A periodic system is cheap and easy to operate. It does, though, present some practical problems. Assume that a company experiences a fire, flood, or other disaster and is attempting to gather evidence—for insurance or tax purposes—as to the amount of merchandise that was destroyed. How does the company support its claim? Or assume a company wants to produce interim financial statements for a single month or quarter (rather than a full year) without going to the cost and trouble of taking a complete physical inventory count. If the information is needed, how can a reasonable approximation of the inventory on hand be derived when a periodic system is in use? Answer: One entire branch of accounting—known as “forensic accounting”—specializes in investigations where information is limited or not available (or has even been purposely altered to be misleading). For example, assume that a hurricane floods a retail clothing store in Charleston, South Carolina. Only a portion of the merchandise costing $80,000 is salvaged. [1] In trying to determine the resulting loss, the amount of inventory in the building prior to the storm needs to be calculated. A forensic accountant might be hired, by either the owner of the store or the insurance company involved, to produce a reasonable estimate of the merchandise on hand at the time. Obviously, if the company had used a perpetual rather than a periodic system, the need to hire the services of an accounting expert would be less likely unless fraud was suspected.
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If no sales had taken place, the inventory on hand would have cost $571,000 as shown by the ledger accounts. Sales did occur prior to the hurricane and a significant amount of merchandise was removed by the customers. However, the $480,000 balance shown in the sales T-account does not reflect the cost of the inventory items that were surrendered. It is a retail amount, the summation of the price charged for all the merchandise sold during the year to date. To determine the cost of inventory held at the time of the catastrophe, cost of goods sold for the current year has to be approximated and then removed from the $571,000 total. Many companies use a fairly standard markup percentage in setting retail prices. By looking at previously reported balances, the accountant is often able to make a reasonable determination of that markup. For example, assume that in the preceding year, this company reported sales revenue of $500,000 along with cost of goods sold of $300,000 and, hence, gross profit of $200,000. In this earlier period, cost of goods sold was 60 percent of sales revenue ($300,000/$500,000) while gross profit was 40 percent ($200,000/$500,000).
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