A:

As with most matters related to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), accountants assigned with the task of applying GAAP to inventory reserves often use a significant amount of personal judgment. Unfortunately, the judgments made are usually only as accurate as the accountants are honest. With that in mind, let's explain inventory reserves.

An inventory reserve is money that is taken out of earnings for the purpose of paying cash or non-cash anticipated future costs associated with inventory. Matters pertaining to inventory reserves are a very small part of a wide body of rules associated with inventory accounting. Costs of keeping inventory can come in many forms, and most of them are seen by the market as having the potential to negatively affect a corporation's profitability. Such costs may be holding costs, storage costs, shrinkage costs, or any type of cost arising from a decrease in the value of the inventoried assets. Inventory reserves or allowances are contra accounts as they may partially, fully or more than fully offset the balance of the inventory account.

GAAP requires that all inventory reserves be stated and valued using either the cost or the market value method - whichever is lower. If the cost of inventory exceeds the market value, an adjustment must be made to the inventory value entry on the balance sheet. Since it is unlikely that a company would produce and inventory a product at a cost to the company that exceeds market value, such a situation would usually occur because of a negative change in the market value of the inventoried asset. For example, let's say a company produces crude oil at a cost of $25.00 per barrel. If the market price of crude oil drops to just $20.00 per barrel, then an accounting entry must be made to adjust for the change in the market value of the inventory. The entry would look something like this, assuming the company only produced one barrel of oil at $25.00 per barrel:

Debit Loss from decline in market value of crude oil $5.00
Credit Inventory $5.00

In the case of crude oil, market price is very easy to determine, as it's a commodity that is traded internationally and the price has a very low bid-ask spread. In most cases, the market price of inventory is much less easily determined. In the United States GAAP requires that inventory be stated at replacement cost, if there is a difference between the market value and the replacement value, but upper and lower boundaries are applied to the replacement cost of the inventory. This is known as the lower of cost and market value method of inventory valuation.

The upper boundary is called the ceiling. The ceiling applied to the market value of inventory is such that the market value must be below the net realizable value (NRV), which is a reasonable estimation of the eventual selling price of the asset in inventory minus the costs of the sale or disposal of the asset. The ceiling is in place to remove the opportunity for a company to overstate the value of its inventoried assets.

The lower boundary is called the floor. The floor applied to the market value of inventory is such that the stated market value must not be lower than the NRV minus an approximation of profit realized from the asset's sale. The floor is in place to remove the opportunity for a company to unrealistically overstate profit by understating the value of its inventoried assets.

It is important to recognize that GAAP is not a stagnant set of principles: rather, it changes to reflect changes in regulation and changes in standards employed by businesses operating in different industries throughout the economy as a whole. Changes are made regularly to what is, and what is not, a generally accepted principle of accounting.

(For further reading, see Inventory Valuation For Investors: FIFO Vs LIFO and Measuring Company Efficiency.)

RELATED FAQS
  1. How do you analyze inventory on the balance sheet?

    Learn how to analyze inventory using financial statements and footnotes by doing ratio analysis and performing qualitative ... Read Answer >>
  2. Why should investors care about the Days Sales of Inventory (DSI)?

    Learn about days sales of inventory and what it measures; understand why an investor would want to know a company's days ... Read Answer >>
  3. How does inventory accounting differ between GAAP and IFRS?

    Learn about inventory costing differences between generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, and International Financial ... Read Answer >>
  4. How do you find a company's days sales of inventory (DSI)?

    Discover the formula to calculate days sales of inventory and how it is helpful to market analysts and investors, but it ... Read Answer >>
  5. Does working capital include inventory?

    Learn about inventory that is part of current assets and working capital, which is the difference between current assets ... Read Answer >>
  6. What does days sales of inventory (DSI) represent as a ratio?

    Discover what the days sales of inventory (DSI) ratio represents for traders or market analysts and how this ratio is used ... Read Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    How to Analyze a Company's Inventory

    Discover how to analyze a company's inventory by understanding different types of inventory and doing a quantitative and qualitative assessment of inventory.
  2. Investing

    Days Sales of Inventory

    Days Sales of Inventory, also called Days Inventory Outstanding, is a key financial measurement of a company's performance pertaining to inventory management. In simple terms, it tells how many ...
  3. Investing

    Understanding Periodic Vs. Perpetual Inventory

    An overview of the two primary inventory accounting systems.
  4. Investing

    Measuring Company Efficiency

    Three useful indicators for measuring a retail company's efficiency are its inventory turnaround times, its receivables and its collection period.
  5. Investing

    U.S. Crude Oil Inventories Up (XOM)

    U.S. crude oil inventories are at “historically high levels” for this time of the year, according to the Energy and Information Administration.
  6. Small Business

    Understanding First In, First Out (FIFO)

    A company that uses the first in, first out inventory valuation method will sell, use, or dispose of assets that it produced or acquired first.
  7. Investing

    AR & Inventory Turnover Is Key For These Sectors

    Accounts receivable and inventory turnover are two important ratios in the current asset category. We will also discuss the key industries that benefit from a thorough understanding of these ...
  8. Investing

    US EIA Oil Inventory Preview

    U.S. Department of Energy crude oil inventory data released later today should provide an indication of what is next for oil prices.
  9. Investing

    Understanding Activity Ratios

    Activity ratios measure how effectively a business uses its assets.
  10. Investing

    Is Sales Growth Weaker Than Inventory Growth?

    Find out why Goldman Sachs Equity Research is concerned about inventory growth, which appears to be outpacing sales growth for many U.S. sectors.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Lower of Cost and Market Method

    A requirement of GAAP in the United States that inventory be ...
  2. Inventory Reserve

    An accounting entry that represents a deduction from earnings ...
  3. Ending Inventory

    The value of goods available for sale at the end of the accounting ...
  4. Average Inventory

    A calculation comparing the value or number of a particular good ...
  5. Carrying Cost Of Inventory

    This is the cost a business incurs over a certain period of time, ...
  6. Average Age Of Inventory

    The average number of days it takes for a firm to sell to consumers ...
Hot Definitions
  1. North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA

    A regulation implemented on Jan. 1, 1994, that decreased and eventually eliminated tariffs to encourage economic activity ...
  2. Trickle-Down Theory

    An economic idea which states that decreasing marginal and capital gains tax rates - especially for corporations, investors ...
  3. Derivative

    A security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets.
  4. Fiduciary

    A fiduciary is a person who acts on behalf of another person, or persons to manage assets.
  5. Sharpe Ratio

    The Sharpe Ratio is a measure for calculating risk-adjusted return, and this ratio has become the industry standard for such ...
  6. Death Taxes

    Taxes imposed by the federal and/or state government on someone's estate upon their death. These taxes are levied on the ...
Trading Center