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IB DP Business Management Study Notes

3.4.2 Components of Balance Sheet

A balance sheet provides a snapshot of a company's financial position at a specific point in time, detailing what it owns (assets) and what it owes (liabilities). The following notes delve deep into the crucial components of a balance sheet: current assets, fixed assets, current liabilities, long-term liabilities, and equity.

Current Assets

Current assets are short-term resources that can be converted into cash within a year. They play a pivotal role in funding day-to-day business operations.

  • Cash and Cash Equivalents: Immediate liquid assets such as money held in checking accounts or short-term securities.
  • Accounts Receivable: Amounts due from customers for goods or services delivered on credit.
  • Inventory: Stock of goods ready for sale or raw materials for production.
  • Prepaid Expenses: Costs already paid for but not yet consumed, e.g., insurance paid in advance. Understanding how these figures relate to short-term financial commitments is crucial; more on this can be found on the page about short-term financing.

Fixed Assets

Fixed assets are long-term resources used in the production of goods and services, typically lasting more than a year.

  • Tangible Assets: Physical items such as land, buildings, machinery, and vehicles.
    • Depreciation: Over time, the value of tangible assets reduces. This reduction in value is recorded as depreciation.
  • Intangible Assets: Non-physical items that have value, including trademarks, patents, copyrights, and goodwill.
    • Amortisation: Similar to depreciation, but for intangible assets.

Current Liabilities

Current liabilities are debts and obligations that need to be settled within a year.

  • Accounts Payable: Amounts owed to suppliers for goods or services received on credit.
  • Short-term Loans: Borrowings that need to be repaid within a year.
  • Accrued Liabilities: Expenses that have been incurred but not yet paid for, e.g., wages payable.
  • Deferred Revenue: Payments received in advance for goods or services yet to be delivered.

Long-term Liabilities

Long-term liabilities are obligations that extend beyond a year.

  • Bonds Payable: Debts represented by bonds that the company needs to repay after a year.
  • Mortgages Payable: Loans secured against properties.
  • Deferred Tax Liabilities: Taxes that are due but will be paid in the future due to differences between accounting and tax calculations. For more details on how companies manage these and other long-term financing strategies, refer to long-term financing.


Equity represents the residual interest in the assets of an entity after deducting liabilities. Essentially, it's what belongs to the owners after all debts are settled.

  • Owner's Capital or Common Stock: Initial and additional contributions of the owner(s) or shareholders.
  • Retained Earnings: Accumulated net earnings of the company that haven't been distributed as dividends. It reflects the total amount of net income retained in the business since its inception. For a deeper dive into how these figures relate to overall financial performance, see the page on net present value.
  • Additional Paid-in Capital: Amounts paid by shareholders over the par value of shares.
  • Treasury Stock: Shares bought back by the company, reducing the number of outstanding shares.

In essence, a balance sheet adheres to the fundamental equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Equity

This equation underscores that what a company owns (assets) is financed either by borrowing (liabilities) or by the owners (equity). Proper understanding and analysis of these components can provide invaluable insights into a company's financial health and sustainability. For further insights into assessing a company's liquidity and financial efficiency, explore our detailed explanation of current and quick ratios. Also, understanding the complete financial landscape including the income statement components is crucial for comprehensive analysis.


Negative equity occurs when a company's total liabilities surpass its total assets. In simpler terms, it indicates that the company owes more than it owns. Negative equity can signal financial distress and might imply that a business is insolvent, meaning it can't meet its financial obligations when they come due. It's a red flag for investors, creditors, and other stakeholders as it suggests that the firm might be at risk of bankruptcy if it cannot raise enough funds or assets to cover its liabilities. However, short-term occurrences of negative equity might result from business cycles or temporary downturns, but prolonged periods are concerning.

Accumulated depreciation is a contra-asset account found on the balance sheet that represents the total amount of depreciation expenses taken against a fixed asset since it was acquired. It's subtracted from the original purchase price of the fixed asset, showing the asset's book value or carrying amount. The role of accumulated depreciation is to reflect the wear and tear or loss of value of a tangible fixed asset over time. As the asset is used in business operations, its value declines, and this decrease is captured by depreciation. By deducting accumulated depreciation from the asset's initial cost, companies provide a more realistic view of the asset's worth.

Long-term liabilities, also known as non-current liabilities, are obligations that a company expects to pay after one year or beyond its operating cycle, whichever is longer. Examples include bonds payable, mortgages, or long-term lease obligations. These liabilities finance long-term projects or asset acquisition. Current liabilities are obligations expected to be settled within a year or within the company's operating cycle. They include accounts payable, short-term loans, and other short-term financial obligations. Understanding the proportion of long-term to current liabilities provides insight into a company's debt maturity profile and liquidity risk.

Tangible fixed assets are physical and measurable assets that undergo wear and tear over time. These assets include machinery, buildings, land, and vehicles. They can be depreciated over their useful life, meaning their value can decrease over time due to factors like physical deterioration or obsolescence. Intangible fixed assets, on the other hand, lack a physical presence. They include assets like trademarks, copyrights, patents, and goodwill. Although they can't be touched, intangible assets can be immensely valuable and often provide a competitive edge. They are typically amortised over their useful lifespan.

Working capital is a financial metric that measures a company's operational liquidity and short-term financial health. It's calculated as the difference between current assets and current liabilities on the balance sheet. A positive working capital indicates that the company has enough short-term assets to cover its short-term liabilities. Conversely, a negative working capital suggests potential liquidity problems, implying the firm might struggle to meet its obligations due within a year. By analysing components of the balance sheet, particularly current assets and current liabilities, working capital gives insights into the efficiency and short-term financial stability of a business.

Practice Questions

Distinguish between current assets and fixed assets, providing two examples for each.

Current assets are short-term resources that a company expects to convert into cash or use up within a year, aiding in daily operational needs. Examples include cash and cash equivalents, like money in checking accounts, and accounts receivable, which represents money owed by customers. On the other hand, fixed assets are long-term resources used for more than a year in the business's operations. Examples of fixed assets are tangible assets like machinery used in production processes and intangible assets such as patents that grant exclusive rights to inventions.

Explain the significance of equity on a balance sheet and provide two components of equity.

Equity on a balance sheet represents the ownership interest in the company after deducting all liabilities. It's a reflection of the residual claim or stake that owners or shareholders have in the firm's assets. The significance of equity is paramount as it indicates the financial health of a company, its financing structure, and the degree to which the business is reliant on external debts versus internal financing. Two primary components of equity include Owner's Capital or Common Stock, which indicates initial and additional contributions of the shareholders, and Retained Earnings, which represent the accumulated net earnings not distributed as dividends.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

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