What Are Aged Assets?

Aged assets are goods that have outlived their usefulness and require upgrades. Aged assets have nothing to do with the aging of receivables. Those searching for a way to incorporate the aging of machines and other items into their financial statements should look into the depreciation of assets instead.

Key Takeaways

  • Aged assets are goods that have outlived their usefulness and require upgrades.
  • Assets tend to age continuously, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep aged assets operating.
  • One firm's aged asset that is no longer worth maintaining can be another firm's bargain-priced alternative to buying newer equipment.

Understanding Aged Assets

Aged assets are not only expensive to maintain and replace, but they can also create serious safety hazards and disrupt operations if they fail. Proper management of aged assets is a significant issue in industries that rely heavily on equipment, such as the oil and gas industry. Aged assets, particularly those used for defense, transportation, manufacturing, and construction, can sometimes be cost-effectively remanufactured to make them useful and efficient again.

Aged assets are sometimes the result of planned obsolescence, which means manufacturers design equipment to become outdated or fail after a known amount of time. For example, suppose new car buyers only intend to keep their cars for between five and ten years. Automakers then have an incentive to make parts that start failing after five to ten years. The older cars begin requiring more repairs, which encourages their owners to buy new cars.

An asset becomes an aged asset when its owner decides that it is no longer worthwhile to continue using and maintaining the asset.

Assets tend to age continuously, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep aged assets operating. New equipment generally works as intended, with nothing more than routine maintenance and perhaps an energy source required for operation. As assets become older, more extensive repairs are needed, and more parts must be replaced. At that point, many users decide that the aged assets have reached the end of their useful life and sell or dispose of them.

However, there is actually an even later stage in the life cycle of some products. Aged assets can reach the point where their original manufacturer no longer supports them. For example, Microsoft stopped mainstream support for Windows 7 in 2020. Most Windows 7 users had to upgrade or do without tech support and security updates. For hardware, manufacturers and even third parties eventually stop making replacement parts. In this last stage, aged assets might rely on cannibalizing parts from other aged assets to stay in operation.

Types of Aged Assets

Aged assets fall into several common categories. First, they include equipment that still functions but is expensive to operate and maintain, such as machinery that requires expensive or difficult-to-find parts or materials. Other aged assets involve equipment that still works but breaks down frequently, disrupting operations. Another category includes broken equipment that is too expensive to repair.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aged Assets

One firm's aged asset that is no longer worth maintaining can be another firm's bargain-priced alternative to buying newer equipment. The chief advantage of an aged asset for the selling firm is that it can often be sold for cash or traded in for a new model. That means that some aged assets still have value in exchange, even if they are no longer useful to the seller. On the other hand, it may cost money to dispose of some aged assets. Larger organizations generally benefit from having asset disposal plans.

Real-World Examples

In Wiley Finance’s The Handbook of Infrastructure Investing, published in 2010, editor Michael D. Underhill offered some history on U.S. investments in infrastructure. Underhill argued that the Great Recession encouraged a wave of government investment in infrastructure expansion. However, he also said that the U.S. rebuilding of infrastructure mostly "focuses on replenishing aged assets" instead of harnessing new technology and considering what lies beyond the horizon. These, he said, are "typically low-medium return opportunities."

In the early 21st century, there were several high-profile national and local infrastructure investment proposals in the U.S. transportation sector. In 2017, Amtrak proposed a "Ready to Build" vision that called for five major projects to overhaul its aged assets. Although the coronavirus pandemic temporarily reduced demand for mass transit, the long-term impact on Amtrak's plans was unclear as of 2020.