Reading an income statement

This is the first of three posts which give you a quick guide to reading the three key financial statements – the income statement, balance sheet and statement of cash flows. This post deals with the income statement, with the other two coming over the next few weeks.

The Income Statement

An income statement presents the results of a company’s operations for a given period—usually a year. The income statement presents a summary of the revenues, expenses, profit or loss of an entity for the period. This statement is similar to a moving picture of the entity’s operations during the time period specified. Along with the balance sheet and the statement of cash flows, the income statement is one of the primary means of reporting financial performance. The key item listed on the income statement is the profit or loss.

Within the income statement there’s a good bit of information. If you’re knowledgeable about reading financial statements, in a company’s income statement you’ll find information about return on investment, risk, financial flexibility, and operating capabilities.

The current view of the income statement (in line with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)) is that income should reflect all items of profit and loss recognised during the accounting period. The following summary income statement illustrates the format under IAS 1 – Presentation of Financial Statements (image from

This example above is fairly typical of the income statement of a large public company. I’ll explain some items below.

Some terms on the income statement explained


According to the IASB’s IAS 18, revenue is defined as “the gross inflow of economic benefits (cash, receivables, other assets) arising from the ordinary operating activities of an entity (such as sales of goods, sales of services, interest, royalties, and dividends)”.  This means that revenue is typically the figure for sales of goods or provision of services for the period of the income statement.

Cost of sales.

The cost of sales figure includes all expenses incurred in buying to making the product or service which generates revenue.

Other Income

This is income from sources like interest or investment income.


Expenses are classified as either distribution cost, administrative expenses, other expenses or finance costs. No further detail is needed.

Share of profit of associates

This figure is the share of the profits made in an associate company – one where 20-49% is owned by the company (or group of companies) the income statement is prepared for.

The final item in the example above represents a loss made in a section of a business which is discontinued. This separate disclosure is required by accounting standards. Additionally, IAS1 also requires a short statement of comprehensive income, which shows unrealised gains (like unrealised asset revaluations,  or currency gains/loses on translation). I don’t include it here, but it is usually no more than a few lines.



About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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