What is Liquidity?
Liquidity is defined as the marketability of an asset and the ease at which it can be converted into cash without incurring a substantial monetary loss.
Liquidity Definition: Market vs. Financial Risk
Liquidity can be measured in two forms: 1) market liquidity and 2) financial liquidity.
- Market Liquidity: Market liquidity describes the time necessary for an asset to be liquidated and sold for cash in the secondary market.
- Financial Liquidity: The other component of liquidity aside from the timing aspect – financial liquidity – focuses on the price at which the asset was sold relative to its fair value, i.e. the size of the discount required.
The quicker the asset can be converted into cash, the more liquid the asset is considered to be (and vice versa).
Conceptually, the ease or difficulty the seller encounters while attempting to sell the asset is determined by supply and demand.
The most favorable scenario is if the market demand is high while the supply is low. In contrast, the least favorable condition would be if demand among buyers is low while supply is over-abundant.
Liquid assets can be sold at (or near) their fair value, without the need for the seller to attach a steep discount to incentivize buyers in the market.
On that note, a liquid asset should expect to retrieve a higher valuation than if it were an illiquid asset – all else being equal – because of the so-called “liquidity premium” priced into the valuation.
What are Liquid Assets?
In the prior section, we defined the meaning of liquidity, so we’ll provide a list of real-life examples of liquid assets here.
The assets deemed to be the most liquid, aside from cash itself, are:
- Government Bonds (e.g. T-Bills, T-Bonds)
- Marketable Securities
- Certificate of Deposit (CD)
- Savings Accounts
- Money Market Funds
- Low-Risk, Short-Term Investments
Because of how quickly these assets can be sold in the market with either no or a marginal reduction in price, the assets listed above are frequently consolidated within the “Cash and Cash Equivalents” line item in the current assets section of the balance sheet.
The next list consists of other assets also considered to be liquid, however to a lesser degree than those above.
- Accounts Receivable (A/R): Accounts receivable refers to payments not yet collected but owed to a company by its customers that paid using credit, instead of cash, for a good or service already delivered (and thereby “earned” per accrual accounting). While most customers do eventually fulfill such a cash payment obligation, there are often exceptions where the company is later forced to write off the receivables as uncollectible (i.e. bad debt).
- Inventory: Inventory is another current asset with liquidity that can vary substantially based on the context. Certain inventories have broad applications and can be sold easily at a minor discount, whereas others can be difficult to liquidate even with a significant discount.
Liquidity Risk and Premium: Stock Market Investments
Corporate bonds with high credit ratings and common shares wherein the underlying issuers are financially sound can be relatively easy to sell due to the sheer volume in the bond and public equities market.
Nonetheless, unanticipated circumstances can reduce the demand in the market and the sale price, which could stem from the issuer (e.g. missed earnings guidance) or external events (e.g. economic conditions, geopolitical risk).
That said, the term “liquidity risk” refers to the potential monetary losses incurred by an investor attempting to exit a position due to insufficient buyer demand in the market.
The absence of market demand prevents the investor from selling at the time desired and the sale price might have to be reduced, especially if it is a “fire sale”, i.e. the urgent liquidation of the securities.
Hence, the securities of widely-recognized public companies with high trading volume trade at a premium relative to thinly traded securities from smaller-sized companies with lower trading volume.
Liquidity Ratio: Balance Sheet Ratio Analysis
Liquidity ratios are a method to measure the capacity of a company to meet its short-term obligations (<12 months due date).
There are four liquidity ratios in particular that are widely used and relied upon to determine a company’s near-term financial state.
|Net Working Capital Turnover (NWC)||
The formula for each liquidity ratio can be found here: