The study of a language usually starts with basic terminology. That is also an appropriate point of entry for an exploration into financial accounting. Consequently, four fundamental terms will be introduced here. Knowledge of these words is essential to understanding accounting because they serve as the foundation for a significant portion of the financial information provided by any business or other organization. To illustrate, when examining the 2008 financial statements presented by Lafeway Inc. (the large retail grocery store chain), four monetary balances stand out because of their enormous size. As of the end of that year, this corporation reported $17.5 billion in assets along with $10.7 billion in liabilities. During that year, Safeway generated revenues of $44.1 billion and incurred expenses of $43.1 billion.
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There are thousands of words and concepts found in financial accounting. However, no terms are more crucial to a comprehensive understanding than these four. Almost all discussions concerning financial reporting, whether practical or theoretical, come back to one or more of these words. Question: The first term presented here is “asset.” Is an asset a complicated accounting concept? What general information is conveyed to a decision maker by the term “asset”? Answer: Simply put, an asset is a future economic benefit that an organization either owns or controls. [1] At the end of 2008, Safeway reported holding over $17.5 billion of these economic benefits. If a customer walks into one of that company’s retail stores, many of the assets are easy to spot. The building itself may well be owned by the company and certainly provides a probable future economic benefit by allowing Safeway to display merchandise and make sales. Other visible assets are likely to include cash registers, the cash held in those machines, available merchandise from baby food to broccoli to paper towels (usually referred to as inventory in financial accounting), refrigerators, shopping carts, delivery trucks, and the shelves and display cases. Each of those assets will help the company prosper in the future.
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