Understanding a Company’s Balance Sheet

A balance sheet is a financial statement that provides a snapshot of a company’s financial position at a specific point in time. It lists the company’s assets, liabilities, and equity, allowing investors and stakeholders to assess its financial health. This article will break down each line item on a balance sheet, discuss financial ratios, and explore the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy companies, including startups and companies that have turned their fortunes around.

Here’s a simplified example of a balance sheet:


  • Current Assets: $100,000
    • Cash: $20,000
    • Accounts Receivable: $30,000
    • Inventory: $50,000
  • Non-Current Assets: $900,000
    • Property, Plant & Equipment: $800,000
    • Intangible Assets: $100,000 Total Assets: $1,000,000


  • Current Liabilities: $200,000
    • Accounts Payable: $150,000
    • Short-term Debt: $50,000
  • Non-Current Liabilities: $300,000
    • Long-term Debt: $300,000 Total Liabilities: $500,000


  • Share Capital: $300,000
  • Retained Earnings: $200,000 Total Equity: $500,000

Balance Sheet Line Items Explained


Current Assets: These are short-term assets expected to be converted into cash or used up within one year or one operating cycle. Examples include:

  • Cash: Currency and cash equivalents held by the company.
  • Accounts Receivable: Money owed to the company by customers for goods or services already delivered.
  • Inventory: Raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods held by the company.

Non-Current Assets: These are long-term assets with a useful life of more than one year or one operating cycle. Examples include:

  • Property, Plant & Equipment (PPE): Tangible assets used in the company’s operations, such as buildings, machinery, and vehicles.
  • Intangible Assets: Non-physical assets, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights.


Current Liabilities: These are short-term obligations expected to be settled within one year or one operating cycle. Examples include:

  • Accounts Payable: Money owed by the company to suppliers for goods or services already received.
  • Short-term Debt: Debt with a maturity of one year or less.

Non-Current Liabilities: These are long-term obligations with a maturity of more than one year. Examples include:

  • Long-term Debt: Debt with a maturity of more than one year, such as bonds and mortgages.


Share Capital: The total value of shares issued by the company.

Retained Earnings: The accumulated net income not distributed as dividends but reinvested in the company.

Financial Ratios

  • Current Ratio (Current Assets / Current Liabilities): A liquidity ratio that measures a company’s ability to pay short-term obligations. A ratio above 1 indicates a healthy company.
  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio (Total Liabilities / Total Equity): A solvency ratio that measures a company’s financial leverage. A lower ratio indicates a healthier company.
  • Return on Equity (ROE) (Net Income / Total Equity): A profitability ratio that measures the return on shareholders’ investments. A higher ratio indicates a more efficient company.

Characteristics of Healthy and Unhealthy Companies

Healthy Company

  • Positive cash flow
  • Low debt-to-equity ratio
  • Sufficientworking capital
    • High current ratio
    • Consistent growth in revenues and earnings
    • Stable or increasing return on equity

    Unhealthy Company

    • Negative cash flow
    • High debt-to-equity ratio
    • Insufficient working capital
    • Low current ratio
    • Declining or stagnant revenues and earnings
    • Decreasing or negative return on equity

    Startups and Long-term Expected Value

    Startups often have negative cash flow and may operate at a loss in their early years as they invest in growth and market penetration. Despite this, their long-term expected value may be high if they have a strong business model, innovative products, or a large addressable market. Investors should analyze the company’s growth potential and competitive advantages to determine its long-term prospects.

    Turnaround Example: Apple Inc.

    In the late 1990s, Apple Inc. was struggling with declining sales, high debt, and a lack of innovative products. However, the return of co-founder Steve Jobs as CEO in 1997 marked the beginning of a remarkable turnaround. Jobs streamlined the product line, introduced the iMac, and later launched the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Apple’s balance sheet improved dramatically, and the company became one of the most valuable and profitable companies in the world.

    In conclusion, understanding a company’s balance sheet is essential for assessing its financial health and making informed investment decisions. By analyzing balance sheet line items, financial ratios, and a company’s growth prospects, investors can differentiate between healthy and unhealthy companies, identify startups with strong long-term potential, and recognize companies poised for a turnaround.