What are Current Assets?

March 6, 20239 min read
What are Current Assets?
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Key Takeaways:

  • Current assets are all company-owned assets that can be converted to cash within a year.
  • Current assets accounts reveal a company’s short-term liquidity and ability to pay short-term debts.
  • Current assets can be used to make investment decisions in venture capital.

Many investors pay close attention to the total current assets of companies. Such accounts reflect the businesses’ ability to meet their near-term obligations, without raising additional funds. The sum total of these assets can help inform investment decisions, when certain variables are also factored in.

Read on to find out more about current assets.

What are Current Assets?

Also called current accounts, current assets are a sum of a company’s assets that could be converted to cash within one fiscal year, if needed, usually to cover short-term obligations.

They are commonly used by investors, creditors, and other stakeholders to gauge a company’s overall liquidity, and to some extent, their financial health.

Current assets accounts are listed on publicly owned companies’ balance sheets, which includes the businesses’ assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity.

The existence of current assets accounts is vital to day-to-day business operations; bills and loans that become due require necessary cash. To qualify as current assets, listed items must have no restrictions that hamstring their short-term liquidity.

A company that has an operating cycle of more than one year still can classify an asset as current — if the asset is converted into cash within that cycle.

The Order of Liquidity

Current assets are usually presented on balance sheets in their order of liquidity. In other words, the most liquid items are shown first. It makes sense, then, that any cash or cash equivalents will top the list. Because each company has the discretion to input assets differently, the order in which current assets appear might differ.

Current assets are usually followed on the balance sheet by non-current assets, which are discussed later.

Ratios That Employ Current Assets

There are key ratios that use current assets. Such liquidity ratios are employed to determine whether a debtor can meet current debt liabilities without having to raise additional funds. Those ratios include:

Cash Ratio

This is used to evaluate a business’s ability to meet its short-term obligations. Because it exclusively uses cash and cash equivalents, the cash ratio is known as a conservative debt ratio.

The ratio demonstrates the company’s ability, without having to liquidate other assets, to repay existing liabilities.

The formula is: Cash Ratio = Cash and Cash Equivalents / Current Liabilities

Quick Ratio

Also known as the acid-test ratio, the quick ratio is used to assess a company’s ability to meet short-term financial obligations. This ratio employs assets that can be expected to be converted to cash within 90 days.

The formula is: Quick Ratio = (Cash and Cash Equivalents + Marketable Securities + Accounts Receivable) / Current Liabilities

Current Ratio

This liquidity ratio, which is the most accommodating and includes a variety of assets from the current assets account, is used to evaluate a company’s ability to meet both short- and long-term financial liabilities. In the calculation, the ratio uses all the company’s immediate assets.

The formula is: Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities

Note that because the current ratio uses inventory, it can overstate liquidity. Remember that inventory may not necessarily be converted to cash within a fiscal year.

Current Assets vs. Non-Current Assets

On a balance sheet, assets are divided into two classifications: current and non-current.

It’s been established that current assets are those that can be converted to cash within a year. Non-current assets, then, are those that cannot achieve such timely conversion.

Examples of non-current assets include deferred charges, long-term investments, property, equipment, and intangible assets such as patents and trademark (examples of current assets are discussed below).

Because they are held for longer periods and depreciate, non-current assets are valued at their purchase price. That’s as opposed to current assets, which do not appreciate and are valued at fair market value.

Note that some asset accounts might be listed on a balance sheet under current assets as well as non-current assets. That’s to cover assets such as marketable securities that might be tied up for an extended period.

The Different Types of Current Assets

Current assets vary according to industry and are usually listed in order of ease of liquidity. They generally fall under these subaccounts:

  • Cash and cash equivalents. This is basically the amount of money a company has in the bank. Meanwhile, cash equivalents can be easily converted into cash. They can include, for example, short-term investments, foreign currency, and short-term savings bonds.
  • Accounts receivable. A company’s outstanding debts are deemed accounts receivable. It is money owed by customers or clients for goods already delivered or services already rendered and are expected to be paid within a year.
  • Inventory. These items, which pertain to the products a company sells, can be listed on a balance sheet as raw materials, supplies, and finished goods, for instance. Note, though, that supplies are only classified as current assets until they are used. They then become an expense. Further, any unused supplies are usually listed under current assets.

