Essentials of Asset Management: Current Assets vs. Non-Current Assets

The financial world can be very complex with resources, strategies and stakeholders all playing critical roles. At the heart of company finances lie assets, the very foundation upon which a company builds its success.

We will explore current assets that keep a company's day-to-day operations running smoothly as well as non-current assets that are the building blocks of a company’s future. This guide will not be just about basic definitions, it will also be about uncovering hidden insights such as introducing the "liquidity spectrum" to rank current assets based on their convertibility to cash.

By the end of this article, you will understand how asset management strategies impact stakeholders, from investors and creditors to the company's management team itself. You will gain a deeper appreciation for interactions between different asset classes and their role in driving financial stability and long-term growth. Let us dive in.

Tangible, Intangible, and Financial Assets

Before we get into what are current assets or what are non current assets, we must first find out what assets really are. The dry textbook definition of assets is simply "resources owned by a company". In the real world, assets are the lifeblood of a business, playing a critical role in its financial health and operational capabilities. Let us first move beyond the one-dimensional view of assets.

There are three key asset classifications that paint a more nuanced picture:

Tangible Assets

These are the physical resources you can see and touch. Think of buildings, machinery, equipment, inventory or even land. A manufacturing company's production line, for example, is a tangible asset that directly contributes to its ability to produce goods.

Intangible Assets

These assets are non-physical but hold significant value. They include intellectual property like patents, trademarks, copyrights, brand reputation, or even customer data. A pharmaceutical company's patented drug formula is an intangible asset that grants a competitive edge and drives future revenue.

Financial Assets

These represent claims of ownership or value held by a company. They encompass cash equivalents (highly liquid assets like checking accounts or short-term investments), accounts receivable (money owed by customers), or even investments in other companies. A retail chain's inventory of unsold clothing is a tangible asset, while the money owed by customers who have not paid yet is a financial asset (accounts receivable).

Current Assets Explained

What are what are current assets? Current assets are the dynamos that keep a company's engine running smoothly. They represent the resources a company expects to convert into cash within one year or its operating cycle (whichever is longer). We can think of them as the company's readily available reserves to meet short-term obligations like rent, salaries, and supplier payments. Let us explore how they function within the vital business cycle:

The Liquidity Cycle in Action

A company's operations as a continuous loop is known as the liquidity cycle. It starts with cash used to purchase inventory (raw materials or finished goods). This inventory is then sold to customers, generating accounts receivable (money owed by customers). Once these receivables are collected, the cash flows back into the company, ready to start the cycle again. Current assets play a starring role in each stage:

  • Inventory: The raw materials or finished goods waiting to be sold.

  • Accounts Receivable: The money owed by customers for purchases made on credit.

  • Cash and Cash Equivalents: Highly liquid assets like checking accounts or short-term investments that can be easily converted to cash.

The Liquidity Spectrum

Not all current assets are created equal. The "liquidity spectrum" helps us understand how quickly each type can be converted to cash:

  • Highly Liquid Assets (at the top of the spectrum): Cash and cash equivalents sit at the top, readily available to meet immediate needs.

  • Moderately Liquid Assets: Marketable securities (short-term investments) fall here, easily convertible to cash but potentially with slight price fluctuations.

  • Less Liquid Assets: Accounts receivable come next. While they will eventually turn into cash, there might be a delay in collection depending on customer payment terms.

  • Least Liquid Assets (at the bottom of the spectrum): Inventory takes the bottom spot. While it will be sold eventually, the conversion process takes time.

Real-world Scenarios

  • A grocery store needs to ensure it has enough cash on hand (highly liquid) to pay its suppliers for fresh produce (inventory) before selling it to customers (generating receivables).

  • A manufacturing company might hold readily convertible marketable securities to cover unexpected expenses while waiting for customer payments on large orders (receivables).

Red Flags on the Horizon

Inefficiencies in current asset management can create potential problems:

  • High Inventory Turnover: While some turnover is healthy, excessively high rates might indicate overstocking, leading to storage costs and potential obsolescence.

  • Slow Receivables Collection: Long delays in customer payments can strain cash flow and limit a company's ability to meet short-term obligations.

