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Monday, 5 May 2008

Historical Cost

Historical cost is the original monetary value of an economic item.

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When an historical cost item, for example money or retained income, is never updated its real value is destroyed at the rate of inflation or hyperinflation. Money cannot be updated. Retained income is currently (April 2008) not updated in low inflationary economies as a result of the application of the stable measuring unit assumption.

Retained income is: The accumulated net income retained for reinvestment in a business, rather than being paid out in dividends to stockholders.[2]

One of the basic principles in accounting is:

“The Measuring Unit principle: The unit of measure 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.” .[1]

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. [3]

Historical cost does not generally reflect current market valuation.
"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.”[2]

Different accounting standards may require that the real value of variable real value non-monetary items be updated to the market price (mark-to-market valuation) or some other estimate of value that better approximates the real value. [4]

Accounting standards may also have different methods required or allowed (even for different types of balance sheet assets or liabilities) as to how the resultant change in value of an asset or liability is recorded, as a part of income or as a direct change to shareholders' equity.

Historical cost principle

Under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (US GAAP), the historical cost principle dictates that most assets and liabilities should be recorded at their historical cost. For example, a tract of land which was purchased 50 years ago for $10,000 may be worth $1 million today, but it will be recorded on the balance sheet at its historical cost of $10,000.

In the United States the historical cost principle is used because of its reliability and freedom from bias when compared to the fair market value principle. However, the application of the historical cost principle by the accounting profession results in the destruction of "hundreds of billions of dollars in retained income real value year in year out" [5]

- as well as in all other constant real value non-monetary items never or not fully updated throughout the world economy.

The International Accounting Standards Board only recognizes monetary and non-monetary items. [6] The IASB does not recognize constant real value non-monetary items.

The destruction of constant real value non-monetary items never updated by the application of the historical cost accounting model can be stopped by the revoking of the stable measuring unit assumption. This has been explicitily authorised by the IASB in International Accounting Standard IAS 29 Financial Reporting in Hyperinflationary Economies; but, only in hyperinflationary economies.

"Par 8 The financial statements of an entity whose functional currency is the currency of a hyperinflationary economy, whether they are based on a historical cost approach or a current cost approach, shall be stated in terms of the measuring unit current at the balance sheet date.

Par 11 Balance sheet amounts not already expressed in terms of the measuring unit current at the balance sheet date are restated by applying a general price index.

Income statement

Par 26 This Standard requires that all items in the income statement are expressed in terms of the measuring unit current at the balance sheet date. Therefore all amounts need to be restated by applying the change in the general price index from the dates when the items of income and expenses were initially recorded in the financial statements."

"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." [7]

"Par 38 When an economy ceases to be hyperinflationary and an entity discontinues the preparation and presentation of financial statements prepared in accordance with this Standard, ....."

Implied authorization by the IASB

Paragraph 40 of IAS 29 can be taken as revoking the stable measuring unit assumption in low inflationary economies as the word inflation is used instead of hyperinflation.

"Par 40 The disclosures required by this Standard are needed to make clear the basis of dealing with the effects of inflation in the financial statements."

Authorization to revoke the stable measuring unit assumption in low inflationary economies can also be taken to be implied from the IASB´s Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements, Concepts of Capital Maintenance and the Determination of Profit:

"Par 104. ......(a)....Financial capital maintenance can be measured in either nominal monetary units or units of constant purchasing power."

The concept "units of constant purchasing power" [8] is generally taken as updating constant real value non-monetary items in terms of the monthly change in the Consumer Price Index in low inflationary economies and daily at a daily index rate (see Unidade Real de Valor: "The exchange rate of URVs to cruzeiros reais was recalculated and published daily by the government.") or the parallel exchange rate (in the absence of a daily index rate) in hyperinflationary economies (See Hyperinflation).

No economic entity needs authorization to maintain the real value he, she or it creates. Any country or business/organization can revoke the stable measuring unit assumption unilaterally to stop this unnecessary destruction of real value. See sovereignty and Adam Smith´s "invisible hand".

The combination of the historical cost accounting model and low inflation destroys real value on a massive scale in the world economy. [9]

Adjustment for current valuation

In the US, the Financial Accounting Standards Board allows current valuation for certain assets such as marketable securities, impaired assets, and derivatives.[3]

In contrast to US GAAP, under UK GAAP firms may revalue assets based on appraised market values. This can result in the recognition of unrealized gains as income.
The above are adjustments for current valuation of variable real value non-monetary items. Neither US GAAP nor the IASB explicitly allow the updating of constant real value non-monetary items, for example retained income, in low inflationary economies thus contributing to the continuous massive destruction of real value as described above. [10]

Adjustment for inflation

As PricewaterhouseCoopers described it in a paper on accounting in hyperinflationary environments:

Financial statements unadjusted for inflation in most countries are prepared on the basis of historical cost without regard to changes in the general level of prices. The individual assets, liabilities, shareholders’ equity, revenue, expenses and gains and losses are therefore stated at cost at the time at which these items were originated. The impact of inflation is ignored. This produces a meaningful result provided that there are no dramatic changes in the purchasing power of money.

Significant changes in the purchasing power of money mean that financial statements unadjusted for inflation are likely to be misleading. Amounts are not comparable between periods, and the gain or loss in general purchasing power that arises in the reporting period is not recorded. Financial statements unadjusted for inflation do not properly reflect the company’s position at the balance sheet date, the results of its operations or cash flows.[4]

During periods of severe monetary inflation, such as during the 1970s in the United States, accounting standard-setting bodies such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board have considered various new ways to present financial information. In the United States, as in all low inflationary economies, financial information regarding historical cost items are not adjusted for inflation.[5]

It is accepted in low inflationary economies that the historical cost model will undermine the accuracy of financial statements whenever inflation is non-zero, which means always. When inflation is low or moderate however, the inaccuracy is considered insufficiently important to warrant applying other methods. The IASB requires that hyperinflation accounting methods be used whenever cumulative inflation over a three-year period is greater than 100%. This limit has been criticized as too high and arbitrary.[6],[7]

Low or moderate 2% annual inflation is regarded as "price stability" by many entities including the European Central Bank.

"The ECB’s Governing Council has announced a quantitative definition of price stability:

"Price stability is defined as a year-on-year increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%."

"The Governing Council has also clarified that, in the pursuit of price stability, it aims to maintain inflation rates below, but close to, 2% over the medium term."[11]

Low or moderate continuous 2% annual inflation will destroy 51% of the real value of money and retained income as well as all other constant real value non-monetary items never updated over 35 years as any inflation calculator will demonstrate. Low or moderate 2% inflation being "price stability" is thus a very dubious definition.

Alan Greenspan´s definition of price stability is very accurate:

"Price stability obtains when economic agents no longer take account of the prospective change in the general price level in their economic decision-making." [12]Page 1.

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The annual destruction under low or moderate inflation of 2% of the real value of retained income of all companies with retained income world wide amounts to hundreds of billions of Euros (March 2008 value). That is a significant amount of unnecessary and easily avoidable real value destruction in the world economy each and every year.