The real problem with “profit laggards” in our industry is that they don’t know they are laggards. Most printers blame the economy, Covid19, vendors and the internet for most, if not all of their problems.
Many of these troubled companies simply ignore their own profit and loss statements. When they do examine them, they often are not even sure what to look for.
Profit laggards (those in the bottom 25% in terms of profitability) often have no idea whatsoever how poorly they are doing, especially when compared to printers in the top 25th percentile. They just figure everyone must be having the same problems they are facing.
When troubled firms look at key expense items such as “cost of goods,” “payroll costs” and “overhead expenses,” they have no idea whatsoever how those expenses compare to others – especially those firms falling into the top 25% in our industry in terms of profitability.
One of the big reasons for this is that they have so little information to work with when it comes to financial data. Our surveys show that most profit laggards lack properly prepared financial statements. Even when they do have decent statements, their statements fail to display key ratios adjacent to expenses (expenses expressed as a percent of sales).
Lacking ratios that they can use to compare their performance against others, it is no surprise that many of these troubled companies are so ill-prepared when a double whammy like Covid19 comes along.
Operating Ratio Studies
Fortunately for the industry, the National Printing Research Council (NPRC) has continued a 35+ year tradition in the printing industry of publishing key financial reports detailing profitability in the printing industry. Described as either “Operating Ratio Reports” or “Benchmarking Studies,” these popular reports provide an in-depth look at profitability in our industry.
These reports examine our industry in terms of annual sales, key expenses, and owner’s compensation. In addition, comparative breakouts include independents vs. franchises, single vs. multiple, association memberships, offset vs. digital, and firms with high reliance on brokering vs. those that broker very little.
As for sales, the latest study, the 2019-2020 Financial Benchmarking Study, provides breakout data for firms with sales as low as $400,000 to those reporting sales of $2.5 million and higher. Another valuable breakout includes an analysis of firms based upon their reported sales per employee.
As the study notes, firms with SPEs of $140,000 and higher are significantly more profitable than those with SPEs in the $80,000 to $115,000 range. The higher the SPE, the greater the odds that firms will indeed survive these turbulent times.
Profit Leader Quartiles
Of all the breakouts offered in the current and previous benchmarking studies, none is more revealing than when the study presents breakouts based upon “Profitability Quartiles.” In the most recent report, profitability quartiles are defined as:
The current Benchmarking Study not only analyzes profitability for the industry at large (all participants), but it also provides profitability quartiles breakouts for both independent and franchises.
Other breakouts offered include peer groups vs. non-peer groups, firms employing sales reps vs. those with no sales reps, and breakouts based upon geographic location.
Profit Leader vs. Profit Laggard Ratios
While the Benchmarking Study provides hundreds and hundreds of expenses and their corresponding ratios, there are a few that standout. Below are some key $$$ amounts and ratios that are discussed in this study.
Please not that the firms falling into the bottom quartile were in serious trouble pre-Covid19. One can only imagine the struggles the bottom 25% of our industry is facing in this new era of extended quarantines, wearing of masks and reductions in staffing.
Total Gross Sales
Cost of Goods
Payroll (Excl. Owner)
Doomed to Failure
If you fail to control your payroll costs you are most likely doomed to failure. You may not close your doors, but you are endangering the future survivability of your firm. When it comes time to sell, it will have little if any value and will command only pennies on the dollar.
If your firm fails to control overhead expenses and tends to report expense ratios that fall into the bottom quartile (as depicted above) you are probably doomed to failure. You cannot consistently achieve or report bottom quartile ratios as shown above and expect to remain in business! Things have to change and it begins at the top.
Purchase this Study
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5-15-20 – The National Printing Research Council(NPRC) continues to serve the printing, mailing and sign industries with a series of statistical surveys designed to keep owners informed regarding major industry trends. Of course nothing has had a greater impact on our combined industries than the current Covid-19 Pandemic! (To download a 11-page PDF copy of this reportclick here.)
In fact, no single event in the past 100 years has had more impact on our industry than the current pandemic. As a result, NPRC launched its first Covid-19 Survey in mid-March and published the results on its website on March 26th. (Click here to read and download the previous report.)
It didn’t take long for it to become apparent that NPRC would need a second and most likely a third survey if we were to meet the needs of our industry. So on May 5th NPRC launched its 2nd survey called Covid-19 “Take #2.”