Non-Current Assets Explained

Current assets keep the daily operations humming, but what about the company's long-term growth? So what are non current assets? Enter non-current assets, the sturdy backbone that provides a foundation for future success. These assets are not readily convertible to cash within a year but hold immense value in driving long-term profitability and competitive advantage.

Building Blocks for the Future

Think of non-current assets as investments in a company's future potential. They encompass:

  • Property, Plant, and Equipment (PP&E): This includes buildings, machinery, factories, and vehicles – the physical infrastructure that enables production and operations. A manufacturing company's production line exemplifies a non-current asset that directly contributes to its long-term production capacity.

  • Intangible Assets (Long-Term): Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and brand reputation all fall under this category. These assets create a competitive edge and drive future revenue streams. A pharmaceutical company's patented drug formula is a prime example, offering a long-term advantage in the market.

Depreciation

Non-current assets have a useful life, and their value diminishes over time due to wear and tear, obsolescence, or market changes. Depreciation is an accounting concept that reflects this decline in value, spreading the cost of the asset over its useful life. Here are two common depreciation methods:

  • Straight-Line Depreciation: This method allocates an equal amount of depreciation expense to each year of the asset's useful life. Think of a building with a 10-year lifespan, its value is depreciated evenly over those 10 years in the financial statements.

  • Accelerated Depreciation: This method recognises a higher depreciation expense in the earlier years of an asset's life, reflecting the faster rate of decline in value during that initial period. Think of high-tech equipment that becomes outdated quickly. Accelerated depreciation acknowledges this faster value decrease.

Maximising the Backbone's Potential

Effective management of non-current assets is crucial for maximising their long-term returns:

  • Proper Maintenance: Regular maintenance extends the life of non-current assets and reduces the need for premature replacements. A well-maintained factory can operate efficiently for decades.

  • Strategic Upgrades: Investing in upgrades to non-current assets can improve efficiency, enhance capabilities, and maintain a competitive edge. Modernising manufacturing equipment can lead to increased production output.

  • Optimising Utilisation: Ensuring non-current assets are used to their full potential maximises their return on investment. Utilising factory space efficiently translates to higher production volume.

Current vs. Non-Current Asset Management Strategies

Companies must achieve a healthy balance between current and non-current assets to ensure both financial stability and long-term growth. Let us delve into the art of this balancing act.

The Golden Ratio

An excess of current assets might appear safe, offering readily available cash. However, it can also indicate underinvestment in long-term growth opportunities. Conversely, an overemphasis on non-current assets can lead to cash flow problems if a company struggles to convert them to cash quickly enough to meet short-term obligations. Finding the optimal balance is key.

Industry Matters: Tailoring the Asset Mix

The ideal ratio of current to non-current assets varies depending on the industry:

  • Manufacturing companies: Often require a significant investment in property, plant, and equipment (non-current assets) to maintain production capacity. They might hold a slightly lower proportion of current assets compared to service industries.

  • Retail companies: Need to maintain a healthy level of inventory (current asset) to meet customer demand while also having enough cash flow to cover operating expenses. They might strike a more balanced approach between current and non-current assets.

Financial Forecasting and the Asset Roadmap

Effective asset management strategies are intricately linked to financial forecasting. By analysing the current and projected future needs of the business, companies can make informed decisions about asset allocation:

  • Future Growth Plans: Expansion plans might necessitate additional investments in non-current assets like new factories or equipment. Asset management strategies should adapt to accommodate such growth.

  • Debt Management: High-interest debt obligations might require a focus on maintaining a strong current asset position to ensure sufficient cash flow for repayments. Asset management strategies should consider debt servicing needs.

The Balancing Act: A Continuous Process

Maintaining a healthy balance between current and non-current assets is an ongoing process. Companies need to constantly evaluate their asset mix and adjust strategies based on market conditions, industry trends, and future business goals. By mastering this balancing act, companies can navigate the path towards financial stability and sustainable long-term growth.

A solid CFA course will teach you everything you need to know about current and non-current assets as well as how to effectively use them for business. Enrol in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program by Imarticus and become a CFA in the coming months.

