I assumed the SEC filings for balance sheet or income statement should follow a standard format across companies. If that is the case, why is some important fields absent for certain companies? For example American Express(AXP) or Goldman Sachs(GS) apparently do not report current liabilities on their balance sheet, they only report the aggregate total liabilities. Is there a reason for that (perhaps because they are financial companies and there is no distinction between current and total liabilities?).

Also on a more general question, is the inconsistencies in reports common across companies?


I'm a UK Chartered Accountant and not a CPA but I will try add some colour to this.

I just took a look at GS's Balance Sheet (https://www.goldmansachs.com/investor-relations/financials/current/10k/2019-10-k.pdf) and they do indeed report their liabilities with different maturities (deposits which are overnight borrowings are top as they are the shortest in term), there is also a distinction between short (<1 year) and long term financings. No 'current liabilities' but I'm guessing that the financial institutions have specific requirements (as I'm not a CPA I'm not sure the specifics on this).

As a general point, there is significant latitude in the structure and categorization of a company's reported financials and this makes comparing different companies very challenging. I remember Apple having a and short and long term cash entry in their Balance Sheet for a long time which was pretty much unique and made comparisons with direct other companies difficult and they used the consolidated all bank balances into the more traditional 'Cash' balance. Apple subsequently removed this entry and adopted a more traditional approach of Cash as well as Short and Long Term securities (this makes comparisons of even the same company across time very challenging).

Even when balances have the same name they are not always the same. The Cash should be very straightforward and just be the aggregate bank balances as of the Balance Sheet date. However, even this is sometimes 'interpreted' as befits a company's requirements. Some companies began interpreting this as cash which should be there on the date and included pending payments such as credit card receivables etc (https://web.archive.org/web/20120408044306/https://blogs.smeal.psu.edu/grumpyoldaccountants/archives/15)

In short, it is very difficult to compare the same balance in a company's reported financial statements with another company's as the names of the balances might be different, or the balance could be divided between several different balances, or the company could be have chosen to interpret the meaning the of the category differently.

Some financial data companies do a decent job of aggregating balances into groupings - Morningstar and Bloomberg both do a solid job of this.

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