What is it and why do I care?
The balance sheet, also known as the statement of financial condition, basically tells you how much a company owns (its assets), and how much it owes (its liabilities). The difference between what it owns and what it owes is its equity, also commonly called "net assets," "stockholder's equity," or "net worth."
The balance sheet provides investors with a snapshot of a company's health as of the date provided on the financial statement. Generally, if a company has lots of assets relative to liabilities, it's in good shape. Conversely, just as you would be cautious loaning money to a friend who is burdened with large debts, a company with a large amount of liabilities relative to assets should be scrutinized more carefully.
Assets, Liabilities, and Equity
Each of the three primary elements of the balance sheet is described below.
Assets. There are two main types of assets: current assets and noncurrent assets. Within these two categories, there are numerous subcategories, many of which will be explained in Lesson 302. Current assets are likely to be used up or converted into cash within one business cycle--usually defined as one year. For example, the groceries at your local supermarket would be classified as current assets because apples and bananas should be sold within the next year. Noncurrent assets are defined by our left-brained accountant friends as, you guessed it, anything not classified as a current asset. For example, the refrigerators at your supermarket would be classified as noncurrent assets because it's unlikely they will be "used up" or converted to cash within a year.
Liabilities. Similar to assets, there are two main categories of liabilities: current liabilities and noncurrent liabilities. Current liabilities are obligations the firm must pay within a year. For example, your supermarket may have bought and received $1,000 worth of eggs from a local farm but won't pay for them until next month. Noncurrent liabilities are the flip side of noncurrent assets. These liabilities represent money the company owes one year or more in the future. For example, the grocer may borrow $1 million from a bank for a new store, which it must pay back in five years.
Equity. Equity represents the part of the company that is owned by shareholders; thus, it's commonly referred to as shareholder's equity. As described above, equity is equal to total assets minus total liabilities. Although there are several categories within equity, the two biggest are paid-in capital and retained earnings. Paid-in capital is the amount of money shareholders paid for their shares when the stock was first offered to the public. It basically represents how much money the firm received when it sold its shares. Retained earnings represent the total profits the company has earned since it began, minus whatever has been paid to shareholders as dividends. Since this is a cumulative number, if a company has lost money over time, retained earnings can be negative and would be renamed "accumulated deficit."
The Statement of Cash Flows >>