The Core Financial Statements
Your future will undoubtedly be marked by numerous decisions about investing money in the capital stock of some corporation. Another option that will present itself is to lend money to a company, either directly, or by buying that company's debt instruments known as "bonds." Stocks and bonds are two of the most prevalent financial instruments of the modern global economy. The financial press and television devote seemingly endless coverage to headline events pertaining to large public corporations. Public companies are those with securities that are readily available for purchase/sale through organized stock markets. Many more companies are private, meaning their stock and debt is in the hands of a narrow group of investors and banks. If you are contemplating an investment in a public or private entity, there is certain information you will logically seek to guide your decision process. What types of information will you desire? What do you want to know about the companies in which you are considering an investment? If you were to prepare a list of questions for the company's management, what subjects would be included? Whether this challenge is posed to a sophisticated investor or to a new business student, the listing almost always includes the same basic components.
What are the corporate assets? Where does the company operate? What are the key products? How much income is being generated? Does the company pay dividends? What is the corporate policy on ethics and environmental responsibility?
Many such topics are noted within the illustrated "thought cloud." Some of these topics are financial in nature (noted in blue). Other topics are of more general interest and cannot be communicated in strict mathematical terms (noted in red).
Financial accounting seeks to directly report information for the topics noted in blue. Additional supplemental disclosures frequently provide insight about subjects such as those noted in red. But, you would also need to gain additional information by reviewing corporate web sites (many have separate sections devoted to their investors), filings with the securities regulators, financial journals and magazines, and other such sources. Most companies will have annual meetings for shareholders and host web casts every three months (quarterly). These events are very valuable in allowing investors and creditors to make informed decisions about the company, as well as providing a forum for direct questioning of management. You might even call a company and seek "special insight" about emerging trends and developments. Be aware, however, that the company will likely not be able to respond in a meaningful way. Securities laws have very strict rules and penalties that are meant to limit selective or unique disclosures to any one investor or group (in the United States: Regulation Full Disclosure/Reg. FD). It is amusing, but rarely helpful, to review "message boards" where people anonymously post their opinions about a company.
Financial accounting information is conveyed through a standardized set of reports. You have already been introduced to the balance sheet. The other fundamental financial statements are the income statement, statement of retained earnings, and statement of cash flows. There are many rules that govern the form and content of each financial statement. At the same time, those rules are not so rigid as to preclude variations in the exact structure or layout. For instance, the earlier illustration for Edelweiss was first presented as a "horizontal" layout of the balance sheet. The subsequent Edelweiss examples were representative of "vertical" balance sheet arrangements. Each approach, and others, is equally acceptable.