The survey ran for seven days, closing on May 12th and attracted 253 participating firms, closely matching the 279 responses we received on our 1st survey about a month ago.
Stimulus Checks vs. PPP Disbursements
As a general rule,printers appear to have had far greater success in receiving PPP loans than they have in receiving their $1,200 stimulus checks by almost exactly a 2:1 rate. According to our data, and based upon 253 responses received between May 7-12, only 39% of survey respondents told us they had received their $1,200 checks, while 61% told us they were still waiting. Somewhat ironic considering no applications or forms were required for the latter while an application process was established for PPP disbursements.
As for PPP applications and disbursements, approximately 92% of printers told us they had applied for the Federal Government’s Payroll Protection Plan (PPP), and that 78% of those that had applied have already received the PPP funds.
Interesting too is that approximately 38% of the industry has applied for and received either an advance payment or full disbursement on their EIDL SBA Disaster Loan. (See Chart #18) Once again, contrast that with the fact that 61% of participants are still waiting for their stimulus checks. Granted, there are far more of the latter to be disbursed, but the disbursement process is much simpler and subject to far less variables than what can be a complex loan application.
Covid-19 & General Industries Trends
One of our first series of questions sought out participants and asked them to estimate or project the percent decline in total employees for three specific periods of time. We asked them about the number of employees currently employed as well as the number of employees they projected for two periods in the future. Below are the results uncovered as of May 12th:
Chart #1 – % Declines in Employment
As you can see (See Chart #1), it appears that many printers seem to be implying that the worst is possibly now behind us. The first two bars (average & median) reflect the decline in sales over a four-month (Jan-April), however, most of the decline in staffing appears to have occurred in March and April, the last two months of that time-frame.
It is likely, but not assured, that in the next few months we will look back on 2020 and view the March-April time-frame as the worst two-months of 2020. Of course, we still have no idea what May or June 2020 will bring, but the consensus seems to be “it can’t be any worse than what we have already seen.”
We also asked participants to predict the impact that Covid-19 will have on their employee staffing as it relates to both the first six months of 2020 as well as on total employment for all 12 months in 2020.
Chart #2 – Employees
Chart #2 abovereflects answers to our survey question asking participants to tell us their current and projected staffing levels as we approach the end of the 1st six months of 2020 as well how we will finish out the year. Overall, it appears that owners are predicting that by year-end 2020 total staffing will have declined by approximately 13-17% from what it was in January 2020.
If you enjoy and appreciate reading research reports such as this, consider supporting NPRC by purchasing one or more of its research publications, or making a small financial contribution to NPRC via a PayPal donation to [email protected]
Business As Usual?
Chart #3 provides the answers to the question, “Based upon state or county regulations or laws currently in effect, what is your current business status as of May 8, 2020?” According to our data, it appears that approximately 70% of the industry is back to “normal” in terms of being open for business. However, being open for business is not the same as a return to business as usual. Many participants told us that customers are simply staying home and are certainly not venturing outside to place orders.
Chart #3 – Current “open” or “closed” Status
With significant declinesin raw business volume, something has to give, and we asked survey participants to tell us how they were handling their payroll and staffing demands in light of much lower sales. As you can see (Chart #4) approximately 46% told us they are currently paying employees full-pay.
Chart #4 – Employee Payroll Status
Payroll Status for Specific Firms – Question #4 of our survey asked, “If you are temporarily closed, or operating under limited hours of operation, how are you handling payroll?” As you can see, 46% of those responding firms said they were continuing to pay employees at “full” pay. The remainder (remember these are firms that are still closed or operating under limited hours) turned to paying employees only for hours actually worked.
Employed vs. Furloughed? Question #5 asked respondents what percent of their total work forces is currently working at their physical plant as opposed to furloughed? Question #6 asked how many employees have been furloughed as a result of Covid-19. We clarified that question by noting that “furloughed” meant “temporarily sent home for a period of time without pay.”
Chart #5-6 Employed or Furloughed?
Chart #5-6 illustratesthat employers have, on average, retained approximately 73% of their work force. The bad news, of course, is that approximately 26% of the workforce in our industry has indeed been laid-off or furloughed and we suspect that most of them will never be rehired.
