accounting ACCT 210-004
Popular in Introduction to Managerial Accounting
verified elite notetaker
Popular in Accounting
This 2072 page Bundle was uploaded by dc Notetaker on Friday November 13, 2015. The Bundle belongs to ACCT 210-004 at Arizona State University taught by Staff in Fall 2015. Since its upload, it has received 85 views. For similar materials see Introduction to Managerial Accounting in Accounting at Arizona State University.
Reviews for accounting
Please tell me you're going to be posting these awesome notes every week..
Report this Material
What is Karma?
Karma is the currency of StudySoup.
You can buy or earn more Karma at anytime and redeem it for class notes, study guides, flashcards, and more!
Date Created: 11/13/15
Accounting, Economics, and Law A Convivivium Volume 1, Issue 1 2011 Article 7 The Pure Logic of Accounting: A Critique of the Fair Value Revolution Yuri Biondi, CNRS, France Recommended Citation: Biondi, Yuri (2011) "The Pure Logic of Accounting: A Critique of the Fair Value Revolution," Accounting, Economics, and Law: Vol. 1 : Iss. 1, Article 7. Available at: http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 ©2011 Accounting, Economics, and Law - A Convivivium. All rights reserved. The Pure Logic of Accounting: A Critique of the Fair Value Revolution Yuri Biondi Abstract When international accounting standards were renamed to become international financial reporting standards, this seemed to imply that accounting no longer needed to exist, but rather had to be reconsidered as a part of financial communication and advertising. Does traditional accountability no longer matter? Betrayed investors and globalized stakeholders would dissent. A difference of nature continues to exist between fair values disclosed by managers and certified by auditors, and the actual performance generated by the enterprise entity through time, space, and interaction. In a world shaped by complex organizations facing unfolding changes, hazard and limited knowledge, the quest for fundamental principles of accounting is not academic. Accounting principles constitute a primary way that the creation and allocation of business incomes is governed; that is, fairly managed and regulated in the public interest, having respect to “other people interests.” This article adopts a dualistic posture that opposes the accounting conceptual frameworks based on fair value (market basis) and historical cost and revenue (process basis). The fundamental premises about the underlying economics of the enterprise entity are discussed, including the representation of the business and the concepts of asset and liability. References are made to the case of accounting for intangibles, and to the distinction between equities and liabilities. The cost and revenue accounting perspective is then defended in terms of accountability, but also from the informational viewpoint: historical accounting information plays a special role as a lighthouse in the dynamic and strategic setting of the Share Exchange. In particular, two refinements of the historical cost (and revenue) accounting model are suggested. The first one regards the treatment of earned revenues from continuing operations, and the second, the recognition of shareholders’ equity interest computed on the actual funds provided in the past, coupled with the distinction between shareholders’ equity and entity equity. KEYWORDS: accounting theory, international financial reporting standards (IFRS), intangibles, conceptual framework, accounting principles and rules, accounting standards, marked-to-market, fair value, marked-to-models, accounting regulation JEL Classification Codes: D23, L22, M41 Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge fruitful discussions with R.N. Anthony, R. Camodeca, A. Canziani, I. Chambost, E. Chiapello, B. Colson, L. Cunningham, Ch. Hoarau, L. Klee, Sawabe N., M. Shubik, S. Sunder, T. Suzuki, S. Zambon, Zhang Q., and the participants to the special conference on fair value and international accounting convergence, SASE Annual 2006 Meeting (Trier, 30 June – 2 July), and to the panel on institutional perspectives on accounting, financial markets and the firm, AAA Annual 2009 Meeting (New York, 3 August). Furthermore, I would thank C. Richard Baker and Paul Williams whose comments have greatly helped me improving the quality of the paper. This work is humbly dedicated to the memory of Robert N. Anthony and George Benston. Usual disclaimer applies. Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting T ABLE OF C ONTENTS 1. THE ONGOING SHIFT FROM COST TO FAIR VALUE ACCOUNTING 2. ACCOUNTING FOR BUSINESS AND SOCIETY 2.1 The role of accounting principles in forming accounting standards 2.2 What does “fair” mean for accounting principles? 2.3 The nature of accounting pursuant to the accountability perspective 2.4 The drift away from classic accounting principles 2.5 A defence of classic accounting principles 3. ACCOUNTING FOR THE ECONOMICS OF THE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE 3.1 An alleged market reference 3.2 Accounting: Financial or Economic? 3.3 The overarching accounting logic 3.4 Accounting for the enterprise process 3.5 Accounting for value (stock) or cost (flow) 3.6 Accounting for wealth (stock) or incomes (flow) 3.7 The accounting model: the notions of asset and liability 3.8 The liability side 3.9 The asset side 3.10 Is fair value, accounting? 4. GENERATING ALTERNATIVES TO FAIR V ALUE A CCOUNTING AND R EPORTING 4.1 The new notion of asset according to the fair value perspective 4.2 Cost accounting logic is neglected 4.3 Where does an asset come from? 4.4 The case of intangibles 4.5 The distinction between equities and liabilities 5. ERFORMANCE ,TIME AND THE INVESTORS :THE HISTORICAL COST PERSPECTIVE 5.1 The alleged direct link between accounting numbers and share prices 5.2 Accounting system does complement and not follow the price system 5.3 The accounting lighthouse 5.4 The accounting representation of business income 5.5 Relevance and reliability reconsidered 5.6 The problem with the fair value perspective 5.7 The cost accounting approach to the value of the firm to shareholders CONCLUSION REFERENCES Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 1 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 1. The ongoing shift from cost to fair value accounting Since 1973, major accounting regulatory bodies such as the FASB and IASB have been fostering an accounting revolution. The traditional accounting model based on historical cost has been progressive ly displaced, disbanded and replaced by new premises and concepts related to a new fair value accounting model. In effect, the old language of busine ss is being to be replaced by a new language under the pressure of independent regulatory authorities. This scenario recalls what George Orwell wrote in hi s masterpiece “1984” about the drift from “Oldspeak” to “Newspeak”. One of the di stinguishing aspects of this replacement is to make any alternative thinking or speech impossible by removing words or possible constructs which describe the old fashioned ideas of matching, reliability, enterprise entity and going concern, histor ical transactions and so forth. By 2020 — earlier, perhaps — all real knowle dge of the old language could have disappeared. The whole literature of the past could be destroyed. A. Charles Littleton, J.W. Eugen Schmalenbach, Gino Zappa, Heinrich K. Nicklisch, Robert N. Anthony, Yuji Ijiri — they may be ne glected and exist onl y in new language versions, not merely changed into someth ing different, but act