Measuring Asset Value

The financial statement in which accountants summarize and report asset value is the balance sheet. To examine how asset value is measured, let us begin with the way assets are categorized in the balance sheet. First, there are the fixed assets, which include the long-term assets of the firm, such as plant, equipment, land and buildings. Next, we have the short-term assets of the firm, including inventory (including raw materials, work in progress and finished goods), receivables (summarizing moneys owed to the firm) and cash; these are categorized as current assets. We then have investments in the assets and securities of other firms, which are generally categorized as financial investments. Finally, we have what is loosely categorized as intangible assets. These include assets, such as patents and trademarks that presumably will create future earnings and cash flows, and also uniquely accounting assets such as goodwill that arise because of acquisitions made by the firm.

Fixed Assets

Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the United States require the valuation of fixed assets at historical cost, adjusted for any estimated gain and loss in value from improvements and the aging, respectively, of these assets. While in theory the adjustments for aging should reflect the loss of earning power of the asset as it ages, in practice they are much more a product of accounting rules and convention, and these adjustments are called depreciation. Depreciation methods can very broadly be categorized into straight line (where the loss in asset value is assumed to be the same every year over its lifetime) and accelerated (where the asset loses more value in the earlier years and less in the later years). [While tax rules, at least in the United States, have restricted the freedom that firms have on their choice of asset life and depreciation methods, firms continue to have a significant amount of flexibility on these decisions for reporting purposes. Thus, the depreciation that is reported in the annual reports may not, and generally is not, the same depreciation that is used in the tax statements.

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