What Are Liquid Assets?

Liquid Assets Explained

Definition

Liquid assets are assets that can be converted to cash quickly, easily, and at or near their current market value. They are recorded under current assets on a business’s balance sheet.

Small business owners taking stock of inventory
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Definition and Examples of Liquid Assets

Liquid assets are usually current assets that can be converted to cash quickly while retaining their market value. These assets comprise the current asset portion of your balance sheet and are expected to be converted or used within a year.

Alternate name: Current assets

Note

Liquidity refers to the level of liquid assets a business has in order to meet financial obligations. 

Liquid Assets Example 

You have a small business where you sell handcrafted jewelry. You own the building and land that it sits on. On your balance sheet under assets, you have four accounts: cash, accounts receivable, inventory, and building and land. You use a checking account dedicated to your business to pay your bills. Which accounts are liquid assets? 

The answer is cash, accounts receivable, inventory, and the checking account. 

  • Cash is the only perfectly liquid asset. 
  • Accounts receivable, the money your customers owe you, are expected to be paid in full in one year or less, making them a liquid asset. 
  • Even though you have to find a buyer for it, inventory is considered obsolete when it reaches the end of its life cycle (which, for example, can be just one year). 
  • Your checking account is liquid because it is a cash equivalent, or “near cash,” and can meet your short-term needs.

Cash, accounts receivable, and inventory are liquid assets, but another type of current asset often seen on a business’s balance sheet is marketable securities. Marketable securities are short-term investments with a maturity of one year or less, so they are also considered liquid.

How Liquid Assets Work

There is no direct measurement for how liquid a particular current asset is, but some criteria that can be used to know if an asset qualifies as liquid is the speed and the cost by which it converts into cash. The higher speed and the lower cost, the more liquid the asset is.

We can approximate a firm’s liquidity by using formulas and financial ratios to measure it such as the current ratio

Note

The current ratio shows how many times a firm’s current or liquid assets can cover its short-term debt. 

Here is the calculation:

Current Ratio = Current Assets ÷ Current Liabilities 

For a more precise measurement, calculate what is called the quick ratio, another measure of short-term liquidity:

Quick Ratio = Current Assets - Inventory ÷ Current Liabilities

Examples of Liquidity Analysis

Here are examples of both current ratio and quick ratio formulas based on Microsoft’s balance sheet and income statement from its 2005 annual report (in millions):


Current Ratio: $70,566 ÷ $14,696 = 4.8

Quick Ratio: ($70,566 - $421) ÷ $14,696 = 4.8

Financial Analysis

Microsoft had 4.8 times as much invested in current assets as it owed in current liabilities, according to both the current and quick ratios. This left the company in a very liquid position, which can be a positive. It allows Microsoft to pay its debts, but if the company has too much in liquid assets, it may be missing out on investment opportunities.

If you consider the quick ratio and subtract the small amount of inventory Microsoft was holding, you see that the amount of liquid assets on hand starts to drop. In this case, the quick ratio didn’t make much difference, since the amount of inventory was low. However, if the quick ratio is below 1.0, this means the business can’t pay its bills without selling inventory and is not as liquid as Microsoft is in the above example.

Illiquid Assets

 In order to fully understand liquid assets, you have to also know what assets are considered illiquid, meaning they can’t be converted to cash quickly and easily. 

Note

Real estate, including buildings and land, is one of the most common examples of an illiquid asset. 

Many mutual funds are also considered to be illiquid because the investors can’t always get to their money instantly.

From a business perspective, the portion of the balance sheet that is fixed assets contains the more illiquid assets. Generally, for small businesses, the fixed assets on the balance sheet are property, plant, and equipment. These assets are considered illiquid because they can’t be converted to cash quickly or easily and may take a hit to their market value because of use and depreciation.

Key Takeaways

  • Liquid assets, which are the current assets of the business, are easily and rapidly converted to cash without loss of any of their market value.
  • The usual types of liquid assets on the balance sheet are cash, accounts receivable, marketable securities, and inventory. Checking and savings accounts are also considered liquid assets. 
  • The current ratio and the quick ratio are two ways that you can measure the liquidity of a small business.
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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1.  TreasuryDirect. "Treasury Marketables Factsheet."

  2. Microsoft. "Annual Report 2005."

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