ually contradicting what they used to be. From this perspective, the change of name from “International Accounting Standards” (IAS) to “International Financial Reporting Standards” (IFRS) appears to involve a paradigmatic shift. Accoun ting might not any longer (need to) exist, but should be reconsidered as a part of overall financial communication (and advertising) for financial markets. Does “accounting” -as accountability- no longer matter? Betrayed investors and globalized stakeholders would dissent. A difference of nature continues to exist between fair value “revelations” disclosed by managers and certified by auditors, and the actual fi nancial performance and position generated by the enterprise entity through time, space, and interaction. Therefore, the debate is still fierce today (AAA FASC 2005, 2007a, 2007b). On 17 November 2005, the IASB published a discussion paper devoted to “Measurement Bases for Financial Accounting – Measurement on Initial Rec ognition” (hereinafter, IASB DP 2005). During a six months comment period, eighty-four comments letters were received. As summarised by the IASB’s report (2006c ), “the majority of respondents are not supportive of the paper’s overall propo sals regarding the relevance of fair value on initial recogniti on (63%), although some of these respondents support individual aspects of the proposals, and several respondents have mixed concerns (12%). Only a small minority support the paper’s proposals overall (17%)”. Unsupportive respondents include major accounting regulatory bodies from France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, and leading accounting professional firms such as Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton and Mazars. Respondents appeared to be http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 2 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting fully aware of the major implications of the revolutionary change of accounting model that was advanced. The Orwellia n linguistic strategy underpinning that change was then addressed. They questioned the IASB DP (2005)’s preference for fair value as a deductive consequence of an alleged set of premises and concepts that was formulated in a way that already implied that preference whilst preventing the related issues from being di scussed. Therefore, they criticized the way questions were addresse d and asked for a clearer und erstanding of what the business entity’s statements of financial performance and position should portray. This article contributes to this ongoing effort of conceptual clarification by drawing upon theoretical debates that have been going on for at least a century with respect to fair (current) value versus historical cost accounting. In particular, it will address the accounting representation of the economics of the business entity that each alterna tive accounting conceptual fr amework (model) underpins. This representation relates to the respectiv e definitions of the notions of business capital and income, their “cap ital maintenance” concepts and their implications for income recognition. More generally sp eaking, this exercise in clarification involves a broader discussion of the nature and role of business entities -and of their accounting structure- for economy a nd society. From this perspective, the whole issue of measurement derive s its meaning from understanding the fundamental principles of financial acc ounting, including their implications for relevance and reliability and its informa tional content. In “Newspeak” wording, this paper is concerned with the bases and implications of the so-called “objectives” and “qualitative characteristics” of “financial reporting.” The remainder of this paper is orga nised as follows. A dualistic approach is adopted that opposes cost (and revenue ) and value as distinct bases, which imply distinctive premises and frameworks of reference. The respective accounting logic and model are then compare d. In particular, the first section will examine the accounting logic in order to better understand the distinctive role that accounting plays in the socio-economic system. The analysis will then contrast the “value relevance” approach with th e “accountability” approach to accounting for businesses and society. On this basis, the second section will delve into the accounting model by analysing the fundame ntal views of the economics of the business enterprise addressed by cost a nd value accounting perspectives. Starting from this comparative analysis, the di stinctive impacts of the two accounting perspectives are explored in some specific cases. The third section will discuss the case of the accounting for intangible assets and the distinction between equities and liabilities. The fourth section will address the question of accounting information for financial markets and the implied concepts of relevance and reliability with regard to the underlying accounting perspectives. Some heuristics for improved financial statements will be presented, including two refinements of the cost and revenue accounting model. Th e first regards the treatment of earned Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 3 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 revenues from continuing operations, and the second, the recognition of shareholders’ equity based on the actual funds provided in the past, coupled with the distinction between shareholders’ equity and entity’s equity. A summary of the main argument concludes. 2.Accounting for business and society La comptabilité commerciale est une des plus belles et des plus heureuses applications de la métaphysique. P.-J. Proudhon, «ystème des Contradictions Economiques, ou Philosophie de la Misère », Tome II, chap. X : Le crédit, Paris 1846, p. 159-60. Business accounting is one of the most beautiful and important applications of metaphysics. 2.1 The role of accounting principles in forming accounting standards In a world shaped by ongoing organizations confronted with unfolding changes and limited knowledge, the quest for accounting principles is not academic. Accounting principles constitute the primary way that business relationships are governed with respect to “other people interests.” 2 Such principles have an impact on how business enterprises are conducte d, costs are established, profits are shared, taxes are paid, dividend distribu tion is calculated and permitted, financial capital is maintained, and prudential c ovenants are enforced. They ultimately affect the mode of generation of inco me to the business enterprise and its allocation among the different stakeholders (including shareholders) through time, space, and interaction. Financial accounting standards are driven by the frame of reference created by these principles, i.e., by fundamental premises and concepts. Standard- setters, practicing accountants, auditors, financial analysts, fi nancial statements users and law court judges refer to account ing principles in order to properly comprehend accounting numbers. They use these numbers not only to value firms in the Share Exchange, but for many institutional, organizational, and cognitive matters. From the institutional viewpoint , the accounting structure applies in 1Appreciated by A.A. Berle jr. and harshly critici zed by K. Marx, Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809- 1865) was a leading French economist during the XIX century. 2According to Adam Smith, the management of the affairs of a public company is concerned with “other people's money”, and this may eventually lead to negligence and profusion. