Financial Capital, Its Types, and Its Critical Role in the Economy

How Capital Is Used in Business and Economics

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Financial capital is the money, credit, and other forms of funding that build wealth. Individuals use financial capital to invest, by making a down payment on a home, or creating a portfolio for retirement. 

Financial capital should not be confused with the economics term capital. These are assets that make up one of the four factors of production that drive supply. That includes capital goods, such as machinery, equipment, and tools.

The other three factors are natural resources (the raw materials), entrepreneurship (the drive to profit from innovation), and labor (the number of employees). Labor can also be considered human capital or the skills and abilities of their people. Social capital is the value of a network of people.  A market economy automatically provides these components of supply to meet demand from consumers.

Sometimes financial capital is called the fifth factor of production, although that's not exactly accurate. It facilitates production by providing income to the owners of production, but it is not itself a factor of production.

Capital in Business

In business accounting, capital is how companies invest in their businesses. They can't use the money to give themselves raises, increase dividends, or lower prices. They must use it to produce greater gains in the future. A business uses capital to transform itself into something more profitable. 

Types of Business Capital

In business, there are three types of financial capital. The first is debt. Companies receive capital now that you pay back with interest. At first, many entrepreneurs borrow from family members or their credit cards. Once they have a track record, they can get bank loans and federal government assistance from the Small Business Administration.

As these businesses continue to grow, they become large enough to issue individual bonds to investors. The advantage of debt is that owners don't have to share the profits. The disadvantage is that they must repay the loan even if the business fails. 

The second type of capital is equity. Investors give cash now for a share of the profits later. Most entrepreneurs use their own cash to get started. They put their own equity into the business in hopes of receiving 100 percent of the return later. If the company is profitable, they forgo spending some of the cash flow now and instead invest it in the business.

A larger firm gets equity from partners, venture capitalists, or angel investors. This must give up some control, and ownership, of the business in exchange for the cash.

Once a company becomes really large and successful, it can get additional capital from issuing stocks. This is called an initial public offering. It means any investor can purchase the company's stock.

The third type of capital is specialty capital. It's the extra cash flow that comes from managing the company's operations better. Vendor financing is when the company's suppliers are willing to accept delayed payment for their goods or services. Supply chain financing is like a pay-day loan for businesses. Banks lend the company the amount of an invoice (minus a fee), and accept payment when the invoice is paid. Company finance managers can also create extra capital through investing wisely.

Capital Structure

How a company creates and manages its capital is known as its capital structure. Most public companies use a combination of debt, through bonds, and equity, through various types of stock. Many analysts use a simple formula, the debt-to-equity ratio, to determine how solid a company is. Companies with a ratio of 50 percent or more have more debt than equity. Analysts consider them to be highly leveraged and therefore riskier.

Capital Markets

Easy access to capital has been one of the most important drivers of U.S. economic success. America has the world's most sophisticated financial markets. The transparency of the U.S. stock market allows investors to gain up-to-date information about every aspect of companies in which they might invest.