CFA Course

Unconventional Assets and the Future of Management

The world of assets is no longer confined to traditional categories. As the economy evolves, new asset classes are emerging, presenting both opportunities and challenges for asset managers. This section dives into these hidden gems and explores the future landscape of asset management.

Beyond Brick and Mortar: Unconventional Asset Classes

  • Intellectual Property (IP): Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are no longer just intangible concepts. They are increasingly recognised as valuable assets, requiring specialised management strategies for protection, licensing, and potential monetisation.

  • Digital Assets: Cryptocurrencies, digital art (NFTs), and other digital collectables are gaining traction, introducing a new asset class with unique valuation challenges and security considerations.

Unique Management Challenges

These unconventional assets present unique management hurdles:

  • Valuation: Unlike traditional assets with established valuation methods, unconventional assets might require specialised expertise and innovative approaches to determine their fair value.

  • Risk Management: The inherent volatility of some unconventional assets, like cryptocurrencies, demands robust risk management strategies to mitigate potential losses.

  • Regulation and Legal Considerations: The regulatory landscape surrounding some unconventional assets is still evolving, requiring asset managers to stay updated on legal frameworks and compliance requirements.

Emerging Trends: Technology Reshaping Asset Management

Technology is transforming the asset management landscape:

  • Blockchain: This distributed ledger technology offers increased transparency, security, and efficiency in tracking and managing ownership of assets, particularly digital assets.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI algorithms can analyze vast datasets to identify investment opportunities, optimise asset allocation strategies, and predict potential risks associated with unconventional assets.

Future-proofing Asset Management

To thrive in this dynamic environment, asset managers need to adopt best practices:

  • Embrace Continuous Learning: Staying updated on emerging asset classes, technological advancements, and regulatory changes is crucial.

  • Develop Specialised Skills: Building expertise in unconventional asset valuation, risk management, and technology integration will create a competitive edge.

  • Adaptability and Innovation: The ability to adapt strategies and embrace innovative approaches will be essential for navigating the ever-evolving world of assets.

Wrapping Up

From the tangible tools to the intangible treasures, current and non-current assets both play crucial roles in a company's success. By understanding their classifications, managing them strategically, and adapting to the evolving world of unconventional assets and technology, you have gained the knowledge to navigate this intricate maze.

Remember, effective asset management is a continuous journey, and this guide has equipped you with the tools to become a master strategist on that path. Wish to become a CFA? Enrol in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program by Imarticus. This CFA course will teach you how everything you need to know about domains such as asset management, financial analytics and financial planning.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the main difference between current assets and non-current assets?

The key difference lies in liquidity, which refers to how easily an asset can be converted into cash.

  1. Current assets: These are assets that can be converted into cash within one year (or the operating cycle, if longer). Examples include cash, inventory, and accounts receivable.
  2. Non-current assets: These are assets that are not expected to be converted into cash within one year. They are held for long-term use and contribute to the company's ongoing operations or future value. Examples include land, buildings, equipment, and long-term investments.

 

  • Why is understanding the difference between these assets important?

Knowing the breakdown of current vs. non-current assets helps assess a company's financial health in several ways:

  • Short-term liquidity: A healthy balance of current assets ensures a company can meet its short-term obligations like paying bills and covering operating expenses.
  • Long-term solvency: Non-current assets represent a company's long-term investment and contribute to its future earning potential.
  • Efficiency: Analysing how efficiently current assets are managed (e.g., inventory turnover) provides insights into operational effectiveness.

 

  • How does Imarticus Learning's CFA course cover current and non-current assets?

This CFA course delves into the different types of current and non-current assets, explaining their characteristics and importance within asset management. You'll learn how to identify and value these assets, analyse their impact on financial statements, and understand their role in financial planning and decision-making.

  • Is this CFA course only for aspiring asset managers?

This CFA course is valuable for anyone interested in understanding the fundamentals of asset management. It is particularly beneficial for finance professionals, business owners, and investors who want to improve their ability to analyse a company's financial health and make informed investment decisions.

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