## What is Free Cash Flow Conversion?

**Free** **Cash Flow Conversion **is a liquidity ratio that measures a company’s ability to convert its operating profits into free cash flow (FCF) in a given period.

By comparing a company’s available free cash flow along with a profitability metric, the FCF conversion rate helps evaluate the quality of a company’s cash flow generation.

## How to Calculate Free Cash Flow Conversion (Step-by-Step)

The free cash flow conversion rate (%) measures a company’s efficiency at turning its profits into free cash flow from its core operations.

The idea here is to compare a company’s free cash flow to its EBITDA, which helps us understand how much FCF diverges from EBITDA.

Calculating the FCF conversion ratio comprises dividing a free cash flow metric by a measure of profit, such as EBITDA.

In theory, EBITDA should function as a rough proxy for operating cash flow.

But while the calculation of EBITDA does add-back depreciation and amortization (D&A), which are usually the most significant non-cash expense for companies, EBITDA neglects two major cash outflows:

- Capital Expenditures (Capex)
- Changes in Working Capital

To evaluate the true operating performance of a company and accurately forecast its future cash flows, these additional cash outflows and other non-cash (or non-recurring) adjustments are required to be accounted for.

## Free Cash Flow Conversion Formula

The formula for calculating the free cash flow conversion is as follows.

## Formula

- FCF Conversion = Free Cash Flow / EBITDA
Where:

- Free Cash Flow = Cash from Operations – Capital Expenditures

For simplicity, we’ll define free cash flow as cash from operations (CFO) minus capital expenditures (Capex).

Therefore, the FCF conversion rate can be interpreted as a company’s ability to convert its EBITDA into free cash flow.

The output for FCF-to-EBITDA is ordinarily expressed in percentage form, as well as in the form of a multiple.

## Free Cash Flow Conversion Rate Industry Benchmark

To perform industry comparisons, each metric should be calculated under the same set of standards.

In addition, management’s own calculations should be referenced, but never taken at face value and used for comparisons without first understanding which items are included or excluded.

Note that the calculation of free cash flow can be company-specific with a significant number of discretionary adjustments made along the way.

Often, FCF conversion rates can be most useful for internal comparisons to historical performance and to assess a company’s improvements (or lack of progress) over several time periods.

^{Siemens Industry-Specific Cash Conversion Example (Source: 2020 10-K)}

## How to Interpret the FCF Conversion Rate (High vs. Low)

A “good” free cash flow conversion rate would typically be consistently around or above 100%, as it indicates efficient working capital management.

An FCF conversion rate in excess of 100% can stem from:

- Improved Accounts Receivables (A/R) Collection Processes
- Favorable Negotiating Terms with Suppliers
- Quicker Inventory Turnover from Increased Market Demand

In contrast, “bad” FCF conversion would be well below 100% – and can be particularly concerning if there has been a distinct pattern showing deterioration in cash flow quality year-over-year.

A sub-par FCF conversion rate suggests inefficient working capital management and potentially underperforming underlying operations, which often consists of the following operating qualities:

- Build-Up of Customer Payments made on Credit
- Tightening of Credit Terms with Suppliers
- Slowing Inventory Turnover from Lackluster Customer Demand

To reiterate from earlier, problems can easily arise because of definitions varying considerably across different companies, as most companies can adjust the formula to suit their company’s specific needs (and announced operating targets).

But as a generalization, most companies pursue a target FCF conversion rate close to or greater than 100%.

## Free Cash Flow Conversion Rate – Excel Template

We’ll now move to a modeling exercise, which you can access by filling out the form below.

## FCF Conversion Rate Calculation Example

In our example exercise, we’ll be using the following assumptions for our company in Year 1.

- Cash from Operations (CFO): $50m
- Capital Expenditures (Capex): $10m
- Operating Income (EBIT): $45m
- Depreciation & Amortization (D&A): $8m

In the next step, we can calculate the free cash flow (CFO – Capex) and EBITDA:

- Free Cash Flow = $50m CFO – $10m Capex = $40m
- EBITDA = $45m EBIT + $8m D&A = $53m

For the rest of the forecast, we’ll be using a couple of more assumptions:

- Cash from Operations (CFO): Increasing by $5m each year
- Operating Income (EBIT): Increasing by $2m each year
- Capex and D&A: Remaining constant each year (i.e. straight-lined)

With these inputs, we can calculate the free cash flow conversion rate for each year.

For instance, in Year 0 we’ll divide the $40m in FCF by the $53m in EBITDA to get an FCF conversion rate of 75.5%.

Here, we’re essentially figuring out how close a company’s discretionary free cash flow gets to its EBITDA. Posted below, you can find a screenshot of the completed exercise.

In conclusion, we can see how the FCF conversion rate has increased over time from 75.5% in Year 1 to 98.4% in Year 5, which is driven by the FCF growth rate outpacing the EBITDA growth rate.