Richard Bowett introduces the important concept of the profit and loss account:
Introduction - the Meaning of Profit
The starting point in understanding the profit and loss account is to be clear about the meaning of "profit".
Profit is the incentive for business; without profit people wouldn't’t bother. Profit is the reward for taking risk; generally speaking high risk = high reward (or loss if it goes wrong) and low risk = low reward. People won’t take risks without reward. All business is risky (some more than others) so no reward means no business. No business means no jobs, no salaries and no goods and services.
This is an important but simple point. It is often forgotten when people complain about excessive profits and rewards, or when there are appeals for more taxes to pay for eg more policemen on the streets.
Profit also has an important role in allocating resources (land, labour, capital and enterprise). Put simply, falling profits (as in a business coming to an end eg black-and-white TVs) signal that resources should be taken out of that business and put into another one; rising profits signal that resources should be moved into this business. Without these signals we are left to guess as to what is the best use of society’s scarce resources.
People sometimes say that government should decide (or at least decide more often) how much of this or that to make, but the evidence is that governments usually do a bad job of this e.g. the Dome.
The Task of Accounting - Measuring Profit
The main task of accounts, therefore, is to monitor and measure profits.
Profit = Revenue less Costs
So monitoring profit also means monitoring and measuring revenue and costs. There are two parts to this:-
1) Recording financial data. This is the ‘book-keeping’ part of accounting.
2) Measuring the result. This is the ‘financial’ part of accounting. If we say ‘profits are high’ this begs the question ‘high compared to what?’ (You can look at this idea in more detail when covering Ratio Analysis)
Profits are ‘spent’ in three ways.
1) Retained for future investment and growth.2) Returned to owners eg a ‘dividend’.3) Paid as tax.
Parts of the Profit and Loss Account
The Profit & Loss Account aims to monitor profit. It has three parts.
1) The Trading Account.
This records the money in (revenue) and out (costs) of the business as a result of the business’ ‘trading’ ie buying and selling. This might be buying raw materials and selling finished goods; it might be buying goods wholesale and selling them retail. The figure at the end of this section is the Gross Profit.
2) The Profit and Loss Account proper
This starts with the Gross Profit and adds to it any further costs and revenues, including overheads. These further costs and revenues are from any other activities not directly related to trading. An example is income received from investments.
3) The Appropriation Account. This shows how the profit is ‘appropriated’ or divided between the three uses mentioned above.
Uses of the Profit and Loss Account.
1) The main use is to monitor and measure profit, as discussed above. This assumes that the information recording is accurate. Significant problems can arise if the information is inaccurate, either through incompetence or deliberate fraud.
2) Once the profit(loss) has been accurately calculated, this can then be used for comparison ie judging how well the business is doing compared to itself in the past, compared to the managers’ plans and compared to other businesses.
3) There are ways to ‘fix’ accounts. Internal accounts are rarely ‘fixed’, because there is little point in the managers fooling themselves (unless fraud is going on) but public accounts are routinely ‘fixed’ to create a good impression out to the outside world. If you understand accounts, you can usually (not always) spot these ‘fixes’ and take them out to get a true picture.
Example Profit and Loss Account:
An example profit and loss account is provided below:
Revenue 12,500 10,000
Cost of Sales 7,500 6,000
Gross Profit 5,000 4,000
Gross profit margin (gross profit / revenue) 40% 40%
Sales and distribution 1,260 1,010
Finance and administration 570 555
Other overheads 970 895
Depreciation 235 210
Total Operating Costs 3,035 2,670
Operating Profit (gross profit less operating costs) 1,965 1,330
Operating profit margin (operating profit / revenue) 15.7% 13.3%
Interest (450) (475)
Profit before Tax 1,515 855
Taxation (455) (255)
Profit after Tax 1,060 600
Dividends 650 400
Retained Profits 410 200