The profit and loss account, and why it looks the way it does


All those of us who have studied double entry bookkeeping will remember their earliest lessons, in which we are told how the balances of the various accounts in the general ledger are taken to one of two statements at the end of the reporting period.  One of these is the balance sheet, which (we were told in lesson one) is like a family photo, a snapshot of your business at one particular point in time, and therefore is “na dzien”, and the other statement is the profit and loss account, which is a story of how the family developed and what happened to them between the last photo, and the current photo.  Put simply, a profit and loss account is the story of how you get from one balance sheet to another.  There are in fact other ways in which balance sheet items can change which don’t involve things passing through the profit and loss account, but international standards of accounting seem to prefer it when as much as possible going on between an opening and closing balance sheet for a reporting period (usually a year) is reflected to the maximum degree possible in the profit and loss account, or as it is now fashionably known, the statement of income and expenditure.

What I wanted to talk about in this article is to let us think I’m at about the order in which things appear in a typical profit and loss account.  This is worth doing as there are many different layouts for the balance sheet as you go around the world (the Americans have theirs, the British have theirs, the continental Europeans have theirs and each of the above look somewhat different) but there is a lot more uniformity as you go around the world in the order in which things are set out in the profit and loss account, or statement of income and expenditure.

Invariably the first thing that it deals with is the issue of turnover.  In most countries which have VAT, but by no means all, the turnover figure in published accounts is shown net of VAT.  That is how it is done in Poland and that is the way in which international standards would also have us do it.  Similarly the expenses, where VAT applies which can be reclaimed by the entity, are shown net.  (This of course is different to the balance sheet, where debtors and creditors are shown gross of VAT and the difference which you would have in the profit and loss account if those items were shown gross ends up in the VAT control account).

The first question that our profit and loss account seek to answer is whether the business is making a profit or loss regardless of how it is financed or tax.  It is also good to show items which are likely to be normal recurring items, and not one-off or extraordinary items in the first part of the profit and loss account.

Hence the top of most people’s profit and loss accounts as you go around the world deals with the question of ordinary sales income and the costs incurred to get to that sales income, giving a basic idea of profit.  Before you add in the cost of selling an administration, while you are still looking at a cost of goods sold or the cost of providing the services of is a service company, the profit figure achieved is known as gross profit.  Exactly what costs and what revenues make up that gross profit actually do differ quite significantly from one firm to another firm depending on the business, and the principles of management accounting have quite a lot to say in how we will classify the costs and revenues going into the gross profit line.

Once we’ve subtracted from the gross profit other operating costs such as the selling and administration costs, we come down to something called profit on ordinary operating activities.  After that it might be a good time to look at the extraordinary activities that happened which were still operational, or “other” activities which are not core, such as sales of fixed assets or unusual write downs, and this gives you the operating profit.

The next question that the profit and loss account will seek to answer is the cost of financing the business.  We are still well before the point at which tax is applied, as finance charges such as interest on business loans are usually tax allowable.  We look in this section of the profit and loss account at the interest received and take off the interest paid.  In Poland we have just about any foreign exchange differences also appearing in this section, where as in most western countries it would be considered correct to examine foreign exchange differences to see whether they really appeared on financing decisions or an operational decisions, and put them in the correct part of the profit and loss account depending on the answer to that question.  In Poland they are automatically considered to be part of the financing decision, which is not always true and therefore sometimes leads to misleading ratio analysis unless this is taken into account by the analyst.

At this point the profit and loss account will show us the profit on all the ordinary activities, and the next question that it starts to answer is what the tax is on that.  If a company is applying deferred tax, then the tax figure shown in the profit and loss account will be normalised tax on the profits to that point.  It takes account of timing differences between operational treatments of transactions and there tax treatments.  This means it probably won’t be the same as the figure on the tax return for the year.  The difference between the figure in the profit and loss account and the figure on the tax return for the year is usually going to be the amount added to or subtracted from the deferred tax assets and liabilities and the balance sheet.

In Poland that is usually the end of the line for the profit and loss account, however in some groups the profit and loss account goes on to answer the question ‘how about minority interest?’ which comes after the tax question because tax falls regardless of who the minorities are, and then questions about dividends are dealt with in the profit and loss account in many countries, but not generally so in Poland.

In order not to get confused the questions which the profit and loss account is trying to answer, it is important to observe the order of information, and also to consider whether an item is needed in order to help is to say the very important question of whether the underlying business is profitable or not, and the more the answer to that is yes, the higher up in the profit and loss account you should show it or expect to find it.

 

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