Understanding Financial Statements

Financial statements provide the fundamental information that we use to analyze and answer valuation questions. It is important, therefore, that we understand the principles governing these statements by looking at four questions:

  1. How valuable are the assets of a firm? The assets of a firm can come in several forms—assets with long lives such as land and buildings, assets with shorter lives such as inventory, and intangible assets that nevertheless produce revenues for the firm such as patents and trademarks.
  2. How did the firm raise the funds to finance these assets? In acquiring assets, firms can use the funds of the owners (equity) or borrowed money (debt), and the mix is likely to change as the assets age.
  3. How profitable are these assets? A good investment is one that makes a return greater than the cost of funding it. To evaluate whether the investments that a firm has already made are good investments, we need to estimate what returns these investments are producing.
  4. How much uncertainty (or risk) is embedded in these assets? While we have not yet directly confronted the issue of risk, estimating how much uncertainty there is in existing investments, and the implications for a firm, is clearly a first step.

This chapter looks at the way accountants would answer these questions, and why the answers might be different when doing valuation. Some of these differences can be traced to the differences in objectives: Accountants try ...

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