The information found on the financial statements of an organization is the foundation of corporate accounting. This data is reviewed by management, investors, and lenders for the purpose of assessing the company's financial position.

Data found in the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow statement is used to calculate important financial ratios that provide insight on the company’s financial performance and potential issues that may need to be addressed. The balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement each offer unique details with information that is all interconnected. Together the three statements give a comprehensive portrayal of the company’s operating activities.

The Balance Sheet

Also referred to as the statement of financial position, a company's balance sheet provides information on what the company is worth from a book value perspective. The balance sheet is broken into three categories and provides summations of the company's assets, liabilities, and shareholders' equity on a specific date.

Generally, a comprehensive analysis of the balance sheet can offer several quick views. In order for the balance sheet to ‘balance,’ assets must equal liabilities plus equity. Analysts view the assets minus liabilities as the book value or equity of the firm. In some instances, analysts may also look at the total capital of the firm which analyzes liabilities and equity together. In the asset portion of the balance sheet, analysts will typically be looking at long term assets and how efficiently a company manages its receivables in the short-term.

There are a variety of ratios analysts use to gauge the efficiency of a company’s balance sheet. Some of the most common include asset turnover, the quick ratio, receivables turnover, days to sales, debt to assets, and debt to equity.

The Income Statement

A company's income statement provides details on the revenue a company earns and the expenses involved in its operating activities. Overall, it provides more granular detail on the holistic operating activities of a company. Broadly, the income statement shows the direct, indirect, and capital expenses a company incurs.

Starting with direct, the top line reports the level of revenue a company earned over a specific time frame. It then shows the expenses directly related to earning that revenue. Direct expenses are generally grouped into cost of goods sold or cost of sales which represents direct wholesale costs. Costs of sales are subtracted from revenue to arrive at gross profit. Gross profit is then often analyzed in comparison to total sales to identify a company’s gross profit margin.

Indirect expenses are also an important part of the income statement. Indirect expenses form a second category and show all costs indirectly associated with the revenue-generating activities of a firm. These costs can include salaries, general and administrative expenses, research and development, and depreciation and amortization. Together these indirect expenses are subtracted from gross profit to identify operating income.

The final category on the income statement factors in capital expenses. The last expenses to be considered here include interest, tax, and extraordinary items. The subtraction of these items results in the bottom line net income or total amount of earnings a company has achieved.

Offering a great deal of transparency on the company’s operating activities, the income statement is also a key driver of the company’s other two financial statements. Net income at the end of a period becomes part of the company’s short-term assets. Net income is also carried over to the cash flow statement where it serves as the top line item for operating activities. Sales booked during the period are also added to the company’s short term assets as accounts receivable.

On the income statement, analysts will typically be looking at a company’s operating efficiency. Therefore, key ratios used for analyzing the income statement include gross margin, operating margin, and net margin as well as tax ratio efficiency and interest coverage.

The Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement provides a view of a company’s overall liquidity by showing cash transaction activities. It reports all cash inflows and outflows over the course of an accounting period with a summation of the total cash available.

Standard cash flow statements will be broken into three parts: operating, investing, and financing. This financial statement highlights the net increase and decrease in total cash in each of these three areas.

The operating portion is closely tied with the income statement, showing cash generated from net earnings on the top line. The operating cash activities also include depreciation and amortization, and any operating write-offs such as uncollected accounts receivable.

The other two portions of the cash flow statement, investing and financing, are closely tied with the capital planning for the firm which is interconnected with the liabilities and equity on the balance sheet. Investing cash activities primarily focus on assets and show asset purchases and gains from invested assets. The financing cash activities focus on capital structure financing, showing proceeds from debt and stock issuance as well as cash payments for obligations such as interest and dividends.

A Comprehensive View

All three accounting statements are important for understanding and analyzing a company’s performance from multiple angles. The income statement provides deep insight into the core operating activities that generate earnings for the firm. The balance sheet and cash flow statement, however, focus more on the capital management of the firm in terms of both assets and structure.

Overall, top performing companies will achieve high marks in operating efficiency, asset management, and capital structuring. Management is responsible for overseeing these three levers in a way that serves the best interest of the shareholders, and the interconnected reporting of these levers is what makes financial statement reporting so important.