Sunday, 23 March 2008

The historical cost accounting model destroys real value on a massive scale in the world economy.

Updated on 20 January 2012

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This a verbatim copy of the my article Financial Statements, Inflation & The Audit Report published in Accounting SA, the accounting journal of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in September 2007.

I do not use the provocative style I used in 2008 any more. But, I prefer to maintain the original article heading as this blog is a chronological history of the development of the Constant Item Purchasing Accounting model.

This Accounting SA article is the first publication in a peer reviewed accounting journal where the terms constant real value non-monetary item and variable real value non-monetary item appeared.

Obviously, there is no such thing as Historical Cost Inflation as I used the term in this article. Inflation has only one component: a monetary component. This is, however, all part of the historical developement of Constant Item Purchasing Power Accounting that started in 1995 in Angola´s hyperinflationary economy.

In 2008 I still believed, like most people today still believe, that inflation affects the real value of non-monetary items. Inflation has no effect on the real value of non-monetary items. The stable measuring unit assumption affects the real value of constant real value non-monetary items never maintained constant.

"In most countries, primary financial statements are prepared on the historical cost basis of accounting without regard either to changes in the general level of prices or to increases in specific prices of assets held, except to the extent that property, plant and equipment and investments may be revalued."¹

The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) only recognises two economic items:

1.) Monetary items defined as "money held and items to be received
or paid in money;" and

2.) Non-monetary items: All items that are not monetary items.

Non-monetary items include variable real value non-monetary items valued, for example, at fair value, market value, present value, net realisable value or recoverable value.
They also include Historical Cost items based on the stable measuring unit assumption.

One of the basic principles in accounting is "The Measuring Unit principle: The unit of measures in accounting shall be the base money unit of the most relevant currency.

This principle also assumes the unit of measure is stable; that is, changes in its general purchasing power are not considered sufficiently important to require adjustments to the basic financial statements."2

This makes these Historical Cost items equal to monetary items in the case of companies´ Retained Income balances and the issued share capital values of companies with no well located and well maintained land and/or buildings or other variable real value non-monetary items able to be revalued at least equal to the original real value of each contribution of issued share capital.

Retained Income is a constant real value non-monetary item valued at Historical Cost which makes it subject to the destruction of its real value by cash inflation - exactly the same as in cash.
It is an undeniable fact that South Africa's functional currency's internal real value is constantly being destroyed by cash inflation in the case of our low inflationary economy, but this is not considered important enough to adjust the real values of constant real value non-monetary items in the financial statements - the universal stable measuring unit assumption.

The combination of the Historical Cost Accounting model and low inflation is thus indirectly responsible for the destruction of the real value of Retained Income equal to the annual average value of Retained Income times the average annual rate of inflation. This value is easy to calculate in the case of each and very company in South Africa with Retained Income. It is also possible to calculate this value for all companies in the world economy with Retained Income.

It is broadly known that the destruction of the internal real value of the monetary unit of account is a very important matter and that inflation thus destroys the real value of all variable real value non-monetary items when they are not valued at fair value, market value, present value, net realisable value or recoverable value.

But, everybody suddenly agrees, in the same breath, that for the purpose of valuing Retained Income - a constant real value non-monetary item - the change in the real value of money is not regarded as important to update the value of Retained Income in the financial statements. Everybody suddenly then agrees to destroy hundreds of billions of Dollars in real value in all companies´ Retained Income balances all around the world.

Yes, inflation is very important!

All central banks and thousands of economists and commentators spend huge amounts of time on the matter. Thousands of books are available on the matter. Financial newspapers and economics journals dedicate thousands of columns to the fight against inflation.

But, when it comes to constant real value non-monetary items, it doesn't seem as if inflation is important. We happily destroy hundreds of billions of Dollars in Retained Income real value year in year out.

However, when you are operating in an economy with hyperinflation (perhaps only Zimbabwe at the moment with 3 713% inflation), then we all agree that you have to update everything in terms of International Accounting Standard IAS 29 Financial Reporting in Hyperinflationary Economies. You have to update variable AND constant real value non-monetary items.

But, ONLY as long as your annual inflation rate has been 26% for three years in a row adding up to 100% - the rate required for the implementation of IAS 29.

Once you are not in hyperinflation anymore, for example, 15% annual inflation for as many years as you want, then you are not allowed to update constant real value non-monetary items any more. Then you must destroy their real value again - at 15% per annum. Or 7.0% per annum in the case South Africa (April 2007).

For example:

Shareholder value permanently destroyed by the implementation of the Historical Cost Accounting model in Exxon Mobil's Retained Income during 2005 exceeded $4.7bn for the first time. This compares to the $4.5bn shareholder real value permanently destroyed in 2004 in this manner. (Dec 2005 values).

The application by BP, the global energy and petrochemical company, of the stable measuring unit assumption in the accounting of their Retained Income resulted in the destruction of at least $1.3bn of shareholder value during 2005. (Dec 2005 values).

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, a global group of energy and petrochemical companies, permanently destroyed $2.974 billion of shareholder value during 2005 as a result of the application of the stable measuring unit assumption in the accounting of their Retained Income. (Dec 2005 values).

Should this value be reflected in the financial statements?

Maybe it should.


¹ International Accounting Standards Committee, (1995), International Accounting Standard 1995, London, IASC, Page 502
² Paul H. Walgenbach, Norman E. Dittrich and Ernest I. Hanson, (1973), Financial Accounting, New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, Inc. Page 429.

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