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current ratio

The current ratio is an accounting measure that tells you if a company can pay such short-term obligations as payroll and rent for the year. A good metric for investors to use when analyzing securities, the current ratio is a relatively simple calculation: current assets divided by current liabilities. What’s not so simple is how to use the ratio. If this sounds like more than you want to take on, a financial advisor can help you with your investments. To find the right one for you, use SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service.

What Is the Current Ratio?

The current ratio is a measure of how likely a company is to be able to pay its debts in the short term. Short-term debts are generally money owed within a year. The current ratio  essentially indicates liquidity. Below 1 means the company will not be able to pay its debts within the year.

The formula for calculating the current ratio is:

Current Ratio = Current Assets/Current Liabilities

As an example, let’s say The Widget Firm currently has $1 million in cash and easily convertible assets (e.g., inventory) and $800,000 in debts due in the year (e.g., payroll and taxes).  We can plug this information into the formula to find the current ratio.

Current Ratio = $1,000,000/$800,000
Current Ratio = 1.25

Now that you know the current ratio, you can use it as part of your analysis of the company. The following section explains exactly how to use the current ratio in your analysis.

How to Use the Current Ratio

current ratio

It is easy to calculate the current ratio, but it takes a bit more nuance to employ it as a method of stock analysis. There isn’t a specific number you are looking for when calculating the current ratio. However, there are some basic inferences you can take from the current ratio once you’ve calculated it.

For instance, if the current ratio is less than 1, this means that the company’s outstanding debts owed within a year are higher than the current assets the company holds. This is generally not a good sign, as it could mean the company is in danger of becoming delinquent on its payments, which is never good. Keep in mind, though, that the company may simply be awaiting a big influx of cash, whether in the form of a new investment or payment for a big sale of the product it manufactures.

A particularly high current ratio also may not be a good sign. What makes for a high current ratio varies from industry to industry (restaurants tend to have lower current ratios than technology companies).  If the current ratio is close to five, for instance, that means the company has five times as much cash on hand as its current debts. While the company is obviously not in danger of going bankrupt, it has a huge amount of cash or easily convertible assets simply sitting in its coffers. A company could reinvest that money. It could hire more employees, build a new facility or expand its product line. The fact that it is not doing so could be signs of mismanagement or inefficiency.

Interpreting Changes to the Current Ratio

current ratio

While the current ratio at any given time is important, analysts and investors should also consider how the number has changed over time. That could show how the company is changing and what trajectory it is on.

If a company’s current ratio goes up over time, this could mean that it is paying off its debts or bringing in new revenue streams. Investors and analysts should investigate to see what caused the change. It’s possible a new management team has come in and righted the ship of a company that was in trouble, which could make it a good investment target.

A current ratio going down could mean that the company is picking up new or bigger debts. It could mean their revenue has gone down. Again, analysts and investors should investigate the cause to determine whether the company is a good investment.

The Bottom Line

The current ratio compares a company’s current assets to the debts that it will have to pay within the year. It is simply calculated by dividing a company’s total assets (cash and easily convertible assets) by its short-term debts (accounts payable for the year). Once you’ve calculated the current ratio, you can draw inferences about the company. These may help you decide whether or not it is a good investment. Don’t just look at the current ratio at any given time though. Also consider how the current ratio has changed over time and what that might mean for a company’s trajectory.

Investing Tips

  • The current ratio is just one of many metrics to consider before buying a stock. To make sure you’re not missing anything, consider hiring a financial advisor.  SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service can help you find the right one. You answer a few questions. We match you with up to three advisors in your area, all fully vetted and free of disclosures. You then talk to each advisor and decide how to move forward.
  • Capital gains taxes are a part of investing. If you want to see how much you may owe when you sell, use SmartAsset’s free capital gains tax calculator.

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Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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