What is Capital Expenditures?
Capital Expenditures (CapEx) is the cash a company pays for capital assets that will deliver long-term value to the business. These capital assets usually consist of (1) PP&E and (2) Intangible Assets. PP&E are physical assets, such as buildings, office fixture, cash registers, machinery, etc. Intangible Assets are things like patents and software.
If a company spends $500 buying desks and chairs for its employees, it’d record the $500 as CapEx. Likewise, if a gas station spends $10,000 buying a new gas machine, it’d record the $10,000 as CapEx.
In most instances, companies spend Capital Expenditures mostly on physical assets, such as buildings, machineries, and equipment. A common misconception is that Capital Expenditures only include spending on physical assets. This is not true. Capital Expenditures are expenditures related to capital assets, which are assets that drive the company’s long-term growth. These capital assets may include both PP&E and Intangible Assets. Both PP&E and Intangible Assets enable the business to operate and generate value over the long-term. Therefore, Capital Expenditures include cash spent on both PP&E and Intangible Assets.
However, in practice, many companies spend most of their Capital Expenditures on PP&E. That’s because physical assets often require ongoing maintenance. As a result, in practice, CapEx mostly relate to spending on physical assets.
Capital Expenditures is a line item on the Cash Flow Statement. It usually appears as a cash outflow under Cash Flow from Investing. When companies spend cash to buy capital assets, they are making an investment. They are investing into their core business operations. Therefore, it’s categorized as an investing activity.
Companies that spent all of their CapEx on physical assets will call it “Purchases of Property, Plant and Equipment” or “Purchases of Physical Assets” instead of “Capital Expenditures”. Regardless, the terms are conceptually similar.