Asset Brief is an independent publisher focused on helping you improve your financial decisions. Some of the products featured may be from our partners. This does not influence our reviews, which are based on many hours of research.
What is net working capital?
Net working capital looks at the portion of a company’s assets and liabilities that are used in its day-to-day operations.
Net working capital is defined as the difference between a company's current assets and its current liabilities. These are also known as the working capital accounts.
The net working capital formula is:
Net working capital can be a positive or negative number.
Positive net working capital means the company has more money coming in than going out. Net working capital means the company has more short-term debt than short-term liabilities. This is not necessarily bad, as it means company is funding its growth by borrowing from its suppliers (and putting off paying them).
How should you think about net working capital?
The idea to keep in mind is the recurring transition of inventory to accounts receivables to cash on the asset side, and on the liabilities side, the recurring conversion of supplies to accounts payable to cash outlay.
The conversion from inventory to accounts receivable to cash is a source of funds that company uses to pay its liabilities.
What does net working capital measure?
The amount of net working capital is an indication of whether a company can withstand a sales downturn. It’s a measure of a company’s financial strength.
What is a good net working capital number?
A positive net working capital is better than a negative one. Positive net working capital means the company has enough current assets to pay off its current liabilities. Negative net working capital means the company does not have enough to pay off its current liabilities.
Higher net working capital is better…
Why does a company need more current assets than current liabilities? Put another way, is it okay if a company’s current assets is equal to its current liabilities?
The reason company’s generally want more current assets than current liabilities is because cash inflows are difficult to predict. The more predictable the conversion of current liabilities to cash is, then less net working capital a company needs.
Most company’s want some margin or buffer to make sure that it can pay off its current liabilities. The higher the net working capital, the greater the company’s ability to pay its bills.
…Too high net working capital is not good
If a company’s net working capital is too high, this is not a good either. This could indicate the company is holding too much inventory or it’s not investing its excess cash.
What are current assets and current liabilities?
Current assets generally turn into cash over the operating period of the company. Current liabilities are accounts that will be due for payment over the operating period.
Current assets include:
- Accounts Receivable
Current liabilities include:
- Short-term debt that is due within a year
How to calculate net working capital
The net working capital formula is:
Variations in calculating net working capital
Net working capital is always calculated using current asset and current liabilities, but there is some discretion in determining what counts as a current asset and what counts as a current liability.
Including or excluding cash in current assets
For example, cash is often included in current assets. However, you may want to exclude cash if you are looking at a newly formed company and the cash on the company's balance sheet is primarily from the formation capital that was invested into the business.
In a more established company, cash would be included as part of current assets.