Healthcare premiums and furloughed employees – What are owners doing in regards to continuing healthcare premiums for laid-off/furloughed employees was a popular question among owners who pay such for employees. For approximately 33% of participants, this question was not an issue since that coverage is not offered.
As you can see,at least as of May 8th, approximately 24% of employers continue to pay premiums for all employees. Unfortunately, approximately 11% of employers ceased (as of May 8 or before) paying healthcare premiums for inactive or furloughed employees.
Chart #7 – Handling Healthcare Premiums
Major Sales Declines Predicted
Our Covid-19 Take #2 survey offered up 5 distinct time frames (See graph #8-12 below) and asked participants to indicate the percentage that sales were either up or down. Suffice it to say, not a single participant indicated any UP or positive sales for the time periods reported or projected.
The graph below (Questions #8-#12) illustrates the tendency and belief at least among many survey participants that the “worst is behind us” in terms of impact on future sales. The further we go out in the future the lower the predicted cumulative negative impact on sales.
Nonetheless, printers are still predicting a 29% decline in sales for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2020. Note the devastating impact Covid-19 had on April sales, with printers predicting a decline of -49% on April 2020 sales compared to April 2019. The negative trend clearly carries over into the 2nd quarter of 2020 with a predicted decline of -45%.
Had we asked about predictions for 2021 we are convinced that we would continue to have seen negative numbers, but we will leave that for a future survey. For right now, suffice it to say we are indeed looking at a dismal picture in terms of both sales and profits for not only the rest of 2020 but into 2021.
Questions #8-12 – Sales Projections
Stimulus Checks & Other Loan Options
#14 – A Stimulus Check?
Our Covid-19 Take #2 survey asked five specific questions dealing with various stimulus legislation such as stimulus checks, PPP applications and EIDL/SBA Disaster Loans. Our first question was the simplest and yet the results were the most shocking.
Question #14 asked whether survey participants had (Yes or No answer required) received their individual stimulus check or deposit of $1,200 per person (with qualifications and restriction). The question was flawed in a sense that the question assumed those that answered would be qualified to receive one.
Nonetheless, we believethat most printers and most participants would indeed be qualified to receive a stimulus check of some $$$ amount. With that said, 61% of respondents as of May 8, 2020 told us they had not received a check.
As a result, we were surprisedwhen we began checking out the survey data. What was supposed to be the most transparent, the quickest and the simplest of the many federal bailout programs now appears to have run into some major delays if not roadblocks. When we asked folks if they had received (as of May 8th) their stimulus checks we were surprised to hear that 61% of our respondents told us “No.”
(SPECIAL NOTE: As noted previously, we realized this question and our comments that followed was flawed, in that not every owner/spouse would be qualified to receive a stimulus check. Our question should have been more specific, to allow for the fact that not everyone was qualified to receive such.)
PPL Funds and Applications– The good news came when we asked about PPP funds. According to our survey data, almost 92% of the printing industry applied for PPP Funds, and even more surprising is that approximately 78% told us they had in fact received payments under the government’s Payroll Protection Plan. (See graph – Questions #15-17)
PPP Funds Forgiven? When asked about “forgiveness” of loans, participants told us they expected that 73.4% of the loan amount would be forgiven. The median was 95% of the loan amount.
#15-17 PPP Applications & Loans
EIDL – SBA Disaster Loans– Since this has turned out to be another popular Covid-19 era loan program, we thought we would ask participants if they have applied for a loan and whether or not they have actually received an advance and/or the full loan amount. Their answers appear below. Note that the cumulative total of the responses below (70.3%) represents to the total percent of survey participants who indicated they applied for an EIDL loan.
#18 EIDL Loan Disbursements
Cash Reserves – How Much & How Little – We asked participants to take into account steps and expenditures they have already taken, to tell us how many additional weeks or months did they feel they could survive under the current Covid-19 economy. (See Graph #19)
We must confidethat the 33% of printers who told us they had enough cash reserves to last them at least six months was a refreshing bit of news considering all of the negative stats we had received. Even more encouraging was the fact that another 13% of respondents told us they could last at least one year.
