Reporting Inventory at the Lower-of-Cost-or-Market

Question: In the example of Rider Inc., Model XY-7 bicycles have been bought and sold and one unit remains in stock at the end of the year. The cost of this model has held steady at $260. However, its market value is likely to differ from that figure.

Assume that, because of the sales made during the period, company officials believe that a buyer will eventually be found to pay $440 for this last bicycle. Is inventory always reported on a balance sheet at historical cost or is market (or fair) value ever taken into consideration? Should this bicycle be shown as an asset at $260, $440, or some other pertinent figure?

Answer: Under normal conditions, market value is rarely relevant in the reporting of inventory. For Rider Inc. this bicycle will most likely appear as an asset at its cost of $260 until sold. Value is such a subjective figure that it is usually ignored in reporting inventory. The company has no reliable proof that the bicycle will bring in $440 until a sale actually occurs. The conservative nature of accounting resists the temptation to inflate reported inventory figures based purely on the anticipation of a profitable transaction at some point in the future.

An exception to this rule becomes relevant if the value of inventory falls below cost. Once again, the conservatism inherent in financial accounting is easily seen. If market value remains greater than cost, no change is made in the reported balance until a sale occurs. In contrast, if the value drops so that inventory is worth less than cost, a loss is recognized immediately. Accountants often say that losses are anticipated but gains are not. As a note to the June 24, 2009, financial statements for Winn-Dixie Stores states, “Merchandise inventories are stated at the lower-of-cost-or-market” (emphasis added). Whenever inventory appears to have lost value for any reason, the accountant compares the cost of the item to its market value and the lower figure then appears on the balance sheet.

Question: When applying the lower-of-cost-or-market approach to inventory, how does the owner of the merchandise ascertain market value?

Answer: The practical problem in applying this rule arises from the difficulty in ascertaining an appropriate market value. There are several plausible ways to view the worth of any asset. For inventory, there is both a “purchase value” (replacement cost—the amount needed to acquire the same item again at the present time) and a “sales value” (net realizable value—the amount of cash expected from an eventual sale). When preparing financial statements, if either of these amounts is impaired, recognition of a loss is likely. Thus, the accountant must watch both values and be alert to any potential problems.

Purchase Value. In some cases, often because of bad timing, a company finds that it has paid an excessive amount for inventory. Usually as the result of an increase in supply or a decrease in demand, replacement cost drops after an item is acquired. To illustrate, assume that Builder Company—the manufacturer of bicycle Model XY-7—has trouble selling the expected quantity of this style to retail stores because the design is not viewed as attractive. Near the end of the year, Builder reduces the wholesale price offered for this model by $50 in hopes of stimulating sales. Rider Inc. bought a number of these bicycles earlier at a total cost of $260 each but now, before the last unit is sold, could obtain an identical product for only $210. The bicycle held in Rider’s inventory is literally worth less than what the company paid for it. The purchase value, as demonstrated by replacement cost, has fallen to a figure lower than its historical cost.

When replacement cost for inventory drops below the amount paid, the lower (more conservative) figure is reported on the balance sheet and the related loss is recognized on the income statement. In applying lower-of-cost-or-market, the remaining bicycle is now reported by Rider Inc. at its purchase value. A loss of $50 reflects the reduction in the reported inventory account from $260 to $210.

Sales value. Inventory also has a sales value that can, frequently, be independent of replacement cost. The sales value of an item can fall for any number of reasons. For example, technological innovation will almost automatically reduce the amount that can be charged for earlier models. This phenomenon can be seen whenever a new digital camera or cell phone is introduced to the market. Older items still in stock often must be discounted significantly to attract buyers. Similarly, changes in fashions and fads can hurt the sales value of certain types of inventory. Swim suits usually are offered at reduced prices in August and September as the summer season draws to a close. Damage can also impact an owner’s ability to recoup the cost of inventory. Advertised sales tempt buyers to stores by offering scratched and dented products, such as microwaves and refrigerators, at especially low prices.

For accounting purposes, the sales value of inventory is normally defined as its estimated net realizable value. As discussed in the previous chapter, this figure is the amount of cash expected to be derived from an asset. For inventory, net realizable value is the anticipated sales price less any cost required so that the sale will occur. For example, the net realizable value of an older model digital camera might be the expected amount a customer will pay after money is spent to advertise the product. The net realizable value for a scratched refrigerator is likely to be the anticipated price of the item less the cost of any repairs that must be made prior to the sale.

As with purchase value, if the sales value of an inventory item falls below its historical cost, the lower figure is reported along with a loss to mirror the impact of the asset reduction.

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