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Income Statement, Profit & Loss, Statement of Operations
Definitions, Meaning Explained, Examples


Total revenue earnings for the period appear as the top line of the Income statement. Net income, or net profit, appears as the bottom line. New income shows what remains after subtracting all the period's expenses from revenues.

In private industry, the Income statement shows how well firms achieve the highest level business objective: earning profits.

What is an Income Statement?

The Income statement (I/S) is a financial accounting statement reports a firm's income (or earnings) for a given time period. The statement shows the period's incoming revenues, along with the outgoing expenses that brought them. 

For investors and analysts, a firm's income is a measure of its earning performance for the period. Business textbooks typically present the highest level objective for profit-making companies as increasing owner value. Earning income meets this objective by adding to retained earnings (which build owners equity) and paying dividends directly to shareholders.

The Income statement equation shows how income derives from the period's revenues and expenses:

Income = Revenues – Expenses

The Income statement itself is simply a detailed version of this equation. It is essentially little more than a list of the firm's Revenue and Expense category accounts and their end-of-period balances. The statement also adds and subtracts some of these figures, so as to show profits. These are Gross profit, Operating profit, and Net profit (Net income. Exhibit 1, below, shows an example statement.

Explaining Income Statement in Context

This article further defines and explains Income statement structure and content with examples, in context with income-related terms:

Income statement
Profit & Loss P&L
Net earnings
Net income
Gross margin
Statement of operations
Gross profit
Net profit
Operating profit
Operating Margin
Profit margin
Reporting period
Annual Report
Retained earnings



Related Topics


The Meaning of Income
Simple Example Income Statement

Publicly traded companies (those that sell shares of stock to the public) almost everywhere must report financial performance and financial position, quarterly and annually. Privately held companies, however, may withhold such information from shareholders, competitors, and the public. They may not withhold it from tax authorities.

The Income statement purpose is to report the firm's income (earnings) for the period, as well as the period's revenues and expenses that resulted in that income. For this, the Income statement is therefore an application of the Income statement equation:

Income = Revenues – Expenses

The Income statement structure simply builds detail into each term of this equation. Exhibit 1 below is a simple (high level) Income statement example.

Grande Corporation                                   Figures in $1,000's
Income Statement for year ending at 31 December 20YY   
Net sales revenues
Cost of goods sold
       Gross Profit

Operating Expenses
   Selling expenses
   General & Admin expenses
       Total Operating expenses
       Operating Profit Before Taxes


Financial rev / exp gain (expense)
  Income before tax & extraord items
       Less income tax on operations
       Income before extraordinary Items
Extraordinary items after tax
          Net Income (Profit)

Exhibit 1. The simple example Income Statement shows the general statement structure and major Revenue and Expense categories.

On a high-level statement such as Exhibit 1, line items and figures represent primarily groups of accounts. On a more detailed Income statement (such as Exhibit 2, below) line items and figures statement are primarily account names and their end-of-period balances. Income statements also include the results of adding and subtracting certain account figures, in order to show:

  • "Net" figures (e.g., Net income, Net Sales revenues, or Net financial gain).
  • Totals for account item groups (e.g., Cost of Goods sold, or Total operating expenses).
  • Profits (Gross profit, Operating profit, and Net Profit)

Where and When Do Firms Publish the Income Statement?
Shareholders and Investors Find Statements in the Annual Report

Firms normally publish an Income statement just after every fiscal quarter and year. Note that firms often publish different versions, with more or less detail, for different audiences.

For shareholders and the general public, the most accessible version appears in the firm's Annual Report to Shareholders. Public companies publish and send this report to shareholders before their annual meeting to elect directors. Shareholders usually receive printed copies by mail, but anyone can access them on the firm's internet site. There, annual reports and financial statements normally appear under headings such as Investor Relations, or Investor Services.

For the Annual Report, the firm is legally responsible for publishing an Income statement and other reports that serve two purposes:

  • Firstly, they enable shareholders to make informed decisions when electing directors.
  • Secondly, they enable shareholders and investors to evaluate the firm's recent financial performance and prospects for future growth. As a results, they support decisions on holding, buying, or selling stock shares.

