The asset section of the February 28, 2009, balance sheet produced by Co. Inc. reports net accounts receivable of $1.868 billion. Based on discussions in the previous chapter, a decision maker should know that this figure reflects net realizable value—the estimation by officials of the amount of cash that will be collected from the receivables owed to the company by its customers. Knowledge of financial accounting rules allows an individual to understand the information being conveyed in a set of financial statements. As is common, the next account that appears on Best Buy’s balance sheet is inventory, all the items held on that date that were acquired for sales purposes—televisions, cameras, computers, and the like. The figure disclosed by the company for this asset is $4.753 billion. Does this balance also indicate net realizable value—the cash expected to be generated from the company’s merchandise—or is different information reflected? On a balance sheet, what does the amount reported for inventory represent?
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The challenge of analyzing the various assets reported by an organization would be reduced substantially if every monetary number disclosed the same basic information, such as net realizable value. However, over the decades, virtually every asset has come to have its own individualized method of reporting, one created to address the special peculiarities of that account. Thus, the term “presented fairly” often has a totally different meaning for each asset. Reporting accounts receivables, for example, at net realizable value has no impact on the approach that has come to be accepted for inventory. The reporting of inventory is especially unique because the reported balance is not as standardized as with accounts receivable. For example, under certain circumstances, the balance sheet amount shown for inventory actually can reflect net realizable value. Several other meanings for the reported balance, though, are more likely. The range of accounting alternatives encountered in analyzing this asset emphasizes the importance of reading the notes included with financial statements rather than fixating on a few reported numbers alone. Without careful study of the additional disclosures, a decision maker simply cannot know what Best Buy means by the $4.753 billion figure reported for “merchandise inventories.” Another company could show the identical number for its inventory and still be reporting considerably different information.
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