Bitcoin: The financial reporting challenge for investors

Whether you view Bitcoin as a modern-day tulip bulb mania bubble, that will inevitably burst, or an unstoppable development in finance, one thing is certain, companies are increasingly purchasing this asset. But how do Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies affect reported financial position and performance metrics?

There are no accounting rules dedicated to cryptocurrencies. Under current US GAAP and, usually under IFRS, intangible asset accounting is applied.  We use the reporting by MicroStrategy to illustrate why this does not provide the right information for investors and explain how you should include cryptocurrency assets in your analysis.

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Intangible asset accounting and the ‘value’ false negative

Few people seem to be satisfied with intangible asset accounting; depending on your perspective, there is either not enough or far too much of it. What is clear is that many valuable intangible assets go unrecognised in financial statements. The result is distorted financial ratios, including price to book.

The lack of intangible asset recognition means that most investors know to use book value with caution. This may not be the case for index providers, ‘smart beta’ funds and quant-based investing where price to book ratios are used to identify ‘value’ stocks and related indices.

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Goodwill impairments may not identify impaired goodwill

Failed acquisitions do not always result in goodwill impairments. Management optimism is part of the problem, but so is application of the impairment test in a way that maximises the shielding effect of other assets. This reduces the value of goodwill impairments for investors.

Analysing the success or failure of M&A is important to assess management stewardship. We applaud the IASB’s proposal for more disclosure, but also believe the goodwill impairment test needs a critical review. Some use the ‘too little, too late’ character of impairment to advocate re-introducing goodwill amortisation. We do not agree.

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