Concept of Cash and Cash Equivalents

27/07/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Cash and cash equivalents (CCE) are the most liquid current assets found on a business’s balance sheet. Cash equivalents are short-term commitments “with temporarily idle cash and easily convertible into a known cash amount”. An investment normally counts to be a cash equivalent when it has a short maturity period of 90 days or less, and can be included in the cash and cash equivalents balance from the date of acquisition when it carries an insignificant risk of changes in the asset value; with more than 90 days maturity, the asset is not considered as cash and cash equivalents. Equity investments mostly are excluded from cash equivalents, unless they are essentially cash equivalents, for instance, if the preferred shares acquired within a short maturity period and with specified recovery date.

Cash is the money in the form of currency. Currency includes currency notes and coins. Any currency notes and coins held by an enterprise are part of the term “cash”.

Demand deposit is a type of an account from which funds can be withdrawn at any time without having to inform the bank or depository institution. Most of the checking and saving accounts are demand deposits.

One of the company’s crucial health indicators is its ability to generate cash and cash equivalents. So, a company with relatively high net assets and significantly less cash and cash equivalents can mostly be considered an indication of non-liquidity. For investors and company’s cash and cash equivalents are generally counted to be “low risk and low return” investments and sometimes analysts can estimate company’s ability to pay its bills in a short period of time by comparing CCE and current liabilities. Nevertheless, this can happen only if there are receivables that can be converted into cash immediately.

First, owners and investors can contribute money to the business in exchange for a percentage ownership in the company. Second, the company can generate money from selling goods or services to customers as part of its ongoing operations. Third, the business can borrow money from banks, financial institutions, and other lenders.

Controlling cash flow and financing is a crucial part of running any business. A business can be profitable and still not be able to pay its bills on time because money was not managed properly. Profitability does not always equate to large amount of free cash flow. Investors and creditors need to know where the company’s cash comes from and where it goes. That’s why management details each cash activity for the period on the statement of cash flows.

However, companies with a big value of cash and cash equivalents are targets for takeovers (by other companies), since their excess cash helps buyers to finance their acquisition. High cash reserves can also indicate that the company is not effective at deploying its CCE resources, whereas for big companies it might be a sign of preparation for substantial purchases. The opportunity cost of saving up CCE is the return on equity that company could earn by investing in a new product or service or expansion of business.

Examples of cash are:

  • Coins
  • Currency
  • Cash in checking accounts
  • Cash in savings accounts
  • Bank drafts
  • Money orders
  • Petty cash

Cash Equivalent

Cash equivalents are investments that can be readily converted to cash. Common examples of cash equivalents include commercial paper, treasury bills, short term government bonds, marketable securities, and money market holdings. An item should satisfy the following criteria to qualify for cash equivalent.

  • The investment should be short term. They should mature in less than three months. If they mature in more than three months they will be classified as other investments.
  • They should be highly liquid. This means that they should be easily sold in the market. The buyers of these investments should be easily available.
  • They should be convertible to known amounts of cash. This means that their market price should be available and this market price should not be subject to significant fluctuations.
  • They should not be too risky. There should be very little risk of changes in their value. This means that equity shares cannot be classified as cash equivalents. But preferred shares purchased shortly before the redemption date can be classified as cash equivalents.

In short, cash and cash equivalents mean the cash and those assets which are immediately convertible to cash. Cash and cash equivalents are the most liquid assets of any business. Cash and cash equivalents are very important for the liquidity of a business. A company should have sufficient cash and cash equivalents to meet its urgent liabilities when they fall due. 

Examples of cash equivalents are:

  • Commercial paper
  • Marketable securities
  • Money market funds
  • Short-term government bonds
  • Treasury bills

Businesses can report these two categories of assets on the balance sheet separately or together, but most companies choose to report them together.

GAAP allows this financial statement presentation because some investments are so liquid and risk adverse that they are considered cash. Take T-bills for example. These investments are backed by the U.S. government and will always be paid. It’s not like a private short-term bond or loan where the company can default or go bankrupt. T-bills are a safe, guaranteed investment that can be cashed in at any time. Thus, GAAP recognizes these investments as if they were actual currency.

If the T-bills can’t be cashed in because of debt covenants or some other agreement, like in our debt restriction example above, the restricted T-bills must be reported in a separate investment account from the non-restricted T-bills on the balance sheet.

Accounts receivable is not considered cash because it isn’t currency. It is, however, considered an equivalent because it is highly liquid and easily converted into cash in a short period of time. Thus, it would be included in equivalents calculation.

CDs are short-term securities that are easily converted into a known amount of cash in a short period of time. Certificates of Deposit are always included in cash equivalents.