Do you have difficulty understanding a financial term? Check unfamiliar terms by first letter in our glossary below.

Free Cash Flow (FCF)

Understanding Free Cash Flow: Its Calculation, Significance, and Usage in Financial Analysis

Compact Explanation

Free Cash Flow (FCF) is the leftover cash after a company pays for its operating expenses and capital expenditures.


Free Cash Flow (FCF) is a vital financial metric that often acts as the cornerstone of investment decision-making.

Formula for financial term 'Free Cash Flow (FCF'

This guide aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of FCF, its calculation, and how it serves as a reliable measure of a company's financial performance.


Free Cash Flow is the cash a company generates from its operations that is freely available to be distributed among all the securities holders: debt holders, equity holders, preferred equity holders, etc. It can be used for expansion, dividends, debt reduction, or other financial endeavors.

Context and Use

FCF is widely used by investors and analysts to assess a company's profitability after all capital expenditures are paid. It is an important metric because it allows investors to see how much cash is available to the company to repay creditors or grow the business.

Detailed Explanation

FCF is calculated by subtracting capital expenditures from operating cash flow. It helps to understand how much cash a company generates after accounting for required reinvestments into the business such as machinery, land, or technology.


Suppose a company has:

  • Operating Cash Flow: $500,000

  • Capital Expenditures: -$200,000

The Free Cash Flow calculation would look like this:

Free Cash Flow = $500,000 (Operating Cash Flow) - $200,000 (Capital Expenditures) = $300,000

Therefore, the company's Free Cash Flow is $300,000.

Related Terms

  • Operating Cash Flow (OCF): The cash generated from the day-to-day business operations.

  • Capital Expenditures (CapEx): Funds used by a company to acquire, upgrade, and maintain physical assets.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. Why is Free Cash Flow important? Free Cash Flow is a crucial measure of a company's financial strength. It shows how much cash a company has left from its operations—after capital expenditure—that can be distributed to security holders.

  2. What does negative Free Cash Flow indicate? Negative Free Cash Flow means a company is spending more on capital expenditure than it's generating from operations, which could be a warning sign for investors.

  3. How does Free Cash Flow differ from Operating Cash Flow? While Operating Cash Flow only considers the cash generated from a company's operations, Free Cash Flow deducts any capital expenditures to reflect the 'free' cash available to the company.

  4. What can a company do with its Free Cash Flow? With its Free Cash Flow, a company can invest in new projects, pay dividends to shareholders, buy back its own shares, reduce debt, or save it for future expenses.

  5. Is it possible for a profitable company to have a negative Free Cash Flow? Yes, a profitable company can have a negative Free Cash Flow if it has significant capital expenditures. For example, if a company is investing heavily in new equipment or expanding its operations, it may spend more cash than it brings in, resulting in negative Free Cash Flow.

  6. Can Free Cash Flow be manipulated? While Free Cash Flow is generally less susceptible to manipulation than other financial metrics, it's still possible. For instance, companies could delay capital expenditures or sell assets to boost Free Cash Flow temporarily. Therefore, it's crucial to look at a company's Free Cash Flow over several years rather than just a single year.

Key Takeaways

Understanding Free Cash Flow is important for investors as it reveals the true profitability of a company after accounting for the necessary capital expenditures. A consistent positive Free Cash Flow is usually a good sign of a company's financial health.


Free Cash Flow serves as an essential tool for investors, creditors, and other stakeholders to assess a company's financial health and growth potential. By understanding this fundamental concept, investors can make more informed decisions and evaluate investment opportunities with greater accuracy.


This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the concept "Free Cash Flow". It should be noted that this information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as financial or investment advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual's personal financial needs, risk tolerance, and financial condition. Before making any investment decisions, we advise consulting with a qualified financial advisor. While efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, SimFin does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness. Any reliance on this information is at your own risk. SimFin will not be liable for any direct or indirect losses caused by using this information.