What Are the Ratios for Analyzing a Balance Sheet?

How to Calculate the Ratios for Analyzing a Balance Sheet

Balance Sheet Ratios and Calculations
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The ratios calculated from a company's balance sheet are used to determine its liquidity, solvency, and profitability. You can calculate three types of ratios from the balance sheet—liquidity (turn assets into cash), solvency (cash or equivalents to pay debts), and profitability ratios.

There are tons of ratios that can be used—here's how to calculate the most common ones for investors.

What Are the Balance Sheet Ratios?

The balance sheet is divided into three segments. Assets, or the value of what the company has, owns, or is owed. Liabilities (debts) are what the business owes, and shareholder's equity is the value that is owned by shareholders.

Balance sheets can have many types of entries that signify where the money came from, where it went, and who owes it to the business. Investors are generally concerned with profitability (how much money a company makes), liquidity (how fast a company can pay its debts), and solvency (how a company can pay its long-term debts).

Not all companies report their finances the same on balance sheets. This makes it difficult to compare companies based on their financial information alone.

How Do You Calculate the Balance Sheet Ratios?

The balance sheet and the income sheet are used to determine many of the ratios used to analyze the balance sheet. For some of the ratios, you can use the information on just the balance sheet, and for others, you need to use data from both sheets.

How Do You Calculate Profitability Ratios?

Profitability ratios show how much money a company makes and how it distributes the cash to operate and reward investors.

  • Gross profit
  • Contribution margin
  • Net profit
  • Return on equity
  • Return on assets

Gross profit margin is used to figure out how much profit is left after sales and when all administrative and selling costs have been paid. To calculate the gross profit of a company, use the formula:

Gross Profit Margin


The contribution margin ratio subtracts all variable expenses from sales and is divided by sales. The ratio demonstrates the percentage of profit left to pay for fixed expenses and call a profit. The formula reads:

Contribution Margin Ratio


The net profit margin ratio indicates the ratio of sales that is left after expenses are paid.

Net Profit Ratio


The return on equity ratio shows the ratio of income to shareholder's equity, demonstrating to investors their investment return.

Return on Equity


A business's assets should provide profit for the company. The return on assets ratio offers a measurement of how well the business is doing this.

Return on Assets


How Do You Calculate Liquidity?

Liquidity ratios measure how quickly a company can pay off its debts by liquidizing assets or using cash.

  • Current ratio
  • Quick ratio
  • Cash ratio

The current ratio measures the percentage of current assets to current liabilities. The one limitation of the current ratio is that it includes inventory, which isn't quickly converted into cash.

Current Ratio


The quick ratio is the same as the current ratio, but you subtract inventory first because it isn't a liquid asset.

Quick Ratio


Cash and convertible investments are compared to current liabilities to show how fast debts can be paid with either or both.

Cash Ratio


How Do You Calculate Solvency?

Solvency ratios are used to figure out how a company is positioned to pay off its debts. The current and quick ratios are capable of being used for liquidity and solvency tests.

  • Current ratio
  • Quick ratio
  • Debt to equity
  • Interest coverage
  • Essential solvency ratio

The debt-to-equity ratio demonstrates how much debt a company has compared to its equity.

Debt to Equity


The interest coverage ratio is used to figure out if a company can pay its interest debts.

Interest Coverage Ratio


One last ratio is not necessarily named but is essential to know. This ratio compares profit and non-cash items to all liabilities. It gives an investor a clearer picture of whether a business can meet all its financial obligations. This ratio is called the essential ratio.

Essential Ratio


How the Balance Sheet Ratios Work

The ratios are used to gather an all-encompassing picture of how a company manages its finances. The profitability ratios, when used together, establish whether the business is creating earnings. One caveat to determining whether a business is profitable or not is that it has to be compared to companies similar in financial structure, operational structure, supply chain, and other aspects of the business.

This comparison also needs to be applied to solvency and liquidity ratios, especially ratios that indicate low performance. All of these ratios have a general guideline that indicates whether the business is performing well or not. For example, if you have $1 of debt and $3 of equity, your debt-to-equity ratio is .333. General guidelines for this ratio suggest that any ratio of less than one is a good indicator.

When judging whether a business is a good investment or not, it helps to compare as much past financial performance data as possible.

The ratios are beneficial for comparing a company's past performance to its current performance. This is usually done on a comparative balance sheet that shows multiple periods' worth of financial data.

Limitations of the Balance Sheet Ratios

While the ratios derived from a balance sheet provide an investor with a picture of a company's finances, the ratios are limited to a specific period. The snapshot provided is how the company has performed in the past—not how it performs in the present.

Publicized balance sheets generally don't advertise much of the financial knowledge that could be useful to investors, such as the amount spent on specific projects. Instead, they sometimes see an estimate of research and development costs. This is useful, as it lets investors know the company is reinvesting in itself, but not much else is helpful about it.

Key Takeaways

  • Balance sheet ratios evaluate a company's financial performance.
  • There are three types of ratios derived from the balance sheet: liquidity, solvency, and profitability.
  • Liquidity ratios demonstrate the ability to turn assets into cash quickly.
  • Solvency ratios show the ability to pay off debts.
  • Profitability ratios show the ability to generate income.