Accountants prepare the Balance sheet after the trial balance period, at the end of the accounting cycle. At all times during the cycle, however, Balance sheet totals for assets equal the sum of liabilities plus owners equities.
The Balance sheet (B/S)is one of the four primary financial statements that publicly held companies must publish every quarter and year. The B/S summarizes the firm's financial position at one point in time. In fact, some firms and most government organizations publish their Balance sheets under the other proper name for the B/S, Statement of financial position.
In principle, a firm could publish a new and different Balance sheet every day. In practice, they usually do so only at the end of fiscal quarters and years. The B/S heading names a date with a phrase such as this: "...at 31 December 2016." A Balance sheet, therefore, is a "snapshot" of the firm's financial position on that date. The B/S, therefore, differs from other statements, which report activity for a specific timespan.
What Does the Balance Sheet Report?
For a given date, the Balance sheet shows the following for the company:
- Firstly, total Assets. Items of value the firm owns or controls, which it uses to earn revenues.
- Secondly, total Liabilities. What the firm owes.
- Thirdly, total Owners Equities. What the firm owns outright.
More accurately, the Balance sheet shows end-of-period balances in the firm's Assets, Liabilities, and Owners Equity accounts. However, its name includes "Balance" for another reason. Note especially that its three main sections represent the accounting equation:
Assets = Liabilities + Owners Equity
The term balance applies because the sum of the firm's assets must equal (balance) the sum of its liabilities and owner’s equities. This balance holds, always, whether the firm's financial position is excellent or terrible. Double entry principles in accrual accounting ensure that every change to the total on one side brings an equal, offsetting change on the other side.
Where is "Financial Position" on the Balance Sheet?
Analysts evaluate a firm's financial position not by the size of the Assets total, or its balancing counterparts, but rather by comparing numbers on the sheet.
- The firm's liquidity, for instance, is given by metrics that compare Balance sheet figures, such as Current ratio and Working capital.
- The firm's capital and financial structures, for example, are built as ratios of Balance sheet figures for Owners Equities and Liabilities. These structures define the firm's Capitalization and level of leverage.
- Other metrics compare Balance sheet and Income statement figures to measure the firm's stock valuation, prospects for growth, and the ability to use assets efficiently.
Explaining the Balance Sheet in Context
Sections below further define and illustrate the Balance sheet. Note especially that the term appears in context with related terms and concepts, including the following:
- What is the Balance sheet?
- Balance sheet structure: Simple example.
- Where do firms publish the Balance Sheet? Shareholders and Investors find the Balance sheet in the Annual Report.
- How do debits and credits maintain the balance? Introduction to double-entry systems
- Balance sheet structure and contents: Detailed example.
- Balance Sheet Categories within Assets, Liabilities, Equities.
- What are Balance sheet contributions to financial statement metrics and ratios?
- The Balance sheet defines the firm's financial structure, capital structure, and asset structure.
- Other significant financial reporting statements:
- For the Balance sheet role in defining "Capital Structure," and other structures, see the article Capital, Financial, and Asset Structures.
- For more on the nature of items appearing in important Balance sheet categories, see the articles (1 ) Assets, (2) Liabilities, and (3) Owners Equities.
The Balance sheet essentially reports end-of-period balances in a firm's Assets, Liabilities, and Owners Equity accounts. The Balance sheet organizes information to represent a detailed version of the accounting equation:
Assets = Liabilities + Owners equity
The level of detail in a published B/S depends on the intended and audience its purpose for using Balance sheet information.
- Exhibit 1, below, is a high-level Balance sheet with minimal detail.
- Exhibit 2, further below is the same Balance sheet with more detail.
Annual Report versions of the Balance Sheet usually carry a level of detail no less than Exhibit 1 and no more than Exhibit 2.
|Grande Corporation Figures in $1,000's
Balance Sheet at 31 December 20YY
Long-Term Investments & Funds
Property, Plant & Equipment
Total Owners Equity
| Total Liabilities and Equities
Exhibit 1. The simple example Balance sheet in above shows the general structure and significant Balance Sheet categories under Assets, Liabilities, and Owners Equity.