Unfortunately, another 31% of printers told us they only have enough cash reserves to last them two months or less. Considering the fact that most owners predict that the negative business climate and the severe decline in demand will extend well into late summer (if not the Fall or Winter), it appears that a significant portion of the printing industry is in deep trouble.
#19 – Cash Reserves
Predicting modest recovery by Spring 2021?
Overall Business Confidence Level – Question #20 of our Covid-19 “Take #2” Survey posed the following question: “Taking into account everything that has transpired in the past three months, how would you rate your confidence level that your business will be somewhat back to ‘normal’ by April 2021.”
We provided a slider that moved through a scale from left to right. On the far left, we displayed a -100 and identified it as (Very Doubtful). In the middle we displayed a 0 and labeled it “about 50/50”. On the far right we displayed +100 and labeled it “Extremely Confident.”
The final score was +16! In hindsight, we should have simplified the scale and its interpretation. Nonetheless, we interpret the +16 to be a slightly (very slight) positive indication or feeling that their business will possible be approaching normal by Spring of 2021.
Controlling Labor Costs
Preferences for Controlling Labor Costs – Question #21 was a complex question asking readers to provide a “weighted” answer to five possible steps that might be taken to reduce or control labor costs. We provided five options they could take, and then basically asked them to tell us how likely or unlikely they were to pursue each option. The options ranged between “We will not consider” to “Will like implement.”
As a result, we were able to producethe following graph. As you can tell, printers are very reluctant to institute a “Reduction in Pay.” At the other end of the spectrum, printers are far more likely to pursue a “Reduction in hours for individual employees” followed closely by a general “Reduction in hours across the board.”
#21 – Controlling Labor Costs
Handling Accounts Payable?
Dealing with Accounts Payable– Recognizing the critical importance of improving and maintaining cash flow, we asked participants what if any steps they have taken to delay or slow down payments to vendors.
One option that we initially had not even considered in our first draft but was added later was the option stating that the owner has not delayed or slowed payments to vendors at all. Surprisingly, as it turned out, this option dominated all of the other responses. Almost 60% of respondents told us they have not delayed or slowed payments to their vendors.
#22 Dealing With Accounts Payable
Prospects for the future of your business – We could have just as easily put this question at the beginning or the end, but we basically wanted printers to tell us how Covid-19 has impacted their business. As expected, approximately 70% told us Covid-19 is having a “significantly negative impact” on their business, while another 10.5% tell us it has been “catastrophic.” (Graph #23)
#23 – Prospects for the Future?
The Role of Politics
Support for Governors, Congress & the President – Since politics plays such a major role in everything these days, the last five questions of our survey attempted to gauge the support and ratings offered by participants for their governors, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress and President Trump. Participants were provided a scale ranging from 0 (Totally Opposed) to 50 (Neutral) to 100 (Fully Support).
Accurate Reporting on this data was imperative and we thus calculated both average and median figures. Our take? Too close to call out any big “winners” or “losers” in this contest!
Red States vs. Blue States – As a foundation for question #23, we asked participants to define the political nature of their own state. Where they in “Red,” “Blue,” or “Purple” state. The answers appear below. Our “gut” expected the “Red” state percentage to be slightly higher than the 32% shown, but all of that will only really matter when November rolls around.
#28 – Red State vs. Blue State
Our Sincere Thanks – We want to sincerely thank those of you who took the time to participate in our most recent industry survey. Rest assured it will not be our last, but we will be honest with you that we need your continuing support, not only as a survey participant but also as a financial supporter.
We would also like to thank the following two individuals for their help and advice in creating this industry survey: (1) John Henry, owner of Speedway Press, Oswego, NY and founding board member of NPOA, and (2) Armand Girard, owner of Curry Printing & Marketing, Auburn, ME and also a founding board member of NPOA.
You can support NPRC and its research efforts by participating in various surveys we conduct and/or purchasing studies when they published. Click here to visit our Bookstore. If you feel really generous, but have already purchased one or more of our studies, you can always make a small donation to NPRC via PayPal at [email protected]
Remember to drop us a line and give us your suggestions for future surveys, especially those dealing with the current and future impact of Covid-19! We love to hear from you.
Interested in boosting profits and becoming a “Profit Leader” in 2019? If your answer is “Yes,” we suggest you Click Here and download NPRC’s latest publication – The 2019 Financial Model & Goals sheet.