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 4 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting constraining dividends and equity repayments, maintaining regulatory equities, establishing taxes, and enforcing prudentia l ratios and covenants. In addition, the accounting numbers are used to construct measures of financial performance such as Economic Value Added (EVA), price to earnings and book to market ratios, which are highly influential for management and governance of the business firm. From the organizational viewpoint, accoun ting structure and numbers play an important role in the behavioral and incentive structure of the firm through budgets, employee compensation and bonus schemes. From the cognitive and epistemic viewpoint, accounting - by repr esenting the invested business capital and generated income - plays a role in how and what actors know about the ongoing enterprise that constitute their joint concern. Accounting and accountability are by no means unconcerned with socio- economic polity. They are an integral part of the governance and the regulation of the socio-economic system. The conseque nces of one accounting standard or another may induce one particul ar type of behavior or a nother, and also privilege some stakeholders as compared with others in the context of the enterprise entity. Accounting principles must therefore facil itate establishing a level playing field, both inside and outside the firm. Unsatisfa ctory principles lead to unsatisfactory standards and incomprehensible accounting reports. Accounting standards need a framework for the same reason that a lega l system needs a constitution to guide the development and application of its la ws. According to the definition provided by the FASB (1976, 2): 3 [A conceptual framework is th en] a constitution, a coherent system of interrelated objectives and fundamentals that can lead to consistent standards and that prescribes the nature, function and limits of financial accounting and financial statements. Without a framework, each standard approaches a specific problem on an ad hoc basis, arguing from premises and concepts that are not made explicit, and which may be inconsistent with another st andard, or with the overall purposes of the accounting system (Anthony 1987). This would undermine the comprehensive representation of the whole enterprise entity that must be accounted for economy and society. 3This constitutional view is actually at odds with the current authoritative status of the conceptual framework that is adopted by both FASB and IASB, since specific standards prevail on the framework and may be inconsistent with it (see IASB 2008, P8-P11). Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 5 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 2.2 What does “fair” mean for accounting principles? When these socio-economic implica tions are consider ed, the accounting “Newspeak” seriously risks obscuring the very nature of the logic that accounting principles are intended to establis h. From this perspective, expanding upon Williams (1987) and Thaler and al. (1986), accounting principles should be “fair,” because they constitute an integral part of the governance and regulation of business affairs. “Fairness” requires going beyond the formal application of rules -as detailed they might be-, because th e protection of interests goes beyond the contractual enforcement of rights and claims. In a world of pure law, every business activity is controlled ex ante by external forces driven by immediately enforceable rules and contractual claims . A striking analogy exists between pure law and the theory of pure market as adumbrated by IASB DP (2005), where prices suffice to secure the socio-economic interests for each stakeholder linked to the business enterprise. Every business activity is then controlled ex ante by external forces driven by the price mechanism and monetary incentives. In contrast, in a world of complex organi zations concerned with unfolding changes and limited knowledge, every ongoing entity generates a financial-economic core existing beneath the shape provided by cont racts and prices. Within this core, contracts are incomplete, and markets ar e never perfect. In the void left by contractual incompleteness and market fa ilures, the firm acquires a dynamic and collective dimension that leads to a fi eld of overwhelming power (Sakatera and Sawabe 2000; Biondi et al. 2007). As Berle early recognized, a merely legalistic reasoning cannot deal with this power, because the formal conformity to rules may hide unfair behavior, fra ud and abuse. This situation is at the very origin of the legal-economic meaning of the expression “equitable interest,” that is, a legitimate interest that the bearer might be unable to defend through contractual enforcement of rights and claims. 4Accounting principles fill in that void in order to address the “equitable interests” of stakeholders relying on the firm for the joint accomplishment of their goals, while substantially, even though not formally, lacking in contractual enforcement or market outward option. Furthermore, accounting principles complement accounti ng standards (i.e., rules) since the application of rules involves discretion and judgment. Accounting principles lie at the core of the inst itutional process of protection, si nce they provide each actor (especially management and law court j udges) with a clue to comprehending the socio-economic dynamics of the joint concern and for undertaking the fair conduct of business. This conduct is “fai r” because it takes into account “other people interests” and thus has regard fo r the public interest at large. Fairness 4 Montagne (2006, 46 ff.) deals with the emergence of the notion of “equity” and “equitable interest” in trust regulation. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 6 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting cannot be narrowly reduced to economic value, but ultimately drives the even- handed choice and application of principl es of reference for the “language of business.” 2.3 The nature of accounting pursuant to the accountability perspective The traditional accountabil ity framework that supports historical cost (and revenue) accounting is based on the three classi c accounting principles of (i) the firm as an entity and a going concern, (ii) matching, and (iii) invested cost and generated revenue. According to Hoarau (2007:43), the princi ple of the firm as an enterprise entity has been universally accepted in all countries and regulatory contexts. According to this principl e, the firm is considered to be a socio-economic institution and organization that has f unctional autonomy from its stakeholders, including shareholders. This implies that the notion of “ownership” is meaningless in the enterprise field, since no one “owns” the business firm (Raby 1959; Scott 1979; Biondi et al. 2007). Acco rding to the matching principle, the firm generates revenues that are allocated among stakeholders, including suppliers, employees and shareholders, th rough time, space, and interaction. Having regard to the mutual fairness and the protection of the continuity of the joint concern, these revenues are determined starting from the actual monetary flows that have been transacted for and which constitute the fair basis for costs and revenues. These revenues are generated only in historical time. This is why the principle of invested or historical cost is coupled with matching. According to these classic principles, accounting disregards changes in capital values and shareholders’ wealth, i.e., the stock method, to focali ze on generation of revenue (income), i.e., the flow method. The underlying economics of the business firm is not considered by measuring the entrusted wealth and related ( quasi-)rents (i.e., changes of value), but instead by representing its economic and monetary process as an enterprise entity. 