Firms also publish financial statements that serve different audiences and other purposes. They prepare statements for potential lenders and bond rating agencies, for instance. And they also prepare statements specifically for potential partners. Statements for these audiences call for specific details they may omit from the Annual Report version. For more on other Income statement audiences and purposes, see the article Materiality Concept.

What Are Other Terms For Income and Income Statement?
The Meaning of Earnings, Profits, and P&L

The term income is essentially synonymous with a few other terms, such as earnings and profits. Some people also speak less formally of the bottom line, referring to the position of Net income (Net profit) on the Income statement. Finally, note that bottom line Net income is sometimes called residual profit, or residual income. That is because Net income is all that remains after subtracting all expenses from revenues. 

Note also, however, that other Income statement results include "profits," besides the bottom line Net profit. The Income statement also includes Gross profit, Operating profit, and sometimes other profits or "Net gains." For more on the several profits, see the Exhibit 1 example statement and the section on Profits and Margins below.

Finally, note that some people refer to the Income statement as a Profit and loss statement or P&L. Others call it the Statement of financial performance or Statement of financial operations. Also, even though they are not driven by profit-making objectives, government and non-profit organizations still must report and account for incoming funds and outgoing expenses. These organizations, in other words, publish what is essentially an Income statement. However, they governments and non-profit organizations usually title it with one of the latter two terms.

Where Does the income Statement Report Financial Performance?

When an Income statement first appears, those with a serious interest in company survival and growth generally try first to assess the firm's recent financial performance in its core line of business. The most direct measure for this purpose is Income statement Operating income (operating profit).  Other results from revenues and expenses outside the core business may be large or small, beneficial or detrimental, but it is the normal Operating income that signals the company's ability to operate profitably in its own line of business.

In this regard, note especially that "bottom line" Net profit sometimes gives a less-than-clear picture of the performance results of most concern to investors and owners. Net profit, after all, can reflect contributions from non cash expenses (such as depreciation), taxes, the firm's financial investments, extraordinary items, and still other factors. These contributions sometimes "muddy the waters," that is, obscure actual performance results in the core line of business.

As a result, investors and owners sometimes prefer to discuss earnings in terms of operating profit, but also in terms of certain selective income metrics. These metrics also derive from Income statement revenues and expenses, but not all of them. These may include, for instance:

•  Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT)
•  Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, & amortization (EBITDA).

See the encyclopedia entry earnings before interest and taxes for more on the meaning and reasons for using EBITDA and other selective income metrics. 

The Income Statement Covers a Specific Reporting Period

The Income statement title normally states the time period in view with a phrase such as

 "...for the year ended 31 December 2017. "
 "...for the quarter ended 30 June 2017."

This contrasts with another financial accounting statement, the Balance sheet, which shows the status of assets, liabilities and owner’s equities at one point in time (for example, "At 31 December 2017.")

High Level Objective: Net Income and Increasing Owner Value

In principle, profit making companies exist and operate primarily to create value for their owners. The company's primary way of doing this is by earning income. Once income is declared at period end, there are essentially only two things the firm can do with it:

  1. Declare all or part of Net income as retained earnings. This increases owner value by increasing Owner's equity on the Balance sheet.
  2. Distribute all or part of Net income to the company owners (shareholders) as dividends. This provides owner value directly. 

Another end-of-period report, the Statement of retained earnings, shows how the period's Income statement profits transfer either to the Balance sheet as retained earnings, or to shareholders as dividends.  

The basic Statement of retained earnings equation is as follows:

Net income  =  Preferred stock dividends paid
                           + Common stock dividends paid
                           + Retained earnings 

Retained earnings, in other words, are the funds remaining from Net income after the firm pays dividends to shareholders. Each period's retained earnings add to the cumulative total from previous periods, creating a new retained earnings balance.

Note incidentally, that firms sometimes declare dividend totals that exceed the firm's reported Net income. In principle, a firm can sometimes do this without having to reach into its cash reserves or borrow. This is because in reality, they pay dividends from the firm's net cash inflows for the period, and these can be greater than Net income. This difference, In turn, is possible because Net Income can be reduced by non cash expenses such as depreciation, or bad debt expense. The same non-cash expenses do not reduce the firm's net cash flows.

