P&L 101: What are Profit & Loss Reports and how to read them?
13 Jul 2020 | 05.20 AM

P&L 101: What are Profit & Loss Reports and how to read them?

The P&L report is a window into your business – you need to see how your money comes in and where it is spent. The main premise is to understand how your business either earned a net profit or loss and how to modify your strategy. Love it or hate it the Profit and Loss Report is like a scorecard of a company and if you can read it well, the P&L can help your company grow sustainably.

Profit and Loss Reports are used to track a business’s total revenue and total expenses in a specific period of time, usually prepared monthly or quarterly. They are very useful since they show a business’s net profit (or loss), which can indicate the strength of a company’s operations and sales strategy.

The main categories that could be found in the P&L report include:

  • Revenue (or Sales)
  • Cost of Goods Sold (or Cost of Sales) – COGS
  • Operational Expenses
    • Selling, General & Administrative (SG&A)
    • Marketing and Advertising
    • Technology
    • Interest Expense
    • Taxes
  • Net Income (Profit)

There are three main sections of a P&L statement: revenues, COGS, and Operational Expenses. Any listed line item on a P&L goes under either revenue or an expense account, and all these items determine the bottom line.

To go a little deeper, there are a few types of profit:

01. What Is Gross Margin in A Profit And Loss Report?

Gross Margin is a company's profit before operating expenses. It is important because it reflects the core profitability of a company before overhead costs and shows the financial success of a product/service. It is also used to calculate the Gross Margin Ratio which is found by dividing Gross Margin by Total Revenue. Calculating gross profit margin allows you to compare similar companies to each other and to the industry as a whole to determine relative profitability.

Gross Margin = Revenue – COGS

02. What is EBITDA in a Profit and Loss Report?

EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation & Amortization) is a metric that closely resembles free cash flow for most businesses. By looking at earnings and adding back interest, tax, and depreciation expenses, the company can see what could be available as cash. Since depreciation and amortization are non-cash items, they do not have to do with the health of your business’s cash flow. Therefore, EBITDA is a good way to gauge cash flow in your profit and loss report.

03. What is Net Profit in a P&L Report?

This is the ultimate measure of the profits of a business. Taking your revenue and subtracting COGS and all operational expenses result in a number that is your net profit.

Now let’s try to read the P&L report of Mike’s Bike Shop:

  • To find the Net Income, we simply subtract expenses from revenues.
  • To find the Gross Margin, we subtract COGS from Revenue -> $27,600 - $10,200 = $17,400
  • To find EBIT, we subtract Interest Expense and Tax from Net Revenue -> $27,600 - ($10,200 + $500) = $16,900
  • To find EBITDA, we subtract depreciation from EBIT -> $16,900 - $1,000 = $15,900

One important thing to keep in mind while making your profit and loss report is the difference between an income statement and a balance sheet. Imagine Batman and Robin for a second: they make a formidable team because each brings a complementary skill to their crime-fighting endeavors. Financial statements of a company work just like them – they are different, but each complement one another to see the bigger picture. The income statement shows you how profitable your business is over a given period, while the balance sheet gives you a snapshot of your assets and liabilities. Together, they make a strong financial duo.

Understanding the income statement is essential for all businesses to analyze profitability and growth. Luckily, the basic equations underlying income statements are easy to break down and all statements are organized in similar ways.

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