Fudged Accounting Theory and Corporate Leverage Audra Ong and Roger Hussey Abstract This paper is a follow-up of the article ‘Fudged Accounting Theory: Evidence from the UK’ in the Journal of Management Research (Ong, 2003). In that article, an analysis of the flexibility within the UK regulations, which allowed companies to use different accounting treatments for intangible assets, was illustrated to support fudged accounting theory (Murphy, 1990).
This paper extends that earlier work by examining the association between corporate leverage and accounting choice in the UK at a period when the extant accounting standard for goodwill, SSAP22 Accounting for Goodwill (ASC, 1989), permitted two very different accounting treatments. As a result, other intangibles, particularly brands, could avoid the regulatory strictures. For the present study, a series of hypotheses relating to corporate leverage and capitalization of intangible assets were tested.
The results of the present study support fudged accounting theory by providing evidence that there is a relationship between the widespread capitalization of goodwill/brands and the relationship with leverage. The results demonstrate that financial managers will tend to adopt accounting practices that result in stronger balance sheets. Keywords: Leverage, Fudged Accounting, Intangible Assets, Brands/Goodwill, Food/Drink/Media Industries, International Accounting
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Introduction The importance of Fudged Accounting Theory in understanding the accounting treatment of intangible assets has been discussed in an earlier paper by Ong (2003) in the Journal of Management Research. The purpose of the present paper is to investigate whether there is statistical evidence that companies capitalize intangible assets for the betterment of their balance sheets in a period of lax accounting regulations or ambiguity in regulations. This has been identified as fudged accounting theory (Murphy, 1990; Tollington, 1999).
Audra Ong Roger Hussey University of Windsor, Odette Business School, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario, N9B 3P4 Canada In this study, the UK was chosen because accounting for goodwill was regulated under SSAP 22 Accounting for Goodwill issued by the Accounting Standards Committee (ASC) in 1984, which was later revised in 1989. This standard allowed contradictory treatments: companies could either write goodwill directly against reserves in the balance sheet thus bypassing the profit and loss account; or capitalize it as an asset on the balance sheet subject to amortization.
To add to the confusion, the standard did not apply to other intangible assets and some companies chose to distinguish brands from goodwill and treat them as permanent items on the balance sheet with no amortization (Barwise et al. , 1989; Paterson, 2003). This presented a stronger balance sheet with no impact on the income statement. To conduct the study, the annual reports and accounts for the five-year period 1993-97 for 143 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange were analyzed. Using the earlier work of Archer et al. (1995), a series of hypotheses were established and tested.
As the sample is relatively small and is non-parametric in nature, the chi-squared test using Yates’ correction was employed to test the hypotheses. After a brief review of the literature, the research design of this study is explained. The main part of the paper, falling under the heading of Results and Discussion, is concerned with testing a number of hypotheses. Previous Research Consideration of intangible assets has been dominated by uncertainty over the appropriate accounting treatment of goodwill (Egginton, 1990). In the UK, the somewhat acrimonious debate is fuelled by strong opinions rather than facts.
The depth and range of opinions has been well documented in the academic literature (Damant, 1990; Napier & Power, 1992; McCarthy & Schneider, 1995; Hussey & Ong, 1997, Ong; 2001; Oldroyd, 1998; Joachim Hoegh-Krohn & Knivsfla, 2000; Cravens & Guilding, 2001) as well as in professional reports (Coopers & Lybrand, 1990; Tonkin & Robertson, 1991; Hussey, 1994). The publication of SSAP 22 did little to calm the debate. Under that standard, companies faced the unpalatable alternatives of writing off goodwill against reserves and weakening their balance sheets or amortizing against earnings.
Consequently, intangible assets such as brands and publication titles began to appear on the balance sheets of a number of well-known companies. Identification of such items as intangible assets, separate from goodwill meant that they did not fall under the requirements of SSAP 22. The intangible assets could remain on the balance sheet indefinitely, unless there was a permanent impairment in value. This contention that the appearance of brand valuations on the balance sheet had been motivated by the desire to correct or improve the balance sheet has been evident in several studies.
Emanating mainly from the debt covenant approach and the early work of Zmijewski and Hagerman (1981), studies have found support for the debt covenant hypothesis (Mather and Peasnell, 1991) and evidence that a company’s decision to Volume 4, Number 3 • December 2004 capitalize brands was influenced by London Stock Exchange rules on acquisitions and disposals (Muller, 1999). There has been some debate on the importance of intangible assets in private debt contracts (Citron, 1992; Day and Taylor, 1995).
