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"Cash is king."

"Follow the money."

If either of those sayings strikes a chord with you, then allow me to introduce you to the cash flow statement, which shows you how cash makes its way from the income statement to the balance sheet.

See, just because the income statement shows net income of $10, that does not mean that cash on the balance sheet will increase by $10. In the typical "accrual" accounting system, as opposed to a cash-in/cash-out system, a $10 "profit" isn't necessarily a profit at all. Let's walk through a simple example that will show the difference between the two forms of accounting, and then we'll use that knowledge to make sense of a company's cash flow statement.

This past Friday, Lil' Jimmy's Lemonade Stand opened for business. (Jimmy's mom told him that if he really wanted that new Motley Fool jester cap, he'd have to save up the money on his own.) Here's what his balance sheet looked like on Friday:

Assets

Cash

$5

Inventory (Powdered Lemonade)

$30

Total

$35

Liabilities and Equity

Interest-Free Loan From Mom

$30

Equity

$5

Total

$35

By staking out a busy street corner where runners pass frequently, and by serving up the finest ice-cold pink lemonade, and -- most importantly -- by wearing a sad puppy-dog look, our shrewd 8-year-old proprietor made out like a bandit. A hot and sunny Saturday and Sunday worked to his advantage; he sold 100 cups at the ridiculously high price of $1 apiece, which was four times his cost. Wowzers! That's a 75% gross margin. Being quite the little businessman, Jimmy knew that not all joggers carry cash, but instead of missing those potential sales, he allowed his suckers ... er, customers to pay him at any time in the next week. In fact, half of the passers-by took him up on the option to pay later. Last night, Jimmy "closed the books." Here's what the income statement looks like on an accrual basis:

Accrual Income Statement for the Weekend

Sales

$100

- Cost of Sales

-$25

= Net Income

$75

As you can see, accrual accounting allows you to count items as "sold" even if you haven't yet collected the cash from that sell. In Jimmy's case, that means he booked a "profit" of $75, even though he collected only $50 in cash (half of his sales). Now, let's consider what things would look like if Jimmy were to account for his entrepreneurial venture on a cash basis.

Cash Income Statement for the Weekend

Cash sales

$50

- Cost of sales

-$25

= Net income

$25

On a cash basis, Jimmy would not record the other $50 in sales until his customers paid up. Nevertheless, as you can see, right now he would record his $25 of lemonade powder costs, because they had been used. This type of accounting shows the true cash profit of $25. Under the accrual system, the balance sheet would appear as follows for Sunday:

Assets

Cash

$55

Accounts Receivable

$50

Inventory

$5

Total

$110

Liabilities and Equity

Interest-Free Loan From Mom

$30

Equity

$80

Total

$110

Since Jimmy's $100 in sales was half cash and half to be paid later, cash increased by $50 and Jimmy registered the other $50 as "accounts receivable." (Smart kid, eh?) All public companies use an accrual accounting system. Therefore, the important lesson to take away from the heroic tale of Jimmy, a budding American capitalist, is that the income statement does not tell you what's really happening inside a company. For the real story, we use the balance sheet, and for the rest of the story, we look to the cash flow statement. The cash flow statement is divided into three sections -- operating activities, investment activities, and financing activities. Let's walk through the Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation California Water Service (NYSE:CWT) cash flow statement as an example. The operating section is most important, since it allows us to follow the cash involved in a company's core business operations. Before talking about the other sections, let's look just at the company's operating cash flow.

Operations

2006 (in thousands)

2005 (in thousands)

Net Income

$25,600

$27,200

Depreciation and Amortization Total

$30,700

$28,700

Gain on Sale

 ($300)

($2,300)

Change in Accounts Receivable

($5,300)

$3,400

Change in Accounts Payable

 ($900)

$12,600

Change in Income Taxes

 ($400)

$6,500

Change in Deferred Taxes

$3,200

$3,900

Change in Working Capital -- Others

$7,800

$1,700

Net Cash From Operations

$61,000

$82,500

Starting with net income on the top line, the cash flow statement makes adjustments to net income that "un-accrue" the effects of the income statement. A positive number means that cash is being "added back" to net income where the income statement had deducted it, and vice versa for a negative number. (Notice the substantial amounts of cash that come from deferred expenses.) The bottom-line result is "net cash from operations." Think of this number as the company's true cash profit.

The next section is investing activities:

Investing

2006 (in thousands)

2005 (in thousands)

Capital Expenditures

($114,400)

($90,700)

Sale of Plant, Property, and Equipment

$400

$2,300

Cash Acquisitions

($500)

($500)

Divestitures

$0

$0

Total Other Investing Activities

$0

$0

Net Cash From Investing Activities

($114,600)

($88,900)

Here, we see how much the company spends on capital expenditures, or "capex," as it's sometimes called. These are investments that the company is making for the purpose of building its business. The other items are simply "movements" of cash.

Finally, we have financing activities:

Financing

2006 (in thousands)

2005 (in thousands)

Total Debt Issued

$19,900

$200

Total Debt Repaid

($1,800)

($1,200)

Issuance of Common Stock

$79,500

$700

Total Dividends Paid

($22,000)

($21,100)

Other Financing Activities

$28,800

$18,500

Net Cash From Financing

$104,400

($2,900)

Cash flow from financing activities tells us the goings-on of cash associated with dividends and stock repurchases.

Below is the final portion of the cash flow statement.

Cash and Short-Term Investments

2006 (in thousands)

2005 (in thousands)

Net Change in Cash and Cash Equivalents

$50,800

($9,300)

Cash and Equivalents, Beginning of Period

$9,500

$18,800

Cash and Equivalents, End of Period

$60,300

$9,500

Short-Term Investments, End of Period

$0

$0

Cash and Short-Term Investments, End of Period

$60,300

$9,500

This final section combines the cash flows from the three subsections and thereby reconciles the cash balance from one period to the next. The $60.3 million you see at the bottom is the amount of cash that exists at the end of the most recent year, and therefore is the amount you would see on the company's balance sheet.

California Water Service is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. For more investing education, check out a free 30-day trial of the newsletter or peruse any of our other newsletters.

William Young updated this article, which was originally written by Matt Richey. William does not own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.