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What Is 'Free On Board - FOB'?

Free on board is a trade term that indicates whether the seller or the buyer is liable for goods that are damaged or destroyed during shipping. "FOB shipping point" or "FOB origin" means the buyer is at risk once the seller ships the goods. "FOB destination" means the seller retains the risk of loss until the goods reach the buyer.

BREAKING DOWN 'Free On Board - FOB'

Contracts involving international transportation often contain abbreviated trade terms that describe matters such as the time and place of delivery, payment, when the risk of loss shifts from the seller to the buyer, and who pays the costs of freight and insurance. The most common international trade terms are Incoterms, which the International Chamber of Commerce publishes, but firms that ship goods in the United States must also adhere to the Uniform Commercial Code. Since there is more than one set of rules, the parties to a contract must expressly indicate which governing laws they used for a shipment.

How Free On Board Works

Assume, for example, that Acme Clothing manufactures jeans and sells them to retailers such as Old Navy. If Acme ships $100,000 in jeans to Old Navy using the term "FOB shipping point," Old Navy is liable for any loss while the goods are in transit and would purchase insurance to protect the shipment. On the other hand, if the goods are shipped "FOB destination," Acme Clothing retains the risk and would insure the shipment against loss.

Factoring in Inventory Costs

Shipping terms affect the buyer's inventory cost because inventory costs include all costs to prepare the inventory for sale. Using the same example, if the jeans were shipped using FOB shipping point terms, Old Navy’s inventory cost would include the $100,000 purchase price and the cost of insuring the goods against loss during shipment. Likewise, when Old Navy incurs other costs related to inventory, such as renting a warehouse, paying for utilities and securing the warehouse, those costs are also added to inventory. This accounting treatment is important because adding costs to inventory means the buyer does not immediately expense the costs, and this delay in recognizing the cost as an expense affects net income.

Examples of Inventory Cost Management

The more often a company orders inventory, the more shipping and insurance costs it will incur. In addition, a business may incur costs to place an order, hire labor to unload the goods and rent a warehouse to store the goods. A company can lower its inventory costs by ordering in greater quantities and reducing the number of individual shipments it brings in.

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