Click JPG to Download 2019 Goal Sheet
At a quick glance, you’ll discover what the top 25% in our industry are reporting in terms of :
Cost of Sales
Sales Per Employee
The data provided is based upon statistical data reported in various research studies and reports published by NPRC during the past 18 months. For additional information about our industry, visit NPRC’s website at www.printingresearch.org and scan the various articles under our “blog” tab.
NPRC has just released its latest2018 Financial Printing Goals sheet for the printing industry. Based upon years of research conducted by QP Consulting, Inc., as well as data available in NPRC’s 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study, this new handout offers specific financial printing goals required to attain “profit leader” status.
The data is based upon information provided by printers falling into the top quartile in this industry in terms of profitability. This new Financial Goals Sheet for the printing industry details specific ratios for cost of sales, payroll expenses (excluding owners) and overhead expenses.
Download Printing Goals Sheet…
Free Financial Printing Goals Sheet with key ratios
Our advice,download and print the PDF provided and tape or staple to the wall next to your desk. Simply viewing these key profitability ratios on a daily basis, according to many printers who have used this sheet in the past, will help you improve your profitability.
To view and download a PDF of this goal sheet, click here.
Sometimes we seem to hear more complaints that compliments, no matter how hard we work… so, when we get a short email offering praise we are not going to let it slip quietly into the night <g>. Instead we want to share it with you:
“Hi John, just a short note to thank you so much for what you and NPRC do. It has always been worth the few minutes it takes to do your surveys in order to get the wealth of information your reports provide. From which machines perform best and their features, to salary/wages and possibly most important – pricing! It is all great information to help us run our business.”
Jennifer R. Jordan, Jorndan Enterprises, Inc. SD Visual Images Marlborough, MA
Although the just-released 72-page, 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study published by NPRC is filled with key printing industry financial ratios, there is one page that virtually screams out at the reader with the following warning…
“You cannot survive, let-alone prosper in this industry if you allow your business to report key performance ratios this low!”
As of June 5, 2017 this just-released study is
available in both PDF and hard-copy formats!
Despite the fact that the new Financial Benchmarking Study offers up a variety of breakouts such as comparisons based upon annual sales, percentage of sales produced via offset printing versus digital printing, as well as breakouts based upon “sales per employee,” page 64, titled Key Ratios of All Firms by Profitability Quartiles, offers up some shocking comparisons.
If It Was Up to Me…
John Stewart Executive Director NPRC
The “Key Ratios” page is so important, so valuable, that if it was up to me, I would insist that every owner, especially those who are troubled by the fact that they are not making the kind of money they expect, make a copy of page 64 and tape it to a wall next to their desk. Of course, owners of the more successful companies in this industry have already been doing this for years, it is the troubled firms that I am most concerned with.
The “Key Ratio” section of the study offers up 29 key ratios or percentages used to identify or distinguish top performers in the printing industry against those at the very bottom. The ratios use to analyze firms in various quartiles aren’t inconsequential ratios found in accounting textbooks but rather key financial that impact exactly how much an owner and sometimes his or her spouse take out of the business every two weeks.
“Even more important, the ratios you will discover, when compared to your own ratios, will determine whether, after spending 15-20 years in this industry, you will have anything of substance to either sell or transfer over to a son or daughter!”
Depending upon how your ratios compare to those detailed in the study, these ratios ultimately will determine whether in fact you should return to your previous field of employment or stick it out and try to turn your business around in the next 12-18 months. Even more important, the ratios you will discover, when compared to your own ratios, will determine whether, after spending 15-20 years in this industry you will have anything of substance to either sell or transfer over to a son or daughter!
Comparative Ratios – Winners vs. Laggards
What types of ratios are we talking about? The ratios range from the simplest ones such as annual sales and rates of annual growth based upon four profitability quartiles, to percentage comparisons for fundamental expense categories such as cost of goods, payroll expenses and overhead expenses.
The Benchmarking Study delves far deeper than the basic ratios noted above, with comparisons of ratios such as owner’s compensation, excess earnings, and profits per employee. Other ratios examined include current and quick ratios (all ratios and terms are thoroughly explained in the study), as well as average Accounts Receivable collection days, to return on net assets.