Explaining Income Statement Contents
Detailed Example Statement

Exhibit 2 below is a detailed version of the Exhibit 1 Income statement. This example might represent a manufacturing firm, but the general format and major categories are typical for companies across a wide range of industries. A company that sells services instead of manufacturing goods might report "Cost of services" in place of "Cost of goods sold," but aside from a few such minor differences in terms, statement structure and content are nearly universal.

Revenues and Expenses Are Not Cash Flow

Note by the way, that reports of income, revenues, and expenses do not necessarily represent real cash inflows or outflows. This is because regulatory groups, standards boards, and tax authorities, allow or require companies to use conventions such as depreciation expense, cost allocation, and accrual accounting on the Income statement. Direct reports of actual cash flow gains and losses for the period appear on another reporting instrument, the Statement of changes in financial position (or Cash flow statement).

Income Statement Items Are Primarily Revenue and Expense Accounts

Those familiar with double entry accounting may also note that most of the Income statement line items are really the names of accounts from the organization's Chart of Accounts—specifically, the organization's "Revenue" and "Expense" category accounts. For more on building the Income statement from accounts and account balances, see the article Trial balance.

Example Income Statement

Exhibit 2, below, is an example Income statement with typical level of detail for the Annual Report.

Grande Corporation                                   Figures in $1,000's
Income Statement for Year Ended 31 December 20YY   
Gross sales revenues
   Less returns & allowances
      Net sales revenues
Cost of goods sold
   Dirct materials
   Direct labor
   Manufacturing Overhead
      Indirect labor
      Depreciation, mfr equipment
      Other mfr overhead
      Net mfr overhead
         Net cost of goods sold
Gross Profit






Operating Expenses
Selling expenses

   Sales salaries
   Warranty expenses
   Depreciation, Store equip
   Other selling expenses
          Total selling expenses
General & Admin expenses
   Administrative salaries
   Rent expenses
   Depreciation, computers
   Other general & admin expenses
      Total general & admin exp
           Total operating expenses
Operating Income Before Taxes





Financial revenue & Expenses
  Revenue from investments
      Less interest expense
      Net financial gain (expense)
Income before tax & ext items
  Less income tax on operations
    Income before extraordinary items


Extraordinary Items
   Sale of land
   Less initial cost
      Net gain on sale of land
      Less income tax on gain
         Extraord items after tax


Net Income (Profit)       2,126

Exhibit 2. Detailed example Income statement, showing how Revenue and Expense account items represent the Income statement equation:
    Income = Revenues – Expenses.

Income Statement Categories.

Income statements usually cover a reporting period just ended (fiscal quarter or fiscal year). They present the period's revenues, expenses, and income, distributed in categories. In Exhibit 1, for example, Income statement expenses fall into five major categories. The first three represent expenses from the company's normal line of business:

Note that depreciation expenses may appear in each of these categories, depending on the use of the assets in question.

The remaining two major expense categories refer to both gains and losses from activities not in the company's normal line of business. This company is not, for instance, in a financial services industry. For this firm, therefore, financial transactions appear separately from those that contribute to normal operating income.

  • Financial Revenues and Expenses
    These include revenues from funds the firm invests, and expenses the firm pays to financing borrowing.
  • Extraordinary Items.
    These may include large gains or losses from selling land or major assets, or from major actions restructuring the company (e.g., the expenses of laying off part of the workforce). 

What Are Margins?
How Do Margins Measure Earnings Performance?

Bottom line Net income is one measure of the company's financial performance for the period. However, the Income statement contains other performance metrics as well. The difference between Net sales revenues and Cost of goods sold is called Gross profit, for instance. And, net income from operations—before taxes, before gains and losses from financial and extraordinary items—is called, not surprisingly, Operating Income or operating profit.

Three of the Income statement profit Figures often appear as percentages of Net sales revenues: Gross profit, Operating profit, and Net profit. As percentages, these profits are margins. Exhibit 3, for instance, shows how a Gross profit of $10,940,000 represents a Gross Margin of 33.2%.

