What Is Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)?
Cost of goods sold (COGS) refers to the direct costs attributable to the production of the goods sold in a company. This amount includes the cost of the materials used in creating the good along with the direct labor costs used to produce the good. It excludes indirect expenses, such as distribution costs and sales force costs.
Cost of goods sold is also referred to as "cost of sales."
[Important: COGS only applies to those costs directly related to producing goods intended for sale.]
Examining Costs Of Goods Sold (COGS)
The Formula for COGS is:
How to Calculate the Cost of Goods Sold
Inventory that is sold appears in the income statement under the COGS account. The beginning inventory for the year is the inventory left over from the previous year – that is, the merchandise that was not sold in the previous year. Any additional productions or purchases made by a manufacturing or retail company are added to the beginning inventory. At the end of the year, the products that were not sold are subtracted from the sum of beginning inventory and additional purchases. The final number derived from the calculation is the cost of goods sold for the year.
The balance sheet has an account called the current assets account. Under this account is an item called inventory. The balance sheet only captures a company’s financial health at the end of an accounting period. This means that the inventory value recorded under current assets is the ending inventory. Since the beginning inventory is the inventory that a company has in stock at the beginning of its accounting period, it means that the beginning inventory is also the company’s ending inventory at the end of the previous accounting period.
What Does the Cost of Goods Sold Reveal?
The COGS is an important metric on the financial statements as it is subtracted from a company’s revenues to determine its gross profit. The gross profit is a profitability measure that evaluates how efficient a company is in managing its labor and supplies in the production process.
Because COGS is a cost of doing business, it is recorded as a business expense on the income statements. Knowing the cost of goods sold helps analysts, investors, and managers estimate the company’s bottom line. If COGS increases, net income will decrease. While this movement is beneficial for income tax purposes, the business will have less profit for its shareholders. Businesses, therefore, try to keep their COGS low so that net profits will be higher.
Cost of goods sold (COGS) is the cost of acquiring or manufacturing the products that a company sells during a period, so the only costs included in the measure are those that are directly tied to the production of the products, including the cost of labor, materials, and manufacturing overhead. For example, the COGS for an automaker would include the material costs for the parts that go into making the car plus the labor costs used to put the car together. The cost of sending the cars to dealerships and the cost of the labor used to sell the car would be excluded.
Furthermore, costs incurred on the cars that were not sold during the year will not be included when calculating COGS, whether the costs are direct or indirect. In other words, COGS includes the direct cost of producing goods or services that were purchased by customers during the year.
- Cost of goods sold (COGS) is the direct cost attributable to the production of the goods sold in a company.
- COGS is deducted from revenues (sales) in order to calculate gross profit and gross margin.
- The value of COGS will change depending on the accounting standards used in the calculation.
Example of How to Use COGS
As a historical example, let's calculate the cost of goods sold for J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) for fiscal year (FY) ended 2016. The first step is to find the beginning and ending inventory on the company's balance sheet:
- Beginning inventory: Inventory recorded on fiscal year ended 2015 = $2.72 billion
- Ending inventory: Inventory recorded on fiscal year ended 2016 = $2.85 billion
- Purchases during 2016: Using the information above = $8.2 billion
Using the formula for COGS, we can compute: $2.72 + 8.2 - 2.85 = $8.07 billion.
If we look at the company's 2016 income statement, we see that the reported COGS is $8.07 billion, the exact figure that we calculated here.
Accounting Methods and Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
The value of the cost of goods sold depends on the inventory costing method adopted by a company. There are three methods that a company can use when recording the level of inventory sold during a period: First In, First Out (FIFO), Last In, First Out (LIFO), and the Average Cost Method.
- FIFO: The earliest goods to be purchased or manufactured are sold first. Since prices tend to go up over time, a company that uses the FIFO method will sell its least expensive products first, which translates to a lower COGS than the COGS recorded under LIFO. Hence, the net income using the FIFO method increases over time.
- LIFO: The latest goods added to the inventory are sold first. During periods of rising prices, goods with higher costs are sold first, leading to a higher COGS amount. Over time, the net income tends to decrease.
- Average Cost Method: The average price of all the goods in stock, regardless of purchase date, is used to value the goods sold. Taking the average product cost over a time period has a smoothing effect that prevents COGS from being highly impacted by extreme costs of one or more acquisitions or purchases.
Exclusions From Cost of Goods Sold Deduction
Many service companies do not have any cost of goods sold at all. COGS is not addressed in any detail in generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), but COGS is defined as only the cost of inventory items sold during a given period. Not only do service companies have no goods to sell, but purely service companies also do not have inventories. If COGS is not listed on the income statement, no deduction can be applied for those costs.
Examples of pure service companies include accounting firms, law offices, real estate appraisers, business consultants, professional dancers, etc. Even though all of these industries have business expenses and normally spend money to provide their services, they do not list COGS. Instead, they have what is called "cost of services," which does not count towards a COGS deduction.
Cost of Revenue Versus COGS
Costs of revenue exist for ongoing contract services that can include raw materials, direct labor, shipping costs, and commissions paid to sales employees. These items cannot be claimed as COGS without a physically produced product to sell, however. The IRS website even lists some examples of "personal service businesses" that do not calculate COGS on their income statements. These include doctors, lawyers, carpenters, and painters.
Many service-based companies have some products to sell. For example, airlines and hotels are primarily providers of services such as transport and lodging, respectively, yet they also sell gifts, food, beverages, and other items. These items are definitely considered goods, and these companies certainly have inventories of such goods. Both of these industries can list COGS on their income statements and claim them for tax purposes.
Operating Expenses Versus COGS
Both operating expenses and cost of goods sold (COGS) are expenditures that companies incur with running their business. However, the expenses are segregated on the income statement. Unlike COGS, operating expenses (OPEX) are expenditures that are not directly tied to the production of goods or services. Typically, selling, general, and administrative expenses are included under operating expenses as a separate line item. SG&A expenses are expenditures that are not directly tied to a product such as overhead costs. Examples of operating expenses include:
- Office supplies
- Legal costs
- Sales and marketing
- Insurance costs
Limitations of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
COGS can easily be manipulated by accountants or managers looking to cook the books. It can be altered by:
- allocating to inventory higher manufacturing overhead costs than were actually incurred
- overstating discounts
- overstating returns to suppliers
- altering the amount of inventory in stock at the end of an accounting period
- overvaluing inventory on hand
- failing to write-off obsolete inventory
When inventory is artificially inflated, COGS will be under-reported which, in turn, will lead to higher than actual gross profit margin, and hence, an inflated net income.
Investors looking through a company’s financial statements can spot unscrupulous inventory accounting by checking for inventory buildup, such as inventory rising faster than revenue or total assets reported.
[Fast Fact: As a rule of thumb, if you want to know if an expense falls under COGS, ask: "Would this expense have been an expense even if no sales were generated?"]