Questions about inventory and liabilities in working capital – a buyer’s level of concern about these matters will depend a lot on what kind of business is being purchased. In the case of inventory, I would usually have a physical audit done even where inventory is relatively nominal. It’s easy and cheap to do. I wouldn’t do it pre-closing, since there will be a closing statement of working capital that includes inventory levels. You can reconcile to that statement via a post-closing physical audit done as part of the working capital adjustment process. If the inventory records don’t reconcile the seller has to true up.
If inventory is a bigger part of the deal, unique, or of indeterminate quality, you’d want to physically review it as part of diligence. You might go so far as to get specific reps to address any particular inventory concerns. Typically, however, you’ll simply verify that inventory is present pre-close, take the closing statement, and then true up post-closing. In the corporate world, this work will most likely be done by your accounting team, so be sure to stay on their good side.
Liabilities are also pretty easy. You’re going to do a full diligence on your target, much of which will relate to accounting. It won’t take much digging to find understated or omitted payables. If you do find them, you’d want to consider walking – it’s a bit of a red flag . . . Lagging payables that come through post-signing should flow right into any working capital adjustment process.
Otherwise, you account for post-closing unknowns – whether unreported liabilities or litigation – via the reps and warranties and your indemnity rights (asset deals) and price (stock deals). That raises a subject for a later post – why thorough diligence is far more important in stock deals than it is in asset deals.