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Liabilities are amounts of money that a company owes to others. This can include all kinds of obligations, like money borrowed from a bank to launch a new product, rent for use of a building, money owed to suppliers for materials, payroll a company owes to its employees, environmental cleanup costs, or taxes owed to the government. Liabilities also include obligations to provide goods or services to customers in the future.  

Shareholders’ equity is sometimes called capital or net worth. It’s the money that would be left if a company sold all of its assets and paid off all of its liabilities. This leftover money belongs to the shareholders, or the owners, of the company. 


The following formula summarizes what a balance sheet shows:  

ASSETS = LIABILITIES + SHAREHOLDERS' EQUITY  

A company's assets have to equal, or "balance," the sum of its liabilities and shareholders' equity.
   

A company’s balance sheet is set up like the basic accounting equation shown above. On the left side of the balance sheet, companies list their assets. On the right side, they list their liabilities and shareholders’ equity. Sometimes balance sheets show assets at the top, followed by liabilities, with shareholders’ equity at the bottom. 

Assets are generally listed based on how quickly they will be converted into cash. Current assets are things a company expects to convert to cash within one year. A good example is inventory. Most companies expect to sell their inventory for cash within one year. Noncurrent assets are things a company does not expect to convert to cash within one year or that would take longer than one year to sell. Noncurrent assets include fixed assets. Fixed assets are those assets used to operate the business but that are not available for sale, such as trucks, office furniture and other property.  

Liabilities are generally listed based on their due dates. Liabilities are said to be either current or long-term. Current liabilities are obligations a company expects to pay off within the year. Long-term liabilities are obligations due more than one year away.  

Shareholders’ equity is the amount owners invested in the company’s stock plus or minus the company’s earnings or losses since inception. Sometimes companies distribute earnings, instead of retaining them. These distributions are called dividends.  

A balance sheet shows a snapshot of a company’s assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity at the end of the reporting period. It does not show the flows into and out of the accounts during the period.  

 

Income Statements 

An income statement is a report that shows how much revenue a company earned over a specific time period (usually for a year or some portion of a year). An income statement also shows the costs and expenses associated with earning that revenue. The literal “bottom line” of the statement usually shows the company’s net earnings or losses. This tells you how much the company earned or lost over the period.  

Income statements also report earnings per share (or “EPS”). This calculation tells you how much money shareholders would receive if the company decided to distribute all of the net earnings for the period. (Companies almost never distribute all of their earnings. Usually they reinvest them in the business.)  

To understand how income statements are set up, think of them as a set of stairs. You start at the top with the total amount of sales made during the accounting period. Then you go down, one step at a time. At each step, you make a deduction for certain costs or other operating expenses associated with earning the revenue. At the bottom of the stairs, after deducting all of the expenses, you learn how much the company actually earned or lost during the accounting period. People often call this “the bottom line.”  

At the top of the income statement is the total amount of money brought in from sales of products or services. This top line is often referred to as gross revenues or sales. It’s called “gross” because expenses have not been deducted from it yet. So the number is “gross” or unrefined.  

The next line is money the company doesn’t expect to collect on certain sales. This could be due, for example, to sales discounts or merchandise returns.  

When you subtract the returns and allowances from the gross revenues, you arrive at the company’s net revenues. It’s called “net” because, if you can imagine a net, these revenues are left in the net after the deductions for returns and allowances have come out.  

Moving down the stairs from the net revenue line, there are several lines that represent various kinds of operating expenses. Although these lines can be reported in various orders, the next line after net revenues typically shows the costs of the sales. This number tells you the amount of money the company spent to produce the goods or services it sold during the accounting period.  

The next line subtracts the costs of sales from the net revenues to arrive at a subtotal called “gross profit” or sometimes “gross margin.” It’s considered “gross” because there are certain expenses that haven’t been deducted from it yet.  

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