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What Is a J-Curve?

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  • Written By: Osmand Vitez
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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The J-curve is a graphical representation that indicates how well a private equity company earns money from investments. Many private equity firms use a standard bar chart to track cash inflows and outflows relating to various projects. Cash outflows represent negative figures, resulting in bars that stretch below the horizontal axis on the chart. Cash inflows represent positive figures, with bars stretching above the horizontal axis. The chart will look like a J laid on its back, with cash outflows more frequent early on and cash inflows later in the project.

In some cases, the J-curve is more of an unnatural affect rather than a planned design for the bar chart. Other charts also may result in a J-curve; foreign trade through imports and exports or the devaluation of currency might also experience this phenomenon. Both individual organizations and countries will look at the curve to determine why it exists and what caused the curve to occur. Most organizations and countries are unable to maintain a situation where the first few bars on the chart result in a negative situation. Additionally, the number of bars and the amounts they represent also play an important role in the J-curve analysis.

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In business, most companies expect higher expenditures to get a new project rolling. Acquiring materials, purchasing equipment, hiring and training employees or implementing quality control early in projects all represent higher costs. While budgets are often used to control costs, the J-curve allows for a pictorial representation for managers to review the level of expenditures for starting projects. In addition to the costs, most companies want information on how long the negative cash inflows lasted for projects or other business operations. The longer these negative cash flows occur will indicate the company must wait longer to recoup the expenditures for the project’s operations.

Politically, the J-curve allows countries to track imported goods against exported goods for a period of time. Trade balances are important to many nations, as a negative imbalance indicates the country is not earning enough revenue from exported products. The J-curve helps countries analyze their net trade imbalance and how to correct it. Not all trade imbalances will result in a natural J when looking at a chart. Identifying this curve, however, allows for a starting point when analyzing the information from imports and exports further. Elasticity of price, available quantity of goods, international demand and supply from organizations are all areas that will need exploring when looking at the graphical curve of a trade imbalance.

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