The cash conversion cycle (CCC) is a key measurement of small business liquidity. The cash conversion cycle is the number of days between paying for raw materials or goods to be resold and receiving the cash from the sale of the goods either made from that raw material or purchased for resale. The cash conversion cycle measures the time between outlay of cash and the cash recovery. The cycle is a measure of the time that funds are tied up in the cycle. The CCC measure illustrates how quickly a company can convert its products into cash through sales. The shorter the cycle, the more working capital a business generates, and the less it has to borrow.
Effective management of the cash conversion cycle is imperative for small business owners. Indeed, the CCC is cited by economists and business consultants as one of the truest measures of business's health, particularly during periods of growth. Other often used ratios and measures of a company's activity may not provide advance notice of a cash flow problem as well as the CCC. For example, the current and quick ratios are popular with companies and their bankers. However, in a period when collections have slowed, asset turns have become sluggish and vendors have not extended terms beyond previously agreed limits, a clearly worrisome combination, the current ratio would probably look good. At the same time, the quick ratio may even show improvement or remain steady, even though the company is actually in substantial need of working capital. This happens because of the balance-sheet-oriented limitations of current and quick ratios. These often used ratios do not work well on a company going through a period of rapid and dynamic change.
Instead of the potentially misleading measurements mentioned above, small business owners should consider using the cash conversion cycle, which provides a more accurate reading of working capital pressure on cash flow. The objective is to keep the CCC as low as possible. During periods of growth, the goal should be to strive to maintain a constant CCC. Unless inventory, credit, or vendor policies change, rapid growth should not cause the CCC to increase. The ease with which this ratio can be calculated makes it an even more attractive measure for tracking a business's operations and managing cash flow.
Cash conversion cycles for small businesses are predicated on four central factors: 1) the number of days it takes customers to pay what they owe; 2) the number of days it takes the business to make its product (or complete its service); 3) the number of days the product (or service) sits in inventory before it is sold; 4) the length of time that the small business has to pay its vendors. The following formulas may be used to determine these factors:
- Accounts receivable days—divide the receivables balance by the last 12 months' sales, then multiply the result by 365 (the number of days in a year).
- Inventory days—take the inventory balance, divide it by the last 12 months' cost of goods sold, and then multiply the result by 365.
- Accounts payable days—take the company's payables balance, divide it by the last 12 months' cost of goods sold, and then multiply the resulting figure by 365.
Once a small business owner has these figures in hand, he or she can determine the company's cash conversion cycle by adding the receivable days to the production and inventory days and then subtracting the payables days. That will render the number of days a company's cash is tied up and is the first step in calculating how much money the company will want to secure for its revolving line of credit.
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