    Also note that inventory that might not be sold for more than a year will be counted as a non-current asset.
  • Marketable securities. The company enters the total value of liquid investments that can be swiftly converted to cash without lowering their market value. For example, if a company trades shares in markedly low volumes, cash conversion may be impossible without affecting market value. Because these shares would not be deemed liquid, their values would not be entered under current assets.
  • Other short-term investments. While many companies list liquid investments on the balance sheet under marketable securities, some will fall under what is called the other short-term investments account. For example, excess funds might be invested in a short-term security. In such cases, funds are being put to work, but they can also be accessed if needed.

    Also, depending on the product and industry sector, some inventory may not be as liquid as other current assets. For example, it might be a challenge to sell a dozen high-cost cranes over the course of a year. On the other hand, the chances are relatively high that 1,000 shovels will sell during the coming cold season.
  • Prepaid expenses. These cover anything a company has already paid for but anticipates benefiting from over time. This can include, for example, an extended insurance policy, year-long lease, or contractor payments. While such payments cannot be converted into cash per se, they might free up capital for other purposes.

How to Calculate Current Assets

The current assets calculation is the sum of all assets that can be converted to cash within one year. It looks like this:

Current Assets = C + CE + I + AR + MS + PE + OLA


C = Cash
CE = Cash Equivalents
I = Inventory
AR = Accounts Receivable
MS = Marketable Securities
PE = Prepaid Expenses
OLA = Other Liquid Assets

How Do Current Assets Work on a Balance Sheet?

Consider Walmart’s balance sheet for the period ending Jan. 31, 2017.

Current Assets and their values included:

  • Cash and cash equivalents, 6,867,000
  • Net receivables, 5,835,000
  • Inventory, 43,046,000
  • Other current assets, 1,941,000.

Non-Current Assets and their values included:

  • Property, plant, and equipment, 114,178,000
  • Goodwill, 17,037,000
  • Other assets, 9,921,000

Total current assets totaled 57,689,000. Added to the non-current assets, Walmart’s total assets came to 198,825,000.

Use of Current Assets Information

Managers want to know whether bills, invoices, and other obligations will be covered, even if there are financial issues. This means that, if worse comes to worse, items can be liquidated to meet short-term responsibilities.

Meanwhile, creditors take note of the proportion of current assets to current liabilities. Why? Because it indicates an entity’s short-term liquidity. Essentially, having significantly more current assets than liabilities signals that a company should be able to handle its short-term obligations. Such analyses can include the use of any of the various ratios covered above.

A Caveat Regarding Current Assets

There does remain a prevailing problem with using current assets as a liquidity measure: some current assets, including inventory, are simply not always that liquid. In addition, a company may have a sizeable number of delinquent invoices under accounts receivables that may never be paid. Such invoices, however, may be largely offset in the “allowance for doubtful accounts” portion of the balance sheet that represents the amount unexpected to be collected.

Therefore, investors and others would do well to closely scrutinize the contents of current assets to determine a company’s actual liquidity.

How Can Normal Investors Use Current Assets?

Normal investors might want to consider using Current Assets to release the potential of private market alternatives, which aren’t subject to the volatility of open markets. They can use them as a way to assess companies in which they might invest through venture capital, a type of alternative investment. Such investments are increasingly popular as ways to diversify portfolios against market shifts.

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Even when a company is on track for long-term success, current assets can be helpful if extra funds are needed for short-term expenses.

Having said that, examining the value of a company’s current assets can give investors important insight into a potential venture capital investment. In turn, such an alternative investment would diversify portfolio holdings and help guard against market volatility.

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