.
  • Relative Valuation: Compare a company’s operating cash flow to that of its peers to assess relative value.

Performance Measurement

Evaluating a company’s performance is essential for stakeholders, and operating cash flow provides a clear and unbiased metric.

  • Return on Investment (ROI): Use operating cash flow to calculate ROI, providing a more accurate measure of investment performance.
  • Efficiency and Productivity: Assess a company’s operational efficiency and productivity through its operating cash flow generation.


How is Operating Cash Flow Calculated from EBIT?

Operating Cash Flow (OCF) can be calculated from Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) using a simple formula. You start with EBIT, add back any non-cash expenses like depreciation and amortization, and then subtract any taxes paid. Here’s how it looks: OCF=EBIT+Depreciation+Amortization−Taxes OCF=EBIT+Depreciation+Amortization−Taxes This formula helps you understand how much cash is generated from core business operations.

What is the Direct Method of Calculating Operating Cash Flow?

The direct method of calculating OCF involves directly using cash transactions. You take all the cash received from customers and subtract all the cash paid out for various expenses. Here’s the formula: OCF=Cash In−Cash Out OCF=Cash In−Cash Out This method provides a clear picture of a company’s cash flow from operations.

How Do You Derive Operating Cash Flow from Cash Flow from Assets?

To find Operating Cash Flow from Cash Flow from Assets, you need to make a couple of adjustments. Add back any interest paid and subtract any net borrowing. Here’s the formula: OCF=Cash Flow from Assets+Interest−Net Borrowing OCF=Cash Flow from Assets+Interest−Net Borrowing This calculation shows the cash generated from regular business activities.

What’s the Difference Between Free Cash Flow and Operating Cash Flow?

Free Cash Flow (FCF) and Operating Cash Flow (OCF) are both important metrics, but they serve different purposes. FCF shows how much cash a company has after it covers its capital expenditures, while OCF shows the cash generated from regular business operations. In short, FCF accounts for investment in assets, while OCF does not.

How is the Operating Cash Flow Margin Calculated?

The Operating Cash Flow Margin is a ratio that shows how efficiently a company is generating cash from its sales. It’s calculated with the following formula: Operating Cash Flow Margin=(Revenue/Operating Cash Flow)×100%


Operating cash flow is more than just a number; it’s a reflection of a company’s operational efficiency, financial stability, and long-term viability. By honing your skills in operating cash flow analysis, you empower yourself to make smarter financial decisions, identify investment opportunities, and mitigate risks, ultimately leading to greater success and financial prosperity.