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Inventory: An Asset or a Liability? That is the Question

Inventory: An Asset or a Liability? That is the Question

While not a question as old as time, many business owners still wonder: 'Is inventory as asset or a liability?'

The answer: Inventory is an asset.

For many companies, inventory represents a large, if not the largest, portion of their assets. As such, it is classified as a current asset on a company’s balance sheet.

Why Inventory is an Asset

We’ve answered the question about inventory, now here are some of the reasons why inventory is considered an asset:

Potential to Generate Revenue

The main reason inventory is classified as an asset is its potential to generate revenue. Inventory consists of goods and products that a business intends to sell to its customers or use in its manufacturing process to create new goods and products to sell. The sale of these items is how many businesses make a profit. This represents future economic benefits to the company.

Current Asset Classification

In accounting terms, inventory is classified as a current asset on a company's balance sheet. This classification is used because inventory is expected to be sold or used within a short period, typically within one year or within the business's operating cycle, whichever is longer.

Conversion into Cash

Assets are resources that can provide future economic benefits, and inventory can be readily converted into cash or cash equivalents. When inventory items are sold, they are transformed into revenue, contributing to the cash flow of the business.

Part of the Operating Cycle

Inventory is a crucial component of a business's operating cycle. This cycle involves purchasing or producing inventory, holding it, and then selling it. This process is central to the operations of many businesses, especially in the retail, manufacturing, and distribution sectors.

Value on the Balance Sheet

Inventory holds value on the balance sheet. The value of the inventory is recorded when it is acquired, and this value is carried on the balance sheet until the inventory is sold.

The way inventory is valued can impact the reported asset value on the balance sheet. Using different methods, such as First-In, First-Out (FIFO), Last-In, First-Off (LIFO), and Weighted Average Cost, will have different effects on balance sheets.

Management and Optimization

Effective inventory management is a strategic business activity. By optimizing inventory levels, businesses can ensure they have enough stock to meet customer demand without tying up excessive capital in inventory, thereby managing their assets efficiently.


Retail Store: A clothing store buys garments from manufacturers and sells them to customers. The garments it holds are its inventory and are considered assets because they will be sold for a profit.

Manufacturing Company: A car manufacturer holds various components (like engines, tires, and electronics) used in assembling cars. These components are the manufacturer's inventory and are assets, as they will be used to create products that generate revenue.

Food Industry: A grocery store stocks various food items, from fresh produce to packaged goods. These items are inventory and are assets because they will be sold to customers.

Special Considerations


The value of inventory can fluctuate based on market demand, spoilage, obsolescence, or price changes. Businesses must carefully manage and value their inventory to reflect its true worth on the balance sheet.


In a period of rising prices, FIFO will result in lower cost of goods sold (COGS) on the income statement because it allocates the older, cheaper inventory costs first. Consequently, this leads to a higher gross profit and potentially higher net income. The remaining inventory is valued at the more recent, higher costs. This results in a higher inventory value on the balance sheet under inflationary conditions.


In times of rising prices, LIFO results in a higher COGS on the income statement because it allocates the newer, more expensive inventory costs first. This leads to a lower gross profit and potentially lower net income. The remaining inventory is valued at the older, lower costs, which results in a lower inventory value on the balance sheets under inflationary conditions.

Weighted Average

This method smooths out price fluctuations because it is based on the average cost. This means that the inventory value is less sensitive to short-term price changes compared to FIFO and LIFO. During periods of inflation, the weighted average cost will typically be lower than the most recent purchase price but higher than the oldest prices in inventory. This results in a moderate impact on the COGS and gross profit.

Inventory Turnover

This financial metric measures the rate at which a company sells and replaces its stock of goods during a given period.

The basic formula is:

Inventory Turnover = Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) / Average Inventory

(Average inventory is often calculated as the sum of the inventory at the beginning and the end of the period divided by two.)

High Turnover

Indicates a company is selling goods quickly and efficiently, suggesting strong sales and effective inventory management.

Low Turnover

This may indicate weak sales, excess inventory, or both. It could also suggest that the company is holding too much stock, which could lead to increased storage costs and risk of obsolescence.


This occurs when the market value of inventory falls below its carrying amount on the balance sheet. This necessitates a write-down of the inventory’s value, reflecting its reduced worth on the financial statements. Some causes of impairment include market value decline, obsolescence, damage or spoilage, and economic factors.

An Asset for Your Business

Inventory is an asset because it represents goods that are held for sale in the ordinary course of business, with the expectation of generating revenue. Effective inventory management is crucial for maintaining the liquidity and profitability of a business.

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Biz Tip Topic Expert: Robin Wiedenhoeft, CPA

Robin Wiedenhoeft, CPA

Robin is a Senior Manager with SVA Certified Public Accountants and helps clients establish internal financial reporting procedures and provides year-end financial reporting services.

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