Goodwill accounting – Investors need something different

Once every decade or so accountants fret over goodwill and reconsider how best to report it in financial statements – should it be amortised, impaired, amortised and impaired, or something else? There is no obvious right answer, positions are entrenched, and debate usually gets nowhere.

The problem is that neither amortisation nor impairment provides much help for investors. The debate needs to move on to what really matters – reporting about business value. There are already encouraging moves in this direction. It is time to apply similar innovative thinking to goodwill.

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DCF terminal values: Returns, growth and intangibles

If DCF terminal values are based on continuing forecast cash flow, it is important that the reinvestment assumption is consistent with long-term return expectations. We provide an interactive DCF model that demonstrates four alternative cash flow growth-based terminal value calculations, along with related returns analysis.

One of the challenges when using returns in equity valuation is the limited recognition of intangible assets. Adjustments to capitalise intangible investment do not change cash flow but can help in ensuring that the assumptions that drive forecast cash flows are realistic.

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Missing intangible assets distorts return on capital

The inconsistent and incomplete recognition of intangible assets in financial statements distorts performance metrics. Invested capital and profit are understated – to what extent depends on the business dynamics and nature and source of investment in intangibles. The combined effect is generally to overstate return on capital.

With the ever-increasing importance of intangible assets, few companies are unaffected by this accounting problem. We suggest adjustments to help your analysis, provide an interactive model to illustrate, and calculate an intangible asset adjusted return for Amazon.

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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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