2.4 The drift away from classic accounting principles In contrast, the fair value perspectiv e advocated by IASB DP (2005) adopts a market view. This view supposes that the business entity is framed in a world of market forces capable of addressing and solving its accounting issues. The traditional focus on the economic and moneta ry process of the whole enterprise entity tracked through time is then re placed by a focus on separated marketable assets and liabilities that compose its wealth at an ar bitrary moment in time. The definition of historical cost is then restated as follows: Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 7 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 Historical cost: Assets are recorded at the fair value of the consideration given to acquire them at the time of their acquisition. Liabilities are recordedat the fair value of the consideration received in exchange for incurring the obligations at the time they were incurred. (IASB DP 2005: 37). Whilst the previous IASB Glossary and Framework stated (ibidem): “Assets are recorded at the amount of cash or cash equivalents paid or the fair value of the consideration given…” “Liabilities are recorded at the amount of proceeds received in exchange for the obligation”. Every reference to the nominal values that arise from actual monetary flows established by accomplished transactions is removed from the accounting conceptual framework. Even the notion of economic entity is displaced. The entity is no longer understood as a so cio-economic institution and organization (Raby 1959; Sakatera and Sawabe 2000; Biondi et al. 2007), but rather as a legal person or device acting on behalf of its proprietors. Moreover, the economic substance is disregarded in favor of the legal form. For example, the definition of control utilized in the new standard fo r business combinations is increasingly based on legal and legally-enforceable forms of control (IFRS3, §7; former IFRS3, §19; former IAS 27r, §13), and the IASB has “tentatively decided to change the definition of control to focus on an entity’s assets and liabilities rather than the entity itself” (Tweedie 2006: 14). In the same spirit, the fair value option for certain financial assets and liabilities (FAS 159) can be elected on a contract- by-contract basis, and not at the entity or account class level. 2.5 A defense of classic accounting principles Therefore, independent regulatory aut horities are being to impose a major departure from classic accounting principles to economy and society (Biondi and Suzuki 2007). This is especially sensitive since, following FASB CON 2 (par 98), “accounting information cannot avoid affecting behavior, nor should it,” for accounting principles do affect mode s of management, stewardship and governance. The accounting representation cannot be “neutral” with respect to the underlying activity, that is, it cannot rest “without influence on human behavior” (FASB CON 2, ibidem). Unlike an image in a mirror, the accounting representation shapes and frames the working of the enterprise entity. The 5The two latter terms refer to the duties and responsibilities of management towards proprietors. This is why the term accountability is preferred he re to recall the broader scope of accounting for business and society. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 8 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting ultimate consequence is that real decisions are influenced by the accounting numbers (Hines 1988, 1989; Bignon et al . 2004; Plantin et al. 2007; AAA FASC 2007b). In particular, the accounting system affects the economic and monetary processes of the business firm regardless of the accounting perspective (or model) applied. If accounting cannot remain without influence on business and society, accounting principles should make business entities accountable and comparable in accordance with the public interest. The formulation and implementation of an accounting system are not only technical ma tters, but are concer ned instead with the “language of business,” which is embedded in the making of the socio- economic system, where language medi ates and maps context (Ijiri 1975; Hopwood 1983; Laughlin and Puxty 1983; Roberts and Scapens 1985; Williams 1987, 2004; Lavoie 1987; Robson 1992; Capron 2005; Cunningham 2005). As advocated by AAA FASC (2007b: 192), “stand ard setters should [then] consider some of the broader economic consequences of a move to a fair value accounting regime.” When these broader consequences are considered, the market perspective adopted by fair value account ing appears to disregard the special economics of the business firm. Because they are embedded in the socio- economic system, business entities are espe cially concerned w ith “other people interests,” since they are special modes of generating and allocating revenues (and incomes) among stakeholders, including shareholders, thr ough time. In this special socio-economic environment, the accounting system complements and replaces the price system that, following Adam Smith, protects people outside the enterprise field. This special role of accounting in business and society places it in a different position from other forms of financial reporting. Whilst some forms may be combined with financial co mmunication and advertising, accounting remains an integral part of the cogni tive and epistemic, organizational and institutional “structure(s) of production” (in Coase 1991’s terms). The accounting system characterizes the special economics of the firm in a way that differs from that of external markets, and influen ces its dynamic creation and allocation of revenues and incomes through time, space, and interaction (Sunder 1997; Sakatera and Sawabe 2000; Biondi 2005, 2006, 2007). According to the fair value perspective, the main purpose for accounting is “value relevance” and “decision usefulness” for capital markets participants. This points draws upon the naïve presumption that, as investors are providers of risk capital to the entity, the provision of financial statements that meet their needs will also meet most of the needs of other users that financial statements can satisfy. (IASB, Framework 1989, §10). Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 9 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 Other parties, such as regulators and members of the public other than investors, lenders a nd other creditors, may also find general purpose financial reports useful. However, those reports are not primarily directed to these other groups. (IASB, Framework 2010, §OB10) This implies both a doubtful alignmen t of financial information on an alleged viewpoint common to all investors, and a lack of consideration of the whole entity’s economy that investors have committed to (Ijiri 1975; Anthony 1983). The fair value perspective appears to be at odds with the nature and role of enterprise entities that ac tually are socio-economic systems involving continuing relationships among interested parties and which raise public interest concerns. In constrast, the classic accounting prin ciples fit a broader “accountability” framework that recognizes the socio- economic nature of business entities. Accounting is then understood as a mode of representing, organizing and regulating these socio-economic systems a nd their institutional, organizational, and cognitive patterns and interactions. Even in the absence of the discipline of the market, accounting and accountability assume an active role in governing and regulating management and the organized ac tivities of the enterprise entity as a whole. This section has disentangled two distinctive accounting perspectives, either fair value or historical cost (and revenue). It has argued that the accounting system matters for business and society through the structuring role that it plays in the economics of the business firm. This claims for a clearer understanding of the representation of the business enterpri se implied by each accounting logic and model that will be developed in the following section. 3.Accounting for the economics of the business enterprise Le comptable, pour tout dire, est le véritable économiste à qui une coterie de faux littérateurs a volé son nom sans qu’il n’en sût rien, et sans qu’eux-mêmes ne se soient jamais doutés que ce dont ils faisaient tant de bruit sous le nom d’économie politique, n’était qu’un plat verbiage sur la tenue des livres. P.-J. Proudhon,«ystème des Contradictions Economiques, ou Philosophie de la Misère », Tome II, chap. X : Le crédit, Paris 1846, p. 159. The accountant, to be sure, is the true economist from whom a number of petty writers have robbed the title without him knowing, and without them having any guess that all their jazz about political economy was nothing but an annoying verbosity about bookkeeping. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 10 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting 3.1 An alleged market reference The accountants, who are encouraging the fair value revolution, do not esteem accounting itself very much. Instead, they look to financial economics as the proper foundation for their accounting model. Accounting is then assumed to be a part of the information required by capital market participants to predict current values based on the future, which is supposed to be the proper basis for financial decision-making. Financial economics does no t purport to unders tand the special economics of the business enterprise. On th e contrary, it views the firm as being located in a world of complete and pe rfect markets in equilibrium. This framework allows the price system alone to dominate the firm, when creation and allocation of resources are concerne d (Biondi 2005, 2006, 2007). Therefore, not only does its income, but the whole firm doe s not exist; rather it is disintegrated into a collection of disparate assets and liabilities having no comprehensive connection but distinct efficient pricing. The problem with fair value accounting relates to this view about markets and the firm. According to Shubik (1993), time and uncertainties have essentially disappeared from this apotheosis of the price system, but they remain the actual concern of everyday business activity. The problems related to accounting for the influence of time and complexity in the ongoing enterprise pro cess is central to the development of accounting. The fair valu e approach trusts the price system to reflect the economy of the ongoing business enterprise. However, market prices may not be the right cornerstones in the en terprise context; as a matter of fact, they often do not exist for most elements and transactions. Therefore, when the fair value approach is a pplied to the enterprise c ontext, the intricacies of forecasting enter into the accounting field through the use of current values and mark-to-model values; the accounting system is then required to recognize profits earlier and earlier (Ijiri 2005: 259-263). This section will discuss the economic consequences of the application of the fair value accounting logic for the representation of the business firm. The accounting logic provided by the historic al cost (and revenue) model will be adopted as contrary perspective. This w ill lead to a confront ation of, on the one hand, the implied understanding of the economics of the business firm; and on the other hand, the concepts of asset and li ability that belong to the respective accounting models. Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 11 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 3.2 Accounting: Financial or Economic? The votaries of fair value grapple with keeping some notional reference to the value of the business enterprise as a whole, but their method implies a disintegration of the business into a collection of separate assets and liabilities. Although investors and creditors are generally interested in net cash-equivalent flows of the entity as a whole, those amounts are the aggregate of a number of individual cash-equivalent flows related to individual assets and liabilities, or related groups of assets and liabilities, within the entity (IASB DP 2005: 30). (§OB2) The objective of general purpose financial reporting is to provide financial informati on about the reporting entity that is useful to existing and poten tial investors, lenders and other creditors in making decisions ab out providing resources to the entity […]. (§OB3) Decisions by existing and potential investors about buying, selling or holding equity and debt instruments depend on the returns that they expect from an investment in those instruments, for example dividends, principal and interest payments or market price increases. […] Consequently, existing and pote ntial investors, lenders and other creditors need informa tion to help them assess the prospects for future net cash inflows to an entity. (IASB, Framework 2010, §OB2 and §OB3). Some future cash flows result directly from existing economic resources, such as accounts receivable. Other cash flows result from using several resources in combination to produce and market goods or services to customers. Although those cash flows cannot be identified with individual economic resources (or claims), users of financial reports need to know the nature and amount of the resources available for use in a reporting entity’s operations. (IASB, Framework 2010, §OB14). This approach does not seem app ealing for understanding the actual environment where firm’s operations ar e conducted. From the legal-economic viewpoint, enterprise entities are not financial trusts, nor portfolios of disparate (groups of) assets and liabilities, but ongoing economic activities whose legal form relates to partnerships, corporations and combinations of them in enterprise groups (Biondi et al. 2007; Strasser and Blumberg 2010; Robé 2010). Furthermore, the “cash fits all” ob jective mentioned by the previous quotations is reduced when the role of accounting in the working of the socio- http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 12 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting economic system is considered. The accounting system is not only concerned with disclosing information on a financial security, but it is also an integral part of the “institutional structure of production” that affects the generation and allocation of enterprise income through time (Coase 1990, 1992; Modigliani and Miller 1963; Bignon et al. 2004; Biondi 2005; Plantin et al. 2007). Accounting numbers are utilized not only to value firms in the share and credit markets, but for many organizational, institutional, and cognitive needs. The accounting system relates to the process of creation and allocation of