Operating cash flow formula explained by a professional 

Have you recently thought about what the operating cash flow formula is? As a professional trader or investor, why is it crucial to learn and deeply understand all the concepts of this formula, cash flow statements, the real ocf definition, and much more? 

First, companies understand that cash flow, calculated using the direct or indirect method, is a precise gauge of economic well-being. Influenced by net income, depreciation, and accounts receivable, this metric offers key data on remaining earnings, evaluating a firm’s financial position and trends.

Thus, understanding these elements can bolster your financial insight and prime you for informed business decisions. But what is the operating cash flow formula exactly? Why should you understand it to gain financial success?

What is the Operating Cash Formula exactly?

The Operating Cash Flow Formula calculates operating cash flow, indicating cash generation or usage from a company’s operational activities within an accounting period, reflected as a line item on financial statements. 

Despite varying accounting methods, it includes three elements: 

  • Net income
  • Addition of noncash expenses
  • Net increase in working capital all essential for analyzing cash flows from operating activities and assessing a company’s financial health.

In other words, operating cash flow, the difference between revenue and operating expenses, gauges a company’s financial health from regular business activities. It can be calculated using the indirect or direct method.

OFC Definition – Explanation of the Operating Cash Flow

OFC Definition - Explanation of the Operating Cash Flow

Operating cash flow signifies the funds a company earns from its usual business activities. It encompasses the cash coming in and out from core tasks like selling products, offering services, and paying wages. 

This metric does not include financial and investment activities like borrowing or purchasing capital equipment. 

Knowing the operating cash flow formula is essential to understand it better. It is also known as cash flow from operations or free cash flow from operations, helping in a comprehensive financial analysis.

Why is operating cash flow (OCF) essential? 

Operating cash flow showcases a company’s capability to profit from its product or service, reflecting overall financial health. 

A high OCF, a goal for small businesses to large corporations, allows for augmenting capital without external assistance and should consistently rise, indicating enhanced profitability.

Key takeaways involve the importance of maintaining a positive OCF for long-term solvency. A negative OCF necessitates borrowing or raising extra capital to uphold operations, investing, and financing commitments. 

Why do financial experts and investors evaluate OFC?

Financial experts and investors closely evaluate OCF to ascertain a business’s health, profitability, and ability to cover operational expenses and investing and financing activities. 

It reveals whether the firm’s core operations generate sufficient cash to meet various financial responsibilities.

Calculating Operating Cash Flow

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Two main methods to calculate operating cash flow are:

Direct Method

Record all transactions in real-time as cash in and out. It includes transactions like cash received from customers and cash paid for expenses. 

Despite its simplicity and accuracy, it requires additional reconciliation as per Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).


   Operating cash flow = Total revenue – Operating expenses

Indirect Method

Adjust net income to cash, considering changes in noncash accounts such as depreciation and accounts payable. 


   Operating cash flow = (revenue – cost of sales) + depreciation – taxes +change in working capital

Operating cash flow formulas – what to know?

Operating Cash Flow (OCF) is a business’s cash from its usual activities over a certain time. It considers changes like depreciation from your net income.

Simple OCF Formula

Operating Cash Flow = Total Cash from Sales – Cash Paid for Expenses

Other OCF Formulas

OCF = Revenue – Expenses + Depreciation – Taxes – Change in Working Capital

OCF = Net Income + Depreciation – Change in Working Capital

OCF = Net Income – Changes in Working Capital + Noncash Expenses

Indirect Method

Start with net income and add back noncash entries. Two formulas are:

OCF = Changes in Working Capital + Funds from Operations

Where Funds from Operations = Net Income + Various Additions

OCF = Net Income + Various Additions + Changes in Different Accounts

Direct Method

Track actual cash transactions with the formula:

Operating Cash Flow = Total Revenue – Expenses

Include all cash paid and received, like cash from customers or paid to employees.

So, Comprehensive Operating Cash Flow Formula:

The Detailed operating cash flow formula

So, the detailed operating cash flow formula could be seen as:

Operating Cash Flow}= Net income + Depreciation and amortization + Stock-based compensation + Other operating expenses and income + Deferred income taxes – Increase in inventory – Increase in accounts receivable + Increase in accounts payable + Increase in accrued expense + Increase in unearned revenue

Example of Cash Flow Calculation Over Several Years:

At year-end, a company organizes its financial details into operations, financing, and investing. 

To find the operating cash flow for the last three years, focus on operating activities and changes in operating compensating features and liabilities as outlined below:

Yearly Details

2019 Year

  Operating Cash Flow (OCF) Calculation:

   OCF = 456 + 4882 + 2541 + 250 + 254 + 86 – 2415 – 1806 + 4358 + 856 + 1351

  Result: OCF = $10,813

2020 Year

  OCF Calculation:

   OCF = 654 + 5001 + 2681 + 300 + 289 + 91 – 2687 – 1948 + 5213 + 956 + 1405

  Result: OCF = $11,955

2021 Year

  OCF Calculation:

   OCF = 789 + 5819 + 3245 + 325 + 305 + 99 – 2968 – 2001 + 5974 + 1102 + 1552

Result: OCF = $14,241

To compute operating cash flow using the indirect method:

  1. Convert from accrual to cash basis.
  2. Subtract asset increases and add asset decreases.
  3. For liabilities, add increases and subtract decreases.

Visualize in cash terms: a drop in inventory (sold items) raises cash, so add it back to net income as cash.

Bottom line

The Operating Cash Flow Formula precisely assesses the cash inflows and outflows from a company’s regular business activities within a certain accounting period. 

Comprising net income, addition of noncash expenses, and a net increase in working capital is a key indicator presented on financial statements. 

Besides offering insights into cash flows from operating activities, it aids in evaluating a company’s overall financial health, including insights into cash flow from financing. Both direct and indirect methods are able to be employed for its calculation.



What is the Operating Cash Flow Formula?

The Operating Cash Flow Formula calculates cash from a company’s operational activities within an accounting period, showing the difference between revenue and operating expenses.

What does operating cash flow signify?

Operating cash flow represents funds from usual business activities, excluding activities like borrowing or purchasing capital equipment.

Why is Operating Cash Flow essential?

Operating Cash Flow is crucial as it showcases a company’s ability to profit from its products or services, reflecting overall financial health. A consistent and high OCF indicates enhanced profitability and allows for augmenting capital without external assistance.

How is Operating Cash Flow calculated?

Operating Cash Flow can be calculated using either the direct or indirect method. The direct method records all transactions in real-time as cash in and out, whereas the indirect method adjusts net income to cash, considering changes in noncash accounts such as depreciation and accounts payable.

What does a positive Operating Cash Flow indicate?

A positive Operating Cash Flow indicates a company’s financial health and its ability to generate enough cash to cover operational expenses and other financial responsibilities from its core business activities. It is vital for maintaining long-term solvency.

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