($ in millions)
Total Current Assets
Other Long-Term Assets
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Total Assets and the Return on Total Assets
TOTAL ASSETS AND THE RETURN ON TOTAL ASSETS
Add current assets to long-term assets, and we get the company's total assets. Its total assets will match its total liabilities, plus shareholders' equity. They balance with each other, which is why it is called a balance sheet.
Total assets are important in determining just how efficient the company is in putting its assets to use. To measure the company's efficiency, analysts have come up with the return on asset ratio, which is found by dividing net earnings by total assets.
Capital, however, always presents a barrier to entry into any industry, and one of the things that helps make a company's competitive advantage durable is the cost of the assets one needs to get into the game. Coca-Cola has $43 billion in assets and a return on assets of 12%; Procter & Gamble has $143 billion in assets and a return on assets of 7%; and Altria Group, Inc., has $52 billion in assets and a return on assets of 24%. But a company like Moody's, which has $1.7 billion in assets, shows a 43% return on assets.
While many analysts argue that the higher the return on assets the better, Warren has discovered that really high returns on assets may indicate vulnerability in the durability of the company's competitive advantage. Raising $43 billion to take on Coca-Cola is an impossible task---it's not going to happen. But raising $1.7 billion to take on Moody's is within the realm of possibility. While Moody's underlying economics is far superior to Coca-Cola's, the durability of Moody's competitive advantage is far weaker because of the lower cost of entry into its business.
The lesson here is that sometimes more can actually mean less over the long-term.