Net Sales = 32,983 Margin = Profit / Sales Revenues
Gross Profit = 10,940 Gross Margin = 10,940 / 32,983 = 33.2%
Operating Profit = 3,130 Operating Margin = 3,130 / 32,983 = 9.5%
Net Profit = 3,130 Profit Margin = 2,126 / 32,983 = 6.4%

Exhibit 3. Three Income statement margins calculated from Sales and Profits figures in Exhibit 1. Each margin is a profit divided by Sales revenues, expressed as a percentage.

Margins are useful for comparing business models and profitability between companies of different sizes. They are also useful for tracking profitability of a single firm across years, as the firm's business grows. Across long time periods, changes in profit figures simply show that profits are growing, holding steady, or shrinking. Changes in margins, however, show how the firm's profitability is growing, holding steady, or shrinking. Changes in margins, in other words, show that the firm's business model is changing.

Margins are Performance Indicators

Margins, therefore, are very important indicators of a company's performance because they measure earnings in terms of the firm's business model. They are therefore of keen interest to stock market analysts, investors, boards of directors, and the firm's own management.

  • Analysts compare the firm's margins directly with competitors' margins and industry "best in class" standards. They will consider current margins, but also period-to-period trends in margins.
  • Management will focus on margins for several reasons:

    Firstly, margins are central to the company's business model. Margins in the model, that is, show where and how the firm expects to make money.

    Secondly, they watch for year-to-year changes in margins. Margins are a highly sensitive indicator of the company's ability to compete effectively and reach strategic objectives.

    Thirdly, margins for individual products and product lines are central to product planning and managing product portfolios. The Income statement shows, for instance, gross margin for the firm.
    However, underneath the firm's Gross margin (and hidden from competitors and the public), each product has its own Gross margin as well. Only by knowing and managing the mix of individual product Gross margins can management optimize the Gross margin for the overall product set. In other words, individual product Gross margins are essential for managing the product portfolio effectively.

Which Important Financial Metrics Use Income Statement Data?

The term financial metrics refers to certain calculations used for analyzing financial statements. Many of these metrics use ratios to compare numbers and, as a result, financial statement metrics are also called financial ratios or business ratios by some--even though not all are true ratios. In any case, the word metrics refers to measurement. Financial metrics measure by revealing characteristics of a data set that might not stand out in a simple review of the data figures.

The metric Inventory turns, for instance, measures the firm's ability to use inventory assets efficiently. The metric makes a ratio from an Income statement figure (Net sales) and a Balance sheet figure (Inventories). Analysts interpret the result as the number of times the firm's inventory "turns over" in a year. The metric has meaning due to the basic business belief that assets should be working for the company and not sitting idle and unproductive.

Financial Metrics Families

Financial metrics that use Income statement and Balance sheet figures belong to several families. Metrics in each family are address specific kinds of questions about the firm's financial performance or financial position.

Very briefly, these metrics specifically address questions like these:

  • Can the firm meet its short term financial obligations?       
    Liquidity metrics such as Current ratio and Working Capital address such questions.
  • Is the company using its resources efficiently?       
    Activity metrics such as inventory turns address such questions.
  • Are the company's funds supplied primarily by owners or by creditors?     
    Leverage metrics, such as the Debt to asset ratio provide answers
  • Is the company profitable?        
    Profitability metrics such as Operating margin and Net Income address such questions.  
  • Is the firm making good use of its assets?
    Profitability metrics such as Return on assets ROA and Return on Equity ROE address such questions.  
  • What are the company's prospects for future earnings?       
    Valuation metrics, such as the Price to earnings P/E ratio deal with such questions.   
  • How does the firm's 5-year growth compare to  other firms? To industry averages? 
    Growth metrics such as the Cumulative average growth rate CAGR address such questions.   

Many of the input data items for these metrics come from the Income statement.

For a complete coverage of financial metrics, and of the interrelationships between Income statement and Balance sheet, and other financial statements, see the Excel-based ebook and template system, Financial Metrics Pro.