basic understanding of financial management

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FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT DECISIONS

As the preceding discussion suggests, the financial manager must be concerned with three basic types of questions. We consider these in greater detail next.

Capital Budgeting The first question concerns the firm’s long-term investments. The process of planning and managing a firm’s long-term investments is called capital budgeting. In capital budgeting, the financial manager tries to identify investment opportunities that are worth more to the firm than they cost to acquire. Loosely speaking, this means that the value of the cash flow generated by an asset exceeds the cost of that asset.

capital budgeting The process of planning and managing a firm’s long-term investments.

The types of investment opportunities that would typically be considered depend in part on the nature of the firm’s business. For example, for a large retailer such as Walmart, deciding whether to open another store would be an important capital budgeting decision. Similarly, for a software company such as Oracle or Microsoft, the decision to develop and market a new spreadsheet program would be a major capital budgeting decision. Some decisions, such as what type of computer system to purchase, might not depend so much on a particular line of business.

Page 3FIGURE 1.1 A Sample Simplified Organizational Chart

Regardless of the specific nature of an opportunity under consideration, financial managers must be concerned not only with how much cash they expect to receive, but also with when they expect to receive it and how likely they are to receive it. Evaluating the size, timing, and risk of future cash flows is the essence of capital budgeting. In fact, as we will see in the chapters ahead, whenever we evaluate a business decision, the size, timing, and risk of the cash flows will be by far the most important things we will consider.

Capital Structure The second question for the financial manager concerns ways in which the firm obtains and manages the long-term financing it needs to support its long-term investments. A firm’s capital structure (or financial structure) is the specific mixture of long-term debt and equity the firm uses to finance its operations. The financial manager has two concerns in this area. First, how much should the firm borrow? That is, what mixture of debt and equity is best? The mixture chosen will affect both the risk and the value of the firm. Second, what are the least expensive sources of funds for the firm?

capital structure The mixture of debt and equity maintained by a firm.

Page 4If we picture the firm as a pie, then the firm’s capital structure determines how that pie is sliced—in other words, what percentage of the firm’s cash flow goes to creditors and what percentage goes to shareholders. Firms have a great deal of flexibility in choosing a financial structure. The question of whether one structure is better than any other for a particular firm is the heart of the capital structure issue.

In addition to deciding on the financing mix, the financial manager has to decide exactly how and where to raise the money. The expenses associated with raising long-term financing can be considerable, so different possibilities must be carefully evaluated. Also, corporations borrow money from a variety of lenders in a number of different, and sometimes exotic, ways. Choosing among lenders and among loan types is another job handled by the financial manager.

Working Capital Management The third question concerns working capital management. The term working capital refers to a firm’s short-term assets, such as inventory, and its short-term liabilities, such as money owed to suppliers. Managing the firm’s working capital is a day-to-day activity that ensures that the firm has sufficient resources to continue its operations and avoid costly interruptions. This involves a number of activities related to the firm’s receipt and disbursement of cash.

working capital A firm’s short-term assets and liabilities.

Some questions about working capital that must be answered are the following: (1) How much cash and inventory should we keep on hand? (2) Should we sell on credit? If so, what terms will we offer, and to whom will we extend them? (3) How will we obtain any needed short-term financing? Will we purchase on credit, or will we borrow in the short term and pay cash? If we borrow in the short term, how and where should we do it? These are just a small sample of the issues that arise in managing a firm’s working capital.

Conclusion The three areas of corporate financial management we have described—capital budgeting, capital structure, and working capital management—are very broad categories. Each includes a rich variety of topics, and we have indicated only a few questions that arise in the different areas. The chapters ahead contain greater detail.

Concept Questions

1.1a What is the capital budgeting decision?

1.1b What do you call the specific mixture of long-term debt and equity that a firm chooses to use?

1.1c Into what category of financial management does cash management fall?

1.2 Forms of Business Organization

Large firms in the United States, such as Ford and Microsoft, are almost all organized as corporations. We examine the three different legal forms of business organization—sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation—to see why this is so. Each form has distinct advantages and disadvantages for the life of the business, the ability of the business to raise cash, and taxes. A key observation is that as a firm grows, the advantages of the corporate form may come to outweigh the disadvantages.

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