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What is an 'Incremental Cash Flow'

An incremental cash flow is the additional operating cash flow that an organization receives from taking on a new project. A positive incremental cash flow means that the company's cash flow will increase with the acceptance of the project. A positive incremental cash flow is a good indication that an organization should spend some time and money investing in the project.

BREAKING DOWN 'Incremental Cash Flow'

There are several components that must be identified when looking at incremental cash flows: the initial outlay, cash flows from taking on the project, terminal cost or value, and the scale and timing of the project.

Incremental cash flow is the net cash flow from all cash inflows and outflows over a specific time period and between two or more business choices. For example, a business may project the net effects on the cash flow statement by investing in a new business line or by expanding an existing business line. The project that has the higher incremental cash flow may be the better choice for the business. Incremental cash flow projections are required for calculating a project's net present value, internal rate of return and payback period. Projecting incremental cash flows may also be helpful in projecting certain balance sheet line items.

Examples

As a simple example, assume that a business is looking to develop a new product line and has two alternatives, Line A and Line B. Over the next year, Line A is projected to have revenues of $200,000 and expenses of $50,000. Line B is expected to have revenues of $325,000 and have expenses of $190,000. Line A would require an initial cash outlay of $35,000, and Line B would require an initial cash outlay of $25,000.

To calculate each project's net incremental cash flow for the year, an analyst would use the following formula:

Incremental cash flow = revenues - expenses - initial cost

In this example, the incremental cash flows for each project would be:

Line A incremental cash flow = $200,000 - $50,000 - $35,000 = $115,000

Line B incremental cash flow = $325,000 - $190,000 - $25,000 = $110,000

Even though Line B generates much more revenue than Line A, due to its expenses and initial capital outlay, its resulting incremental cash flow is $5,000 less than Line A's. If a manager in charge of capital budgeting decisions chose a project solely based off of incremental cash flow, he should choose Line A.

Difficulty in Forecasting

The simple example above explains the idea, but in practice, incremental cash flows are extremely difficult to project. Besides the potential variables within a business that could affect incremental cash flows, many external variables are difficult or impossible to project. Market conditions, regulatory policies and legal policies may impact incremental cash flow in unpredictable and unexpected ways.

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