resources within the enterprise. Accounting is not only financial, but also economic: It is useful for costing and profit-sharing (including employee comp ensation and bonuses); for calculating and constraining dividends, maintaining fi nancial capital, establishing taxes and enforcing prudential reserves and covenants; and for representing business capital and income to managers and stakeholders. As Littleton (1956: 23) stated: [One Accounting belief is] that income cannot arise directly from new investments or borrowings, or by action of owners in creating an item in their accounts called “goodwill,” or by owner action in repricing assets already possessed. The reason for this view […] is that no ser vice has been rendered by this enterprise in connection with these purely financial actions.” This accounting belief implies that the whole set of financing and investing activities (represented by th e balance sheet) can never generate economic income to the firm. This income results from the overall business activity and is represented by the whole of the costs and revenues matched to the period of reference by following the enterprise entity’s process (as represented by the income statement). Accounting requi res a comprehensive approach that represents each transaction, operation, combination or event according to the role it plays in the overall enterprise entity through time. This approach contrasts with fair value accounting for disparate accounting elements having their own separate existence. Even an early developer of the fair value concept like Bonbright (1937, chap. XXVII, 912 ff.; chap. XXVIII, 976 ff.) argued in favor of the cost accounting approach when the institutional determination of generated income is required, especially with regard to the declaration of dividends and the determination of tax basis. 3.3 The overarching accounting logic The fair value approach implies a special accounting representation focusing on the creation of wealth that has a market ba sis. Market prices are considered to be the measure of value of every asset or liabi lity. As a result, this approach requires Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 13 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 evaluating each asset and liability in isolation according to the discounted present value of its own future cash flows (Table I). 6The preference for fair value is motivated by this piecemeal valuation wh ich does not consider the whole entity and the overall representation of business capital and income to the firm. The business entity disappears as a going con cern, and is reformulated as a legal device that possesses in trust a collection of assets and liabilities on behalf of its investors. This perspective appears to rest upon the old idea of trusts and estates. The stockholder was the beneficiary, profit wa s the income of the estate, and the capital was the corpus of the estate. According to the IASB DP (2005): Financial statements also show the results of the stewardship of management, or the accountability of management for the resources entrusted to it (IASB Framework, par 14, quoted by IASB DP 2005: 26, italics added). Management of an enterprise is periodically accountable to the owners not only for the custody and safekeeping of enterprise resources but also for their efficient and profitable use (FASB CON 1 par 50, quoted by IASB DP 2005: 27, italics added). From this patrimonial perspective, th e role of management is to be the steward of the firm’s net assets and accountable only to the owners. The exclusive purpose of the firm (which is then underst ood as a financial trust) appears to be exclusively the monetary enrichment of its beneficiaries: The conceptual frameworks for financial reporting are founded on presumed economic purposes of business entities. It is presumed that, for financial reporting purposes, the primary purpose of business entities is to create wealth. Business entities create wealth through the production and sale of goods and the provision of services. The various means of creating wealth do not affect this purpose of business entities. (IASB DP 2005: 30 and note 12, italics added). Business enterprises, like investors and creditors, invest cash in noncash resources to earn more cash (FASB CON 1, par 39, quoted by IASB DP 2005: 30). The firm is considered to be a prope rty interest held by managers for the benefit of investors as beneficiaries. On this basis, the accounting system purports 6 The discounted value is assumed to be subsum ed by current market price whenever an “active” market exists, see below. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 14 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting to inform the investors about the fair value of the collection of assets and liabilities. Each valuation is supposed to be “timely”, that is, to refer to an arbitrary point in time. Successive valuat ions may be reported and compared, but no logical connection exists among them. Table 1 – Accounting logic Fair Value Cost (and Revenue) Focus Wealth Income Conceptual Basis procerset Enterprise Approach Value Cost (and Revenue) Epistemological foundation Individualistic, spot valuatioComprehensive (holistic) (asset or liability in isolatirepresentation system (asset or liability in combination) Methodological basis Actualization (Discounting) Matching Perspective Value Relevance Accountability Reference Stock Flow In sum, the fair value approach implies a representational focus that is very different from the traditional accounting focus on accountability. The main differences include the approach to the en terprise process confronted with time, space, and interaction, the choice betw een value and cost, and a focus on entrusted wealth or generated income. 3.4 Accounting for the enterprise process Regarding accounting for the enterprise process, the fair value conception refers to current values that always imply a present value calculation based on discounting future cash flows. Fostered by the colonization of financial reporting by financial economics, the focus is on the arbitrary instant at which the calculations are made and disclosed. In contrast, the traditional accountability logic recognises the firm as an ongoing business entity, and the comprehensive temporal connection among assets and liabili ties, revenues and costs is taken into account (Table I). The accounting system is then expected to look towards the intricacies of the business firm as an ente rprise entity located in time and space, a unique environment fundamentally different from the markets of reference. From the historical cost perspective, accounting is not made dynamic by taking into account the current value of an imagined future; instead it refers to the Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 15 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 accrual of actual expenditures related to the o ngoing productive process of the enterprise entity. These expenditures become the historical or invested costs that are intended to jointly generate business inco me for the enterprise entity in historical time. Financial reporting purports to disclose a reliable synthesis of this process and its results. The arbitrary division of a continuous business process into periods does not presume the overall notion that financial reports are arbitrary, but rather intermittent portrayals of a fi rm in what is a continuous linking of an intentional chain through time and space an d confronted with unfolding changes and limited knowledge. 