An asset is something of value the company owns. Assets can be tangible or intangible. Tangible assets are generally divided into three major categories: current assets (including cash, marketable securities, accounts receivable, inventory, and prepaid expenses); property, plant, and equipment; and long‐term investments. Intangible assets lack physical substance, but they may, nevertheless, provide substantial value to the company that owns them. Examples of intangible assets include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and franchise licenses. A brief description of some tangible assets follows.
Current assets typically include cash and assets the company reasonably expects to use, sell, or collect within one year. Current assets appear on the balance sheet (and in the numbered list below) in order, from most liquid to least liquid. Liquid assets are readily convertible into cash or other assets, and they are generally accepted as payment for liabilities.
Cash includes cash on hand (petty cash), bank balances (checking, savings, or money-market accounts), and cash equivalents. Cash equivalents are highly liquid investments, such as certificates of deposit and U.S. treasury bills, with maturities of ninety days or less at the time of purchase.
Accounts receivable are amounts owed to the company by customers who have received products or services but have not yet paid for them.
Inventory is the cost to acquire or manufacture merchandise for sale to customers. Although service enterprises that never provide customers with merchandise do not use this category for current assets, inventory usually represents a significant portion of assets in merchandising and manufacturing companies.
Prepaid expenses are amounts paid by the company to purchase items or services that represent future costs of doing business. Examples include office supplies, insurance premiums, and advance payments for rent. These assets become expenses as they expire or get used up.
Property, plant, and equipment is the title given to long-lived assets the business uses to help generate revenue. This category is sometimes called fixed assets. Examples include land, natural resources such as timber or mineral reserves, buildings, production equipment, vehicles, and office furniture. With the exception of land, the cost of an asset in this category is allocated to expense over the asset's estimated useful life.
Long-term investments include purchases of debt or stock issued by other companies and investments with other companies in joint ventures. Long-term investments differ from marketable securities because the company intends to hold long-term investments for more than one year or the securities are not marketable.