For many new investors, reading a balance sheet is no easy feat. But, once you know how to read it, you can use the data within to get a better sense of a company's value.
You can find a firm's balance sheet in its yearly Form 10-K filing. A Form 10-K filing is also known as an annual report. Every public company must file this document with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The balance sheet contains details about the org's capital structure, liquidity, and viability. It is divided into three parts. These parts include assets, liabilities, and equity. Subtract liabilities from assets, and you arrive at shareholder equity. This is a key metric of a firm's financial health. A firm with more assets than liabilities will give you a better return than one with negative equity.
What Are Assets on a Balance Sheet?
A firm can have many kinds of assets. Some are tangible, such as inventory, cash, or machines. Some are intangible, such as goodwill, brand recognition, or copyright. A company may list its tangible assets on its balance sheet in a few categories, such as:
- Current assets
- Long-term investments
- Other (this may include fixed assets such as property, plants, and equipment)
Defining Long-Term Investment Assets
A firm invests for the long term to help them sustain profits now and into the future. These long-term investments could include stocks or bonds from other firms, Treasury bonds, equipment, or real estate. On the other hand, current assets are often liquid assets. These are used in many of the immediate operations of the firm. They might be inventory, cash, assets held for sale, or trade and other receivables.
Investments are seen as current assets if the firm intends to sell them within a year. Long-term investments (also called noncurrent assets) are assets that they intend to hold for more than a year.
If the company intends to sell an asset—but not until after 12 months—it is classified as available for sale. If a firm intends to hold the asset until maturity, it is classified as held-to-maturity. For instance, a company might hold a bond until it matures.
Whether an asset is categorized as current or long-term can have implications for a firm's balance sheet.
For instance, say an insurance company buys $10 million worth of corporate bonds. It intends to sell these bonds at some point in the next 12 months. In this case, the bonds will be classified as a short-term investment. They will be subject to rules requiring them to be marked to market, or listed at current market value, at reporting time.
If the bonds decline in value to $9 million in a quarter, the $1 million loss must be posted on the company's income statement. This is true even if the bonds are still held, and the loss is unrealized.
On the other hand, let's say that this firm buys the same $10 million in bonds but plans on holding them until maturity. In this case, they're classified as a long-term investment. The asset is recorded at cost. As such, it may not reflect market changes in price.
Long-term investment assets such as plants and equipment decrease in value as they age. Depreciating these assets helps to keep fair market values assigned. It allows for spreading out the expense over time.
Using Asset Valuations in Financial Ratios
The valuation of long-term investment assets at each reporting cycle is a key factor in figuring a firm’s worth on its balance sheet. The ratios that you can figure out from these valuations are important, too. Two ratios include return on assets (ROA) and return on equity (ROE). Return on assets divides a firm's net income by total assets. Return on equity divides a firm's net income by total equity. ROA and ROE are different ways of showing a company's profitability.
If a company has negative equity, it means its liabilities exceed its assets. In this case, it can be considered insolvent.
Startups may not have as many assets. They could have negative equity in the early phases of business.