3.5 Accounting for value (stock) or cost (flow) Regarding the choice between cost and value, the cost accounting perspective argues that current values do not constitu te the proper basis for accounting since the valuation of separable as sets and liabilities does no t result in a consistent representation of the whol e economics of the ongoing firm. The fair value approach purports to represent changes in value. In contrast, the cost accounting focus is on the actual generation of incomes to the enterprise entity though time, incomes which may be allocated to different stakeholders, including shareholders. The accounting basis is no longer provide d by external markets, but by the economic and monetary process implied by the whole business activity. Following this process, costs and revenue s are determined starting from actual 7 monetary transactions, past or future. Market prices are then reconsidered in terms of money flows related to actual exchange transactions through time, instead of current market values. 8 These monetary streams are reconfigured within the accounting representation through the matching process in order to determine the business income generated during a particular period of time. 3.6 Accounting for wealth (stock) or incomes (flow) Regarding a focus on wealth or income, the ways that money enters into and exits from the business through time do matte r for the cost approach. The main distinctions are then between cash outflow s (exits) that are either treated as expenses or invested as assets, and betw een cash inflows (entries) that are either revenues or sources of financing (B iondi 2005, 2006, 2007). The ways in which wealth is created also matter, in that the overarching scope is not on financial wealth creation but on the socio-economic ro le of the enterprise in satisfactorily 7The overall accounting representation is not limed to transactions, but includes operations, combinations and events. 8According to AAA FASC (2007a: 234), “numbers that are not grounded in actual market transactions that can be audited for veracity usually are not trustworthy”. http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 16 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting responding to individual and collective needs. According to Schmalenbach (1926, part D, §4, p. 85, our translation): 9 The economic function of business-making is not to be or become wealthy (reich); and whoever goes on counting (zählen) his worth (Vormögen) makes unproductive work (unproducktive Arbeit). Nonetheless, income (Erfolg) should be accounted for and kept being accounted (messen). For the economic function of business-making is to produce, transport, store and sell goods (Güter) until the last man, and to do all this economically so that the means (Stoff) of such endeavor do not wear out in the process. The business entity is expected to have value as a whole depending on what it will produce and sell in the future. The priority is given to the determination of the income generated by the productive process, and not to the expected change in value. Accordingly, Littleton (1953, 24) considers the following accounting principle of enterprise service: Business enterprises are accep ted and used because they perform [an] effective economic function in supplying goods (for living) and employment (for earning). From this perspective, enterprises ar e not necessarily expected creating wealth, at least if wealth creation means to accumulate financial wealth for their owners. 3.7 The accounting model: the notions of asset and liability These different logics of fa ir value and historical co st correspond with different representations of the basi c elements of the accounting system. The fair value model represents assets at the discounted pres ent value of the future monetary inflows, whilst liabilities are represented at the disc ounted present value of the future monetary outflows (Table 2). Th is would be appropriate if accounting represents the value of a collection of disparate assets and liabilities, instead of the legal-economic congeries of the business enterprise that ge nerates income in historical time. 9Cf. also English edition (1959), p. 30-31; last German edition (1962), p. 49. Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 17 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 Table 2 – Accounting Model Assetsiabilities Fair value Model Future monetary inflows Claims against future discounted monetaryoutflowsdiscounted Cost (and Revenue) model Actual monetary outflows Advances on future monetary (expenditures) capitalized inflows(through time) What would happen if a fair valu e accounting model applied to the economic and monetary process of the enterprise entity? 3.8 The liability side Take the liability side. A provision for fu ture disbanding of nuclear equipment is required by the French regulatory context. Table 3 shows the accounting for this provision by a leading power enterprise in France. Table 3 – Provision for future nuclear charges (obligation for environmental cleanup) to 31 December 2003 Million euros Estimated Future Cost (Nominal) Fair Value (Discounted) EDF 48 006 24 787 Reference: Report by the “Cour des Comptes” 2005, cf. Biondi et al. (2008) At the representational level, a provision for a future charge is supposed to be the accounting way of securitizing the related promise to pay this charge in the future. It purports to esta blish a priority of this payment with respect to other current or future payments from income generated by the firm. Accounting for this provision at its fair value results in postponing a large part of its impact on the enterprise income until future periods; that is, to delay the economic payment of the provision to future enterprise results. This delay weakens the priority claim of that obligation. Only the discounted sum is paid out by current income which then has a priority on further income allocat ions after the curr ent period. Careless managers might distribute the necessary income in the future, and the capacity by the enterprise entity to face the outstanding liability would be then reduced. Generally speaking, this implies that th e measurement of liabilities at fair value does not correctly di sclose the outstanding debt exposure and scheduled debt service of the enterprise entity. Fa ir values synthesize in one net value number all future inflows a nd outflows in a way that is useful for estimating the http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 18 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting current value of a business, but that is unable to properly account for the ongoing monetary matching of these flows. In a ddition, their synthesis in one value does not provide any understanding for the economic meaning of these flows: It leads to the paradoxical result of increasing earnings (and so lvency ratios) when the credit risk goes up, and vice-versa, as stressed by Krugman (2009). In contrast, the classification of monetary flows be tween revenues and expenses, assets and liabilities served that understanding, in the historical cost approach. At the conceptual level, the fair value approach muddles the economic meaning of the notion of “liability.” Focusing on the fair value of a liability means evaluating it as a debt held by the entity on behalf of its investors. But the entity is not holding that debt, contrary to the concept FASB CON 7 (par 76), which states: “To estimate the fair value of an entity’s (financial liability), accountants attempt to estimate the price at which other en tities are