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Guide to Trade Working Capital

Trade Working Capital Defined and Explained
Lauren Ward
Lauren WardUpdated February 27, 2023
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Working capital is the money a business can easily access to meet its day-to-day financial obligations, such as salaries and rent. It’s calculated by subtracting your current liabilities (what you owe) from your current assets (what you have). It reveals how much excess capital you have.There are different types of working capital, however, including trade working capital. You calculate trade working capital in the same way as working capital, except you only consider assets and liabilities directly associated with your daily business operations.Read on for a closer look at trade working capital, including how it differs from working capital, how it's calculated, and why it’s an important performance metric for business owners to know.

What Is Trade Working Capital?

To understand trade working capital, it’s important to know what working capital is. Simply defined, working capital is the amount of capital a business has available for its daily operations. All expenses that enable a business to make money should be covered by a company’s working capital. The formula for working capital is simple;Current Assets - Current Liabilities = Working Capital   A current asset is any asset that can be converted into cash within a year, while a current liability is any amount owed to a creditor within a year. These items are listed on a business’s balance sheet.So, what is the difference between working capital and trade working capital? Like working capital, trade working capital is defined as the difference between a company’s current liabilities and current assets. Unlike working capital, trade working capital only considers liabilities and assets that are directly linked to day-to-day business operations. Recommended: What Net Working Capital Is & How It Works 

How Trade Working Capital Works

Trade working capital specifically looks at the difference between current assets and current liabilities directly associated with a company’s core operations. As a result, the only current assets you include when using the trade working capital formula are:
  • Inventories These are unsold products waiting to be sold.
  • Accounts receivable This is the balance of money due to your company for goods or services delivered or used but not yet paid for by customers. 
For current liabilities, the trade working capital formula only includes:
  • Accounts payable This is the amount your company owes its vendors for inventory-related goods, such as business supplies or materials.
To calculate trade working capital, you simply add inventories and accounts receivable together and then subtract accounts payable. Business owners, as well as investors and lenders, might use this more refined version of working capital because the items listed above are the major drivers of a company’s working capital. As a result, calculating trade working capital vs. working capital might better reflect the company’s financial position.

Trade Working Capital vs Working Capital

Trade Working CapitalWorking Capital
Incorporates all current assetsX
Incorporates all current liabilitiesX
Only includes assets directly related to day-to-day operating activitiesX
Only includes liabilities directly related to day-to-day operating expenses X
The key difference between trade working capital vs. working capital is what’s included in the “current assets” and “current liabilities” parts of the working capital equation.Trade working capital only looks at assets and liabilities related to a company’s daily operations. Working capital, on the other hand, takes into account all current assets (including cash, marketable securities, accounts receivable, prepaid expenses, and inventories) and all current liabilities (including accounts payable, taxes payable, interest payable, and accrued expenses).Recommended: Working Capital Loans: Lenders and Guide 

Trade Working Capital Calculation Example

Here is an example of how to calculate trade working capital using a fictional company called XYZ that manufactures boxes. Company XYZ has $20,000 in account receivables associated with daily operations and $5,000 in unsold inventory. It also has $7,000 in account payables associated with daily operations. Therefore, it’s trade working capital is:$20,000 + $5,000 - $7,000 = $18,000

What Trade Working Capital Indicates and Why It Matters

Like working capital, trade working capital is important to know because it tells you if your company has enough cash on hand to manage its short-term commitments. Positive trade working capital also indicates that your business has the ability to invest in new equipment and assets that can increase revenues and profits.If, on the other hand, your company’s current liabilities exceed its current assets (in other words, you have negative trade working capital), your company may need to take on additional debt in order to avoid defaulting on its bills or, worst case scenario, could be at risk of going bankrupt.It’s important to keep in mind, however, that there is such a thing as too much trade working capital. This can be a sign that your company is not investing its extra cash strategically and may be missing out on opportunities for expansion and growth.

The Takeaway

Working capital represents the amount of capital a business can freely use to pay all of its day-to-day expenses. There are several types of working capital, including trade working capital. With trade working capital, you only consider current assets and current liabilities that are associated with daily business operations.Businesses will often calculate both forms of working capital to assess their financial health at a given moment in time. If you’re in the market for any type of small business loan, lenders may look at your working capital and/or trade working capital to assess your firm’s ability to cover new debt on top of its current financial obligations.

3 Small Business Loan Tips

  1. Online lenders generally offer fast application reviews and quick access to cash. Conveniently, you can find recommended small business loans by using Lantern by SoFi.
  2. If you are launching a new business or your business is young, lenders will consider your personal credit score. Eventually, though, you’ll want to establish your business credit.
  3. If you need to borrow money to cover seasonal cash flow fluctuations, a business line of credit, rather than a term loan, provides the flexibility you likely need.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is trade working capital calculated?
How are trade working capital and net working capital different?
Is high trade working capital a good thing? When isn't it?
Photo credit: iStock/SouthWorks

About the Author

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward is a personal finance expert with nearly a decade of experience writing online content. Her work has appeared on websites such as MSN, Time, and Bankrate. Lauren writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SoFi, including credit and banking.
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