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Balance Sheet - Stock Trading Glossary

A financial statement called a balance sheet provides a snapshot of a company's assets, liabilities, and equity at a specific point in time. It essentially lists all of the items that a company owns (assets), owes (liabilities), and the difference between the two (equity, which is calculated by subtracting liabilities from assets). For instance, cash and inventory are examples of assets, whereas long-term debt and unpaid bills are examples of liabilities. Shareholders equity, also referred to as book value or net worth, represents the difference between assets and liabilities.

If a company has a positive shareholders' equity (book value), it means that its assets exceed its liabilities. Conversely, if liabilities exceed assets, the shareholders' equity (book value) is negative.

Publicly traded companies release three core financial statements every quarter, including the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. It's important for informed investors to understand how to interpret these statements.

The balance sheet of a company not only shows its assets, but also how they were financed, either by liabilities, such as debt, or equity, such as money from investors. The balance sheet formula follows an accounting equation where assets are on one side and liabilities and equity are on the other side, and the two numbers should balance each other out.

The formula is: Assets = Liabilities + Equity. When you sum up all the assets, that number should be the same as when you sum up all the liabilities and equity. This balancing of the two sides is a fundamental assumption of the balance sheet, as it implies that a company must pay for everything it owns, either by borrowing it or getting it from investors.

For instance, if a company receives a loan of $1 million, the cash portion of the assets increases by $1 million, and liabilities go up by $1 million. Similarly, if a company goes public and receives $1 million from investors, the cash portion goes up by $1 million, and shareholders' equity goes up by $1 million. In both cases, the balance sheet equation remains balanced, with the same amount on both sides.

The balance sheet provides a single-point-in-time view of a company's financial status, typically on the last day of the fiscal quarter or fiscal year being reported. However, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a company's performance, it is crucial to keep track of changes and trends over time. Therefore, it's advisable to review multiple balance sheets for different time periods to evaluate a company's financial health accurately.


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