Current assets and fixed assets are listed on the balance sheet. The balance sheet shows a company's resources or assets while also showing how those assets are financed whether through debt as shown under liabilities or through issuing equity as shown in shareholder's equity. Current assets are short-term assets, whereas fixed assets are typically long-term assets. However, there are other differences between them.
Current assets are assets that can be converted into cash within one fiscal year or one operating cycle. Current assets are used to facilitate day-to-day operational expenses and investments. As a result, short-term assets are liquid meaning they can be readily converted into cash.
Examples of current assets include:
- Cash and cash equivalents, which might consist of certificates of deposit
- Marketable securities such as equity or debt securities
- Accounts receivable, or money owed to the company for selling their products and services to their customers
- Prepaid expenses
Fixed assets are noncurrent assets that a company uses in its production or goods and services that have a life of more than one year. Fixed assets are recorded on the balance sheet and listed as property, plant, and equipment (PP&E). Fixed assets are long-term assets and are referred to as tangible assets, meaning they can be physically touched.
Examples of fixed assets include:
- Vehicles like trucks
- Office furniture
Key Differences Between Fixed Assets and Current Assets
Fixed assets undergo depreciation, which divides a company's cost for non-current assets to expense them over their useful lives. Depreciation helps a company avoid a major loss when a company makes a fixed asset purchase by spreading the cost out over many years. Current assets are not depreciated because of their short-term life.
Noncurrent assets (like fixed assets) cannot be liquidated readily to cash to meet short-term operational expenses or investments.
Fixed assets have a useful life of over one year, while current assets are expected to be liquidated within one fiscal year or one operating cycle.
Capital Investment Decisions for Fixed Assets and Current Assets
Capital investment is money invested in a company with the goal of advancing its commercial objectives.
Capital Investment and Fixed Assets
Capital investment decisions are long-term funding decisions that involve capital assets such as fixed assets. Capital investments can come from many sources, including angel investors, banks, equity investors, and venture capital. Capital investment might include purchases of equipment and machinery or a new manufacturing plant to expand a business. In short, capital investment for fixed assets means the company plans to use the assets for several years.
Capital Investment and Current Assets
Although capital investment is typically used for long-term assets, some companies use it to finance working capital. Current asset capital investment decisions are short-term funding decisions essential to a firm’s day-to-day operations. Current assets are essential to the ongoing operation of a company to ensure it covers recurring expenses.
Capital investment decisions look at many components, such as project cash flows, incremental cash flows, pro forma financial statements, operating cash flow, and asset replacement. The objective is to find the investment that yields the highest return while ignoring any sunk costs.
Return on investment capital (ROIC) is a calculation used to assess a company's efficiency at allocating the capital under its control to profitable investments. Return on invested capital gives a sense of how well a company is using its money to generate returns.
There are several methods used in determining how to allocate capital to one investment versus another, including incremental analysis whereby a company can calculate the differences in cost between different investment options.
The Bottom Line
Current assets are short-term assets that are typically used up in less than one year. Current assets are used in the day-to-day operations of a business to keep it running.
Fixed assets are long-term, physical assets such as plant and equipment. Fixed assets have a useful life of more than one year.
Knowing where a company is allocating its capital and how it finances those investments is critical information before making an investment decision. A company might be allocating capital to current assets, meaning they need short-term cash. Or the company could be expanding its market share by investing in long-term fixed assets. It's also important to know how the company plans to raise the capital for their projects, whether the money comes from a new issuance of equity, or financing from banks or private equity firms.