Below are are just a few of the shocking comparisons between firms at the very top as compared with those at the very bottom. Remember, the results we are reporting are based upon real-world firms with employee teams, job and equipment mix, and types of sales very similar to your own. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of rationalizing and saying that, “Things in my market are really different from these companies… my business is really different and there is no way I could achieve these types of ratios. I just can’t worry about things I cannot change.”
Average Cost of Goods
Although COG, as a percent of sales, has remained fairly steady for almost 30 years in this industry, it is still worth nothing that the “Profit Leaders” in this industry still end up spending 9% less than the “Profit Laggards” when it comes to cost of goods – A shocking indicator that some owners are simply running very poor, very inefficient operations combined most likely with terrible pricing discipline!
“If your COG, as a percent of sales, is 31% or higher you are most likely destined to mediocrity in terms of financial success in this industry.”
The bottom line? If your COG, as a percent of sales, is 31% or higher you are most likely destined to mediocrity in terms of financial success in this industry. Most likely, it is almost impossible for you to become a “profit leader” in this industry with a ratio of 31% or greater.
Payroll and Overhead Expenses
Once again, according to the Key Ratio Extractions, poorly managed firms in this industry, despite the fact that many of them are averaging annual sales of $1.1 million or more, are doing a terrible job when it comes to controlling both payroll and overhead expenses. In many cases, some of the most troubled firms are paying 4-6 percent more for payroll and overhead than companies in the top quartile!
“How owners can possibly manage, let alone improve their operations, by relying on financial statements that lack even the most basic tools is beyond me!”
Rest assured that the reasons these companies are paying so much than those at the top are rarely, if ever, related to geographic or demographic reasons. The most common cause is the failure of owners to carefully examine their monthly financial statements and then to take the necessary actions that are so clearly dictated.
To be perfectly blunt, how any owner could discover a total payroll cost ratio (excluding money paid to the owner) of 33-35% from his current financial statements and still be able to sleep well at night is beyond my comprehension. Note too that I am now 73 and really “cranky” sometimes but there are some owners out there who need to be grabbed firmly by the shoulders and given a good shake.
A special footnote worth mentioning – it is shocking to discover how many owners receive monthly profit and loss statements lacking a vertical column of financial ratios – i.e. the percentage of total sales represented by each expense item. How owners can possibly manage, let alone improve their operations, by relying on financial statements that lack even the most basic tools is beyond me!
Excess Earnings of Winners
Excess earnings is defined as those funds or profits generated by the business after paying a single owner a fair-market salary for his or her efforts. Excess earnings is often a key factor in determining the value of a business. It is typically subjected to an excess earnings multiplier and used to calculate the value or worth of a business.
“Sad to realize that companies can ignore this type of data for so long, only to realize after spending 15-20 or more years in this industry that their business has no value whatsoever!”
Suffice it to say, that companies in the top quartile in terms of profitability reported an average excess earnings figure of almost $200,000 while firms in the bottom 25% actually reported a negative amount. The latter meaning that these companies have very little if any net worth other than the “street market” value of their equipment.
Sad to realize that companies can ignore this type of data for so long, only to realize after spending 15-20 or more years in this industry that their business has no value whatsoever!
“However, before you start patting yourself on the back, realize that 25% of the entire industry is actually reporting an SPE of $180,000 or greater!”
Sales Per Employee
SPE has always been a reliable indicator of overall productivity, and once again those at the top, according to NPRC’s latest Financial Benchmarking Study, consistently report a considerably higher SPE than those at the bottom. Almost 13% of our participants reported an SPE of less than $100,000!
If your firm’s SPE is below $126,000 you will discover you are in the bottom 25% of the industry – Like it or not, you are clearly doing something wrong, at least compared to your peers, when it comes to either pricing, personnel management or equipment selection and you need to make some dramatic changes in the way you run your business.
If your SPE is in the $156,000 or above range then consider yourself fortunate because that would place you in the top 25% quartile. However, before you start patting yourself on the back, realize that 25% of the entire industry is actually reporting an SPE of $180,000 or greater!
Purchasing this Brand-New Report
The 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study, published by the National Printing Research Council (NPRC), is available for purchase through the NPRC Bookstore. It is priced at $115 and sold on a 100% money-back guarantee. It is only available as a hard copy. Sorry, no PDFs available.