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Balance Sheet

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet shows:

  • how solvent the business is
  • how liquid its assets are – how much is in the form of cash or can be easily converted into cash, ie stock
  • how the business is financed
  • how much capital is being used

A balance sheet is only a snapshot of a business’ financial position on one particular day. The individual figures can change dramatically in a short space of time but the total net assets (assets less liabilities) would only change dramatically if the business was making large profits or losses. For example:

  • If you hold large inventories of finished products, a change in market conditions might mean their value is reduced. You may even need to sell at a loss.
  • Customers sometimes have payment problems. If they are unable to pay, you may need to revalue your assets by making allowances for bad debts.

Current liabilities – money you owe

This section might include money owed for goods or services received but not yet paid for.

Debtors – money owed to you

This figure assumes that debtors will pay up on time. Where there are doubts about being paid, a provision can be made to reduce the value of the debts in the business’ accounts.

Intangible assets

The value of goodwill, patents and intellectual property can fluctuate with market trends, so the balance sheet value should be updated annually.

Fixed assets

These are shown at their depreciated rates. There are two main approaches to calculating depreciation of an asset:

  • Write off the same charge over the calculated life of the asset. For example, you may decide that a computer bought for £2,000 has a useful life of five years and that you will write off 20 per cent of its value each year.
  • Apply a steeper depreciation rate in the first few years of an asset’s value. For example, you may decide to offset 30 per cent of the value of the same computer in the first two years, 20 per cent in the third year and 10 per cent in the final two years. This method may allow your business to keep pace with trends in the market value and replacement cost of assets where value falls rapidly at the beginning.

Depreciation costs must be realistic and you may wish to approach your accountant for further help.

You cannot offset the annual depreciation charge against taxable profits, but you can claim capital allowances, using rates fixed by HM Revenue & Customs. See our guide on capital allowances: the basics.

Limited companies and limited liability partnerships must produce a balance sheet as part of their annual accounts for submission to:

  • Companies House
  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
  • shareholders – unless agreed otherwise

As well as the balance sheet, annual accounts include the:

  • profit and loss account
  • auditor’s reports – unless exemptions apply
  • directors’ report
  • notes to the accounts – these should provide any information you think may be relevant, eg supplementary financial information or additional detail

Other parties who may wish to see the accounts – and therefore the balance sheet – are:

  • potential lenders or investors
  • potential purchasers of the business
  • government departments carrying out inspections – for details see our guide on enquiries and inspections
  • employees
  • trade unions

There are strict deadlines for submitting annual accounts and returns to Companies House and HMRC – you may have to pay a fine if you send them in late. See our guides on how to file accounts at Companies House and key filing dates.

However, if you choose to file online, you may be eligible for an extension to your deadline. Read our guide on how to file returns online.

Reporting requirements for other business structures

Self-employed people, partners and partnerships are not required to submit formal accounts and balance sheets on their tax return. However, the returns do require the relevant financial details to be entered in a set format, so you may find it beneficial to prepare the figures in a balance sheet format.

Other key benefits of producing a balance sheet include:

  • if you want to raise finance, most lenders or investors will want to see three years’ accounts
  • if you want to bid for large contracts, including government contracts, the client will probably want to see audited accounts
  • producing formal accounts – including a balance sheet – will help you monitor the performance of your business

For detailed information on reporting requirements, see our guide on key filing dates.

Contents of the balance sheet

A balance sheet shows:

  • fixed assets – long-term possessions
  • current assets – short-term possessions
  • current liabilities – what the business owes and must repay in the short term
  • long-term liabilities – including owner’s or shareholders’ capital

The balance sheet is so-called because there is a debit entry and a credit entry for everything (but one entry may be to the profit and loss account), so the total value of the assets is always the same value as the total of the liabilities.

Fixed assets include:

  • tangible assets – eg buildings, land, machinery, computers, fixtures and fittings – shown at their depreciated or resale value where appropriate
  • intangible assets – eg goodwill, intellectual property rights (such as patents, trade marks and website domain names) and long-term investments

Current assets are short-term assets whose value can fluctuate from day to day and can include:

  • stock
  • work in progress
  • money owed by customers
  • cash in hand or at the bank
  • short-term investments
  • pre-payments – eg advance rents

Current liabilities are amounts owing and due within one year. These include:

  • money owed to suppliers
  • short-term loans, overdrafts or other finance
  • taxes due within the year – VAT, PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and National Insurance

Long-term liabilities include:

  • creditors due after one year – the amounts due to be repaid in loans or financing after one year, eg bank or directors’ loans, finance agreements
  • capital and reserves – share capital and retained profits, after dividends (if your business is a limited company), or proprietors capital invested in business (if you are an unincorporated business)

By law the balance sheet must include the elements shown above in bold. However, what each includes will vary from business to business. The firm’s external accountant will usually decide how to present the information, although if you have a qualified accountant on staff, they may make this decision.

Interpreting balance sheet figures

A balance sheet shows:

  • how solvent the business is
  • how liquid its assets are – how much is in the form of cash or can be easily converted into cash, ie stocks and shares
  • how the business is financed
  • how much capital is being used

A balance sheet is only a snapshot of a business’ financial position on one particular day. The individual figures can change dramatically in a short space of time but the total net assets (assets less liabilities) would only change dramatically if the business was making large profits or losses. For example:

  • If you hold large inventories of finished products, a change in market conditions might mean their value is reduced. You may even need to sell at a loss.
  • Customers sometimes have payment problems. If they are unable to pay, you may need to revalue your assets by making allowances for bad debts.

