Free Cash Flow - FCF

A measure of financial performance calculated as operating cash flow minus capital expenditures. Free cash flow (FCF) represents the cash that a company is able to generate after laying out the money required to maintain or expand its asset base. Free cash flow is important because it allows a company to pursue opportunities that enhance shareholder value. Without cash, it's tough to develop new products, make acquisitions, pay dividends and reduce debt. FCF is calculated as:

EBIT(1-Tax Rate) + Depreciation & Amortization - Change in Net Working Capital - Capital Expenditure

It can also be calculated by taking operating cash flow and subtracting capital expenditures.

Some believe that Wall Street focuses myopically on earnings while ignoring the "real" cash that a firm generates. Earnings can often be clouded by accounting gimmicks, but it's tougher to fake cash flow. For this reason, some investors believe that FCF gives a much clearer view of the ability to generate cash (and thus profits).

It is important to note that negative free cash flow is not bad in itself. If free cash flow is negative, it could be a sign that a company is making large investments. If these investments earn a high return, the strategy has the potential to pay off in the long run.


Investment dictionary. . 2012.

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