Difference Between EBITDA and Cash Flow

All of the startup financial models I've built here on the site have an line for EBITDA and cash flow. We are going to explore what they mean, how to analyze them, and some general considerations because they are both really important when putting together a pro forma.
If you want a jump start into finance, download all the financial model templates I've built here (over 170).

EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) and cash flow are two important financial metrics used in business and investment analysis, but they serve different purposes and are calculated differently.

In some cases, EBITDA and cash flow can be the same, if there is no interest, taxes, or debt service.

  • Definition: EBITDA measures a company's operating performance. It's essentially the income a company generates from its core business operations, excluding the costs of interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
  • Purpose: It's often used to compare the profitability of companies and industries because it eliminates the effects of financing and accounting decisions.
  • Calculation: EBITDA is calculated as Net Income + Interest + Taxes + Depreciation + Amortization.
  • Sometimes EBITDA is not the best metric to use. Cases where a business has lots of depreciation from things that are essential to run the business, like equipment for manufacturing company or servers for a data-as-a-service business, may be better analyzed by looking at EBIT.
Cash Flow:
  • Definition: Cash flow, particularly free cash flow, is a measure of the actual cash generated by a company's business operations. It's the cash that a company is able to generate after laying out the money required to maintain or expand its asset base.
  • Purpose: Cash flow is crucial because it shows how effective a company is at generating cash. Investors and analysts use it to assess the financial health of a company, its ability to pay dividends, repay debt, and fund growth.
  • Calculation: Free Cash Flow is often calculated as Operating Cash Flow - Capital Expenditures.
Cash in king and one of the first things I ever got good at building into financial models accurately.

Analyzing EBITDA and Cash Flow:

Comparative Analysis: Compare the EBITDA and cash flow of a company over several periods to assess its financial performance over time. Also, compare these metrics with those of other companies in the same industry.

EBITDA Margin: This is EBITDA divided by total revenue. A higher EBITDA margin suggests a more profitable company with more efficient operations. But again, if capital expenditures are an imperative part of the business, then it is important to understand how depreciation fits into this.

Cash Flow Trends: Look for trends in cash flow - is it consistently positive, and is it growing? Positive and growing free cash flow is often a sign of a healthy, expanding business.

Debt and Investment Considerations: Consider how a company is financing its operations. A company with high EBITDA but low cash flow might be heavily investing in its future growth, or it might be struggling with high interest expenses.

Industry Norms: Understand that norms vary by industry. For instance, capital-intensive industries might have lower free cash flow due to high capital expenditures.

In summary, while EBITDA provides an indication of a company's operational efficiency and profitability, cash flow gives a clearer picture of its financial health and ability to generate cash. Both are important for a comprehensive understanding of a company's financial situation.