Current liabilities – money you owe

This section might include money owed for goods or services received but not yet paid for.

Debtors – money owed to you

This figure assumes that debtors will pay up on time. Where there are doubts about being paid, a provision can be made to reduce the value of the debts in the business’ accounts.

Intangible assets

The value of goodwill, patents and intellectual property can fluctuate with market trends, so the balance sheet value should be updated annually.

Fixed assets

These are shown at their depreciated rates. There are two main approaches to calculating depreciation of an asset:

  • Write off the same charge over the calculated life of the asset. For example, you may decide that a computer bought for £2,000 has a useful life of five years and that you will write off 20 per cent of its value each year.
  • Apply a steeper depreciation rate in the first few years of an asset’s value. For example, you may decide to offset 30 per cent of the value of the same computer in the first two years, 20 per cent in the third year and 10 per cent in the final two years. This method may allow your business to keep pace with trends in the market value and replacement cost of assets where value falls rapidly at the beginning.

Depreciation costs must be realistic and you may wish to approach your accountant for further help.

The relationship between balance sheets and profit and loss accounts

The profit and loss (P&L) account summarises a business’ trading transactions – income, sales and expenditure – and the resulting profit or loss for a given period.

The balance sheet, by comparison, provides a financial snapshot at a given moment. It doesn’t show day-to-day transactions or the current profitability of the business. However, many of its figures relate to – or are affected by – the state of play with P&L transactions on a given date.

Any profits not paid out as dividends are shown in the retained profit column on the balance sheet.

The amount shown as cash or at the bank under current assets on the balance sheet will be determined in part by the income and expenses recorded in the P&L. For example, if sales income exceeds spending in the quarter preceding publication of the accounts, all other things being equal, current assets will be higher than if expenses had outstripped income over the same period.

If the business takes out a short-term loan, this will be shown in the balance sheet under current liabilities, but the loan itself won’t appear in the P&L. However, the P&L will include interest payments on that loan in its expenditure column – and these figures will affect the net profitability figure or ‘bottom line’.

See our guide on how to set up a simple profit and loss account for your business.

Using balance sheet and P&L figures to assess performance

Many of the standard measures used to assess the financial health of a business involve comparing figures on the balance sheet with those on the P&L.

Compare balance sheets to assess business performance

There are some simple balance sheet comparisons you can make to assess the strength or performance of your business against earlier periods, or against direct competitors. The figures you study will vary according to the nature of the business. Some comparisons draw on figures from the profit and loss (P&L) account.

Internal comparisons

If inventory (stock) levels are rising from one period to the next, but sales in your P&L are not, some of your stock might be out of date. You may also have a cashflow problem developing. See our guide on cashflow management: the basics.

If the amount trade debtors owe you is growing faster than sales, it could indicate poor internal credit controls. Find out whether any of your customers are having problems with cashflow, which could pose a threat to your business.

A positive relationship with your trade creditors is essential. Key to this is managing your cashflow well, so that payments can be made on time. For example, trade creditors are more likely to be flexible about extending terms of credit if you have built up a good payment record.

Making early payments may qualify you for a discount. However, early payment for the sake of it will have a negative impact on your cashflow. Good payment controls will help prevent imbalances in what you owe suppliers and in levels of stock and inventory.

Borrowing as a percentage of overall financing (gearing) is important – the lower the figure, the stronger your business is financially. It’s common for start-up businesses to have high borrowing requirements, but if the gearing figure reaches 50 per cent you may have difficulty getting further loans.

External comparisons

You can also compare the above balance sheet figures with those of direct or successful competitors to see how you measure up. This exercise will highlight weaknesses in your business operation that may need attention. It will also confirm strong business performance.

Use accounting ratios to assess business performance

Ratio analysis is a good way to evaluate the financial results of your business in order to gauge its performance. Ratios allow you to compare your business against different standards using the figures on your balance sheet.

Accounting ratios can offer an invaluable insight into a business’ performance. Ensure that the information used for comparison is accurate – otherwise the results will be misleading.

There are four main methods of ratio analysis – liquidity, solvency, efficiency and profitability.

Liquidity ratios

There are three types of liquidity ratio:

  • Current ratio – current assets divided by current liabilities. This assesses whether you have sufficient assets to cover your liabilities. A ratio of two shows you have twice as many current assets as current liabilities.
  • Quick or acid-test ratio – current assets (excluding stock) divided by current liabilities. A ratio of one shows liquidity levels are high – an indication of solid financial health.
  • Defensive interval – liquid assets divided by daily operating expenses. This measures how long your business could survive without cash coming in. This should be between 30 and 90 days.

Solvency ratios

Gearing is a sign of solvency. It is found by dividing loans and bank overdrafts by equity, long-term loans and bank overdrafts.

The higher the gearing, the more vulnerable the company is to increasing interest rates. Most lenders will refuse further finance where gearing exceeds 50 per cent.

Efficiency ratios

There are three types of efficiency ratio:

  • Debtors’ turnover – average of credit sales divided by the average level of debtors. This shows how long it takes to collect payments. A low ratio may mean payment terms need tightening up.
  • Creditors’ turnover – average cost of sales divided by the average amount of credit that is taken from suppliers. This shows how long your business takes to pay suppliers. Suppliers may withdraw credit if you regularly pay late.
  • Stock turnover – average cost of sales divided by the average value of stock. This ratio indicates how long you hold stock before selling. A lower stock turnover may mean lower profits.

Profitability ratios

Divide net profit before tax by the total value of capital employed to see how good your return on the capital used in your business is. This can then be compared with what the same amount of money (loans and shares) would have earned on deposit or in the stock market.