Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let's get rid of Sundry Assets!

Considering the cool weather we've been having to this point, you must think I'm insane for wanting to get rid of something that sounds so warm and fuzzy. Who couldn't like something called Sundry right? Unfortunately, Sundry Assets do nothing to warm the hearts of those who wade through corporate financial statements.

When a company has a Balance Sheet entry titled "Sundry Assets", it's totally unclear what's included in that account. Sundry literally means 'various or diverse'...so what gets included under Sundry Assets? Anything and everything that management doesn't want to provide a separate line item for. Since investors have no idea what's in there, it becomes almost impossible to value.

Some companies throw expenses in there that they haven't used up. For example, if a company bought $500 of wood to knock on (following rosy statements), but only wore out $400 worth, they can stuff Sundry with the extra $100 (with the expectation of expensing it later). For small items such as this, it's not such a big deal. However, companies have also stuffed this account with items like private investments in other companies.

Usually, Sundry accounts are small and so aren't worth bothering about. But I recently encountered a company whereby the contents of those assets would make a valuation difference...if only I knew what they were! Such accounting reeks of management hiding information from shareholders, and is a signal to stay away!

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