An exception to this rule becomes relevant if the value of inventory falls below cost. Once again, the conservatism inherent in financial accounting is easily seen. If market value remains greater than cost, no change is made in the reported balance until a sale occurs. In contrast, if the value drops so that inventory is worth less than cost, a loss is recognized immediately. Accountants often say that losses are anticipated but gains are not. As a note to the June 24, 2009, financial statements for Winn-Dixie Stores states, “Merchandise inventories are stated at the lower-of-cost-or-market” (emphasis added). Whenever inventory appears to have lost value for any reason, the accountant compares the cost of the item to its market value and the lower figure then appears on the balance sheet. Question: When applying the lower-of-cost-or-market approach to inventory, how does the owner of the merchandise ascertain market value? Answer: The practical problem in applying this rule arises from the difficulty in ascertaining an appropriate market value. There are several plausible ways to view the worth of any asset. For inventory, there is both a “purchase value” (replacement cost—the amount needed to acquire the same item again at the present time) and a “sales value” (net realizable value—the amount of cash expected from an eventual sale). When preparing financial statements, if either of these amounts is impaired, recognition of a loss is likely. Thus, the accountant must watch both values and be alert to any potential problems
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Purchase Value. In some cases, often because of bad timing, a company finds that it has paid an excessive amount for inventory. Usually as the result of an increase in supply or a decrease in demand, replacement cost drops after an item is acquired. To illustrate, assume that Builder Company—the manufacturer of bicycle Model XY-7—has trouble selling the expected quantity of this style to retail stores because the design is not viewed as attractive. Near the end of the year, Builder reduces the wholesale price offered for this model by $50 in hopes of stimulating sales. Rider Inc. bought a number of these bicycles earlier at a total cost of $260 each but now, before the last unit is sold, could obtain an identical product for only $210. The bicycle held in Rider’s inventory is literally worth less than what the company paid for it. The purchase value, as demonstrated by replacement cost, has fallen to a figure lower than its historical cost.
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