Operating Cash Flow from Trading Activities

Operating Cash Flow Definition

Operating cash flow or cash flow from operating activities is that part of the cash flow generated by the trading activities of the business. It is basically the net income of the business adjusted for movements in working capital (inventory, accounts receivable, and accounts payable). It represents cash in from selling goods and services less cash out from paying the costs of selling goods and services.

operating cash flow from trading activities

If we look at the basic indirect method cash flow statement below, the highlighted elements represent the main components of Operating Cash Flow of the business.

Cash Flow Statement Highlighting Operating Cash Flow
Net income 11,000
Depreciation 12,000
Loss on sale of assets 3,000
Gain on sale of investments -4,000
Changes in working capital -5,000
Operating activities 17,000
Purchase of assets -45,000
Proceeds from the sale of investments 10,000
Proceeds from the sale of assets 5,000
Investing activities -30,000
Issue of new capital 12,000
Issue of new debt 26,000
Repayment of debt -8,000
Dividend payments -2,000
Financing activities 28,000
Net cash flow 15,000
Beginning cash balance 1,000
Ending cash balance 16,000


Net Income

Net income represents the profit of the business shown in the income statement.


Net income includes a deduction for the expense of depreciation. Although it is an expense in the income statement, depreciation is only an accounting entry to reflect the change in the value of long term assets and does not involve the movement of cash. For this reason it is added back to the net income amount in the cash flow statement.

A similar process is adopted with amortization and depletion.

Gains and Losses

Gains and losses on the sale of assets and investments are bookkeeping entries and do not involve the movement of cash.

For example if an asset is sold for more than its book value, the proceeds from the sale (which includes any gain) are received in cash and included under the cash from investing activities section of the cash flow statement. To avoid double counting the gain which has also been included within net income, it needs to be deducted from net income in the cash from operating activities section of the cash flow statement.

Changes in Working Capital

The purpose of the changes in working capital adjustment is to adjust the net income shown in the income statement of the business from an accruals basis to a cash basis.

The term working capital refers to the net current assets used by the business in it’s normal day to day trading operations. In a simple business it would be calculated as inventory plus accounts receivable minus accounts payable which represents the funding needed to buy inventory and provide credit to customers reduced by the amount of credit obtained from suppliers.

As each element of working capital changes the cash flow changes in the following ways:


  • Inventory decreases – Cash in
  • Inventory increases – Cash out

Accounts Receivable

  • Accounts receivable decreases – Cash in
  • Accounts receivable increases – Cash out

Accounts Payable

  • Accounts payable increases – Cash in
  • Accounts payable decreases – Cash out

In general the effect of changes in working capital can be summarized as follows.

Changes in working capital
Account Increase Decrease
Current asset Cash out Cash in
Current liability Cash in Cash out

Add or Subtract using the Indirect Method

In summary when preparing an indirect method cash flow statement the net income needs to be adjusted for depreciation, gains, losses and movements in working capital. The table below summarizes the necessary adjustments.

Add or Subtract Using the Indirect Method
Item + / –
Depreciation Add
Gains Subtract
Losses Add
Decrease in current assets Add
Increase in current assets Subtract
Decrease in current liabilities Subtract
Increase in current liabilities Add

Examples of Operating Cash Flow

Examples of cash flow from operating activities include the following:

Operating Cash Inflow

  • Cash receipts from the sale of goods and services.
  • Cash receipts from royalties, fees, commissions and other revenue.
  • Cash receipts from investments, loans and other contracts held for trading purposes.
  • Collection of notes receivable.
  • Collection of interest income or dividends.
  • Cash refunds of income tax, unless identified with financing and investing activities.

Operating Cash Outflow

  • Cash payments to suppliers for goods and services.
  • Cash payments to employees.
  • Cash payments of income tax, unless identified with financing and investing activities.
  • Cash payments for investments, loans and other contracts held for trading purposes.
  • Interest payments.
Last modified October 22nd, 2019 by Michael Brown

About the Author

Chartered accountant Michael Brown is the founder and CEO of Double Entry Bookkeeping. He has worked as an accountant and consultant for more than 25 years and has built financial models for all types of industries. He has been the CFO or controller of both small and medium sized companies and has run small businesses of his own. He has been a manager and an auditor with Deloitte, a big 4 accountancy firm, and holds a degree from Loughborough University.

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