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Level 3 Assets


Level 3 assets are financial assets and liabilities considered to be the most illiquid and hardest to value accurately because they are not readily marketable. They are typically assessed using valuation techniques because there isn’t a reliable, observable market price for them. Common examples include private equity investments, complex derivatives, and real estate held for investment purposes.


“Level 3 Assets” in phonetics is: /ˈlɛvəl θriː ˈæsɛts/

Key Takeaways


  1. Level 3 assets are a category of assets under the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) classifications. They are considered to be the most illiquid and difficult to accurately price as they lack a reliable, observable market price.
  2. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2 assets, the valuation of Level 3 assets is dependent primarily on unobservable inputs, including the asset’s unique characteristics, associated risks, and expected cash flows.
  3. Due to their opaque nature and subjective valuations, Level 3 assets carry a higher risk, providing both potential high rewards and high losses. It is important for investors to understand the implications of Level 3 assets in a portfolio, as their true value may be difficult to determine.
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      Level 3 assets are important in business and finance because they are a critical part of a company’s valuation and their risk exposure assessment. They are essentially assets whose fair value cannot be determined using observable measures, such as market prices or models. Instead, they’re valued based on unobservable inputs. This means their valuation comes inherently with significant uncertainty, as it heavily relies on the firm’s own assumptions and estimates. Properly assessing the value of Level 3 assets is crucial for both the company itself and investors, as these assets can significantly impact a company’s overall financial position and performance. Misjudgments in the valuation of such assets could lead to substantial financial misstatements, causing potential issues with investors, lenders, and regulatory bodies.


      Level 3 assets are primarily used in financial reporting and valuation, particularly within the framework of the fair value hierarchy as dictated by the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). This classification effectively provides a tool to categorize assets and liabilities on the basis of the transparency and reliability of the inputs used to determine their fair value. Level 3, at the bottom rung of the hierarchy, includes assets and liabilities with unobservable inputs, as their values are calculated using proprietary models or valuation techniques, making them the least transparent and carrying the highest degree of uncertainty.The purpose of Level 3 assets is mainly found in their utilization by a variety of firms, most commonly banks, investment firms, and insurance companies. Here, they may often include complex and illiquid investments such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), private equity, and certain derivatives. Institutional investors often hold Level 3 assets as part of their portfolio diversification strategies, despite the associated risks, as these assets can potentially offer high returns. Moreover, they play a significant role in facilitating financial innovation as they encompass assets derived from complex structuring or securitization activities. However, their complexity and lack of market pricing make them susceptible to significant write-downs during periods of market stress, underscoring the need for prudent management and disclosure.


      Level 3 assets are typically illiquid assets whose value is not derived from readily observable market data, making them difficult to value precisely. Here are three real-world examples:1. **Private Equity Investments:** These are stakes in companies that are not publicly traded, making them a classic Level 3 asset. These are often owned by private equity firms or hedge funds and their value often needs to be estimated since publically available price data is not available.2. **Structured Debt Securities:** Certain complex financial products like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) or Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) involve a bundle of individual debts such as mortgages or loans. Because of the complexity of these securities and the fact they are often traded over-the-counter, and not on an exchange, it’s difficult to establish a clear market price.3. **Derivatives Contracts:** Some types of derivatives, such as complex over-the-counter swaps or options, are considered Level 3 assets. Complex derivatives are custom-made for specific transactions, and there is usually not a large or active market for them, making it difficult to estimate their value.

      Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

      What are Level 3 Assets?

      Level 3 Assets are securities or holdings that are not easily valued or are illiquid due to absence of a functioning market where they can be sold. Their valuation is based on unobservable inputs and assumptions because no reliable, readily available market data exists.

      How are Level 3 Assets valued?

      Due to their illiquid nature and lack of clear market data, Level 3 Assets are valued using complex mathematical models, simulations, or best guess estimates based on the potential future cash flows.

      What types of assets could be considered as Level 3 Assets?

      Level 3 Assets can include investments like formative-stage startups, private equity, distressed debt, securitized products like mortgage-backed securities, and certain derivative contracts.

      Where does the term ‘Level 3 Assets’ come from?

      The term ‘Level 3 Assets’ originates from the financial accounting standards guideline called FAS 157 which classifies assets into three level based on the liquidity and availability of market data for valuation.

      What are the risks associated with Level 3 Assets?

      The main risks associated with Level 3 Assets are valuation risk and liquidity risk. Since these assets cannot be priced using market data, their valuation can be contentious or inaccurate. Also being highly illiquid in nature, these assets may not be sellable quickly without a substantial price reduction.

      Why do companies hold Level 3 Assets?

      Despite the associated risks, companies might hold Level 3 Assets due to their potential for high returns. These assets can also add diversification to a company’s portfolio.

      How do Level 3 Assets impact a company’s balance sheet?

      Since valuing Level 3 Assets can be subjective and varies from company to company, it creates difficulty for investors and creditors to compare balance sheets of different companies holding Level 3 assets.

      Are Level 3 Assets regulated?

      Yes, in many countries, financial regulators closely monitor firms that hold Level 3 Assets. These companies have to offer detailed disclosures about the models, assumptions, and inputs they use to value these assets. They also need periodic audits and stress tests to ensure they are not overstating the assets’ value.

      What is the difference between Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Assets?

      The difference between these levels of assets lies in the availability of market data for their valuation. Level 1 Assets have the most transparent pricing with readily available quoted prices in active markets. Level 2 Assets don’t have quoted prices but are valued based on observable market inputs. Level 3 assets are valued based on unobservable inputs due to lack of market data.

      Related Finance Terms

      • Mark-to-Market Accounting: This is a method of valuing assets based on the current market price. It’s connected with Level 3 assets as these assets often lack a market price, making them harder to value.
      • Fair Value: This is the estimated price at which an asset or liability would change hands in a transaction. With Level 3 assets, determining fair value can be complex due to a lack of a readily available market price.
      • Illiquid Assets: Assets not readily or quickly convertible to cash are often labelled as “illiquid”. Level 3 assets are typically considered illiquid because they aren’t traded on active markets and can be difficult to sell.
      • Financial Reporting: This refers to the disclosure of financial results and related information to management and external stakeholders (like investors, creditors, and regulators). Level 3 assets often increase the complexity of financial reporting due to their valuation challenges.
      • Financial Risk: This refers to the possibility of financial loss. Level 3 assets often carry higher financial risk due to market and liquidity risks, challenges in valuation, and potential volatility in their value.

      Sources for More Information

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