The entire sheet sometimes appears in horizontal layout, with an "Assets" Page on the left, and a "Liabilities and Equities" page on the right. That layout explains why people refer to "sides" of the Balance sheet. Alternatively, the B/S appears in a vertical arrangement, as in Exhibits 1 and 2. In such cases, people still refer to the "Assets side" or the "Liabilities and Equities side" of the sheet.
Companies usually publish a Balance sheet just after the end of every fiscal quarter and year. Note that firms often release different B/S versions, with varying levels of detail.
For shareholders and the general public, the most accessible version is the edition in the firm's Annual Report to Shareholders. Public companies publish and send this report to shareholders before their annual meeting to elect directors. Shareholders typically receive printed copies by mail, but these reports are also available to everyone on the firm's internet site. Annual Reports and financial statements usually appear under site headings such as Investor Relations, or Investor Services.
For the annual report, the firm is legally responsible for publishing a Balance sheet and other statements that serve two purposes:
- Firstly, to enable shareholders to make informed decisions when electing directors.
- Secondly, to enable shareholders and investors to evaluate the firm's recent financial performance and prospects for future growth. This information is crucial for making informed decisions on holding, buying, or selling stock shares.
Firms also publish financial statements that serve different audiences and other purposes. For more on Balance sheet audiences and purposes, see the article Materiality concept.
Most business people readily understand the structure and mathematics of the Income statement. Nevertheless, many have trouble understanding the Balance sheet.
- One reason for this, probably, is that the Income statement starts with Revenues, and then subtracts expenses to reach bottom line Net profit.
- However, understanding Balance sheet mathematics requires familiarity with basic principles of double-entry accounting.
Those familiar with accounting systems may also note that most of the Balance sheet line items are also the names of accounts from the firm's Chart of Account. These are the "Assets," "Liabilities" and "Equities" category accounts.
For more on building the Balance sheet from accounts and account balances, see the article Trial Balance.
Start with the Basic Equations
Both the Income statement and the Balance sheet start with simple equations. The basic Income statement equation is this:
Income = Revenues – Expenses
The Balance sheet starts with an equally simple equation, the so-called Accounting Equation,or Balance sheet equation:
Assets = Liabilities + Owners Equity
Regarding the Balance sheet and double-entry accounting, some businesspeople hold that the Accounting Equation above must also include this component:
Debits = Credits
In everyday usage, people think of debits to a checking account, for example, simply as reductions. And, they think of credits as additions. Banks, in fact, use these terms on account holder statements.
Debit and Credit Impacts Depend on Account Category
Debits and credits, however, have different results on different sides of the Balance sheet.
- Firstly, consider the "Liabilities + Owners Equity" side of the B/S. To accountants, the bank's usage is technically correct. However, this usage is accurate only because banks regard an account holder as a liability account. In double entry accounting:
- A credit increases the balance in a Liability or Equity account.
- A Debit decreases the balance in a Liability or Equity account.
- Secondly, consider the "Assets" side of the Balance sheet. Here, the rules for debits and credits reverse:
- A credit decreases the balance in an Assets account.
- A debit increases the balance in an Assets account.
In double-entry accounting, every financial event must impact at least two accounts. Whether each impact is a "debit" or a "credit" depends on the account category involved. The double-entry approach, moreover, ensures that the Balance sheet always balances.
Example: Debits and Credits Maintain the Balance
Suppose the firm acquires assets for $1,000. An asset account (perhaps under Current Assets) increases $1,000.This increase could, for instance, occur in an "Inventories account."The increase results from a "debit" or "DR" because the Inventories account is an Asset account.
The sheet is now temporarily out of balance until a credit of the same size appears. This credit, or CR, could be either:
- A reduction in another account on the Assets side of the sheet. This reduction could be, for instance, a credit to a cash account also under Current assets.
- An increase on the "other side" of the Balance sheet in a "Liabilities" or "Equities" account. This transaction could be, for instance, a credit of $1,000 to a "Long-term liabilities" account. This kind of transaction will follow if the firm borrows the purchase funds.
In this way, total Balance sheet Assets always equal total Liabilities and Equities. And, Total debits always equal Total credits.