willing to hold the entity’s liabilities as assets”. From the entity viewpoint, the liability consists in a claim for funds that have been committed. This is why the cost model recognises the monetary amount that has been advanced and anticipates future monetary inflows capable of recovering that amount. In contrast to discounting, which blends capital and interest flows in a unique capit al stock value, capital flows are then recognised in the balance sheet through distinguishing between the financial inflow (liability or equity) and the cap italised expenditure (asset), whilst the interest flow is recognised in the income statement. Finally, from a regulatory viewpoint, according to Peasnell (2006: 2, note 3): “an unrestricted applithtion of fair valu e to all liabilities would run counter to the provisions of the 4 [European] Directive and as such would breach the accounting regulations set out in the comp any laws of member states of the European Union.” More generally speak ing, fair value accounting may cause to disconnect financial accounting and re porting from the regulatory framework (including dividend calculation and allowa nce, capital maintenance, prudential reserves, taxation). This w ould result in both raising costs by requiring several accounting systems with disparate fi gures, and in muddling the common understanding of financial performance and position of the business firm. 3.9 The asset side Take the asset side. Obviously, assets are investments made in search of a benefit; but is the latter actually realised? According to Ijiri (2005: 259-263), cash accounting waits for cash realisation a nd avoids forecasting, since profits and losses are actually realis ed. Under cost accounting, estimates are based on delivery of products or entitlement to cas h. The degree of assurance weakens. Under accounting for current value on th e market, sales may not be either delivered or entitled. Profits and losses are then only potential, and the assurance Published by Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011 19 Accounting, Economics, and Law, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 7 is increasingly weak. Furthermore, wh en accounting using mark-to-models is allowed, profits and losses are determin ed before any economic activity, i.e., before any production and selling of products and services. Drawing upon this distinction according to different levels of abstraction from the cash basis, the shift from cost basis towards the current value basis or beyond (collectively called here “fair value” basis) can have a tremendous impact on the process of economic decision-making. From the fair value perspective, an asset represents a value potential that inco rporates future monetary inflows. The knowledge of this value potential is assumed to be useful for investment decision- making. For example, an asset can be created by the economic decision of buying a theatre ticket through a rese rvation made one week be fore. If the cost was $10 and we can assume, in absence of contrary evidence, that the decision-maker has acted rationally, that is, the expected valu e of the ticket (allowing for the theatre event) exceeded its cost. If on the event day, however, a rainstorm occurred, and the decision-maker suddenly decided not to go; this may be another rational decision, since the expect ed value was modified by the changed conditions. However, the subjective economic values (which led the economic decision) inherent in the theatre operation do not a ppear to be accountable, from the cost accounting viewpoint. The accountant would write off the asset and recognise the loss of $10, since the ticket no longer ha s use value. In addition, the disclosed information about resulting profits and losses may be useful (relevant) to the present and to the potential investors interested in entering the enterprise field managed by that decision-maker. Therefore, accounting for assets at th eir fair value (whether current or expected) displaces the traditional account ing role of recogni sing the eventual realisations that may be checked agai nst subjective expectations. The cost accounting model does not require recognizi ng ‘unrealized’ incomes which are generated according to the external market reference, at least until the benefits are actually realised by the ongoing enterpri se process. “Realized” incomes are reliable and conservative, and also i ndicative of performance as a matter of enterprise entity operations. 10On the basis of disclosure of generated incomes, the firm’s employees used to negotiate their salaries and bonuses, customers judged the fairness of the business, the gove rnment charged taxes and shareholders demanded dividends. In contra st, the fair valuation of investments may result in accelerating the eventual distribution of income among stakeholders, especially dominant shareholders 11 and executive managers. The fair value accounting model 10According to Khotari, Ramanna and Skinner (2 010), verifiability and conservatism are critical features of accounting standard s, since their main focus rmains on control (performance measurement and stewardship). 11Holderness (2007) provides a relevant critique of dispersed shareholding in the US share market. Cf. also Aglietta and Rebérioux (2005). http://www.bepress.com/ael/vol1/iss1/7 20 Biondi: The Pure Logic of Accounting may allow value-sharing among stakeholders quite independently from the actual productive efforts and results through time. Even in the case of (portfolios of) traded financial assets, the fair value model results in basing accountability and value-sharing on estimates that may be of billions of dollars positive one day, and billions of dollars negative in few weeks. What if the trader’s bonus was paid in the meanwhile? 3.10 Is fair value, accounting? In sum, the new fair value accounting mode l appears to increase assets by taking into account expected future revenues, to decrease liab ilities by discounting them to their current values, and then to infl ate accounting of shareholders’ equity, in order to better relate the latter to ever changing quotations on the share Exchange. In so doing, however, this model may be at odds with the relevant and reliable representation of the ente rprise economic process. In purporting to follow the market reference (in “Newspeak” wording, to be more useful for investment decision-making), this model seriously ri sks becoming less relevant and reliable for making sense in the economic organization of the business firm, in Weick (1995)’s terms. It may undermine then its fundamental role in the institutional structure(s) of production in economy and society. The historical cost accounting logic is generally appreciated as being reliable, and traceable. But, in response to th ese problems with fair value, can an accounting setting based on cost (and revenue) accounting improve the relevance of financial reporting? The following section will address this question by discussing the case of intangibles and the distinction among equity and liabilities. To be sure, this focus on asset and liabi lity concepts neglects the fundamental issue of the economic entity behind it s legal form, including the matter of enterprise groups (Strasser and Blumberg 2010; Robé 2010). In the latter context, the accounting question is
Are you sure you want to buy this material for
You're already Subscribed!
Looks like you've already subscribed to StudySoup, you won't need to purchase another subscription to get this material. To access this material simply click 'View Full Document'