The Use of Financial Ratio Analysis

The reliability and value of the information gained from financial ratio analysis can vary

significantly, depending on how it was conducted and on the quality and comparability of the

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financial statements, which provide the financial data. By itself, a ratio is just a number and not

inherently meaningful. Stand-alone financial ratios are like stand-alone numbers. They have

limited value unless associated with other references. For an obvious example, 3 by itself means

little unless associated with some base, such as 3 degrees on the centigrade temperature scale.

The two basic approaches for meaningfully associating financial ratios are trend analysis and

comparative analysis. In fact, it is the careful integration of trend analysis with ratio analysis that

provides the single most powerful technique for evaluating financial performance. Normally,

trend analysis is performed on annual or quarterly data because public companies have to report

this information to the stockholders.