The study which most closely relates to the present research and shares the same theoretical foundation was published by Archer et al (1995) and was based on work conducted on 71 annual reports of UK and French companies for the period 1988-92. This earlier research concluded that a group with high leverage is more likely to capitalize goodwill and/or brands than a group with low leverage. The results, however, were stronger where goodwill and brands were amalgamated although it is possible that the differing regulations in the two countries may have distorted the data.
Research Design The annual reports and accounts for the five-year period 1993-97 of 143 companies in the food, drink and media industries were obtained. Such period of time is chosen as the debate on the most appropriate accounting treatment for goodwill and intangible assets was at its greatest and accounting practices were the most varied during this period. It also immediately preceded the changes to accounting introduced by FRS 10 Goodwill and Intangible Assets issued by the ASC’s successor, the Accounting Standards Board (ASB, 1997) and FRS 11 Impairment of Fixed Assets and Goodwill (ASB, 1998).
Industries for the study have been chosen whose products are highly branded and also where companies in the industries have been strong in acquisitive activities. The company profiles and published financial information of these 143 companies were checked to see which companies capitalized intangible assets for the entire five-year period 1993-97. The relevant population, which capitalizes intangible assets, is 15 food and drink companies and 28 media companies, resulting in a total of 43 companies.
It should be noted that the remaining 100 companies either did not capitalize intangible assets in any one year, or only capitalized intangible 157 assets for part of the five-year period post -1993. Care has been taken above in explaining the sample used in this study because of its relatively small size. Although this may be regarded as a limitation of the subsequent analysis, a non-parametric test is used in the analysis of individual industries and this is generally regarded as defensible and acceptable in such circumstances.
Yates’ correction has also been applied to the chi-square tests to achieve conservatism in establishing significance so that the results can be regarded as conservative and less likely to overstate the importance of the findings. Correlation tests are only conducted on the aggregate sample of both industries. The leverage ratio was defined as debt expressed as a percentage of capital employed (Reid and Middleton, 1988) because this definition was used in previous studies and it provides a high degree of precision.
Results and Discussion Leverage and Capitalization The following two hypotheses were established in respect of the possible association between leverage and brands: H1: A company with high leverage is no more likely to capitalize intangible assets than a company with low leverage. H2: A company with high leverage is no more likely to capitalize goodwill/brands than a company with low leverage. To test these hypotheses the median leverage was established for the aggregation of companies capitalizing intangible assets, and for those companies not capitalizing the same.
In some instances the median leverage did not provide a division of the sample to provide a sufficient number in each cell. In those instances a cut-off leverage level was selected to ensure cells of sufficient size and this is explained where it occurs. Contingency tables were constructed for the chisquared test and the results are described below. In all instances, Yates’ correction was applied. Media Industry Hypotheses 1 and 2 were tested separately on the Media industry and on the Food and Drink Industry. The results for the media industry for all intangible assets are shown in Table 1.
In this test, the median leverage for the media industry was 28%. The chi-square test was significant at the 0. 01 level with a chi-square factor of 6. 86447 and 1 degree of freedom. The null hypothesis can therefore be rejected and we can accept that high-leveraged companies are more likely to place intangible assets on the balance sheet than low-leveraged companies in the media industry. Table 2 carries out the same test for the same industry but analyzes only those companies capitalizing goodwill and/or brands. In this instance the median leverage was 31% and this was increased to 32% to ensure cells of adequate size.
The chi-square test was significant at the 0. 01 level with a chi-square factor of 7. 286 and 1 degree of freedom. The null hypothesis can therefore be rejected and we can accept that high-leveraged companies are more likely to place goodwill/ brands on the balance sheet than low-leveraged companies in the media industry. Table 1: Contingency Table for Media Industry Showing Leverage and Capitalization of all Intangible Assets Capitalizing Leverage < 28% Leverage ? 28% Observed Expected Observed Expected 914. 26 1913. 74 Not capitalizing 1812. 74 712. 6 Total 27 26 158 Journal of Management Research Table 2: Contingency Table for Media Industry Showing Leverage and Capitalization of Goodwill and/or Brands Capitalizing Leverage < 32% Leverage ? 32% Observed Expected Observed Expected 59. 93 149. 07 Not capitalizing 1813. 07 711. 93 Total 23 21 Table 3: Contingency Table for Food and Drink Industry Showing Leverage and Capitalization of all Intangible Assets Capitalizing Leverage < 26% Leverage ? 26% Observed Expected Observed Expected 510. 74 104. 26 Not capitalizing 4842. 26 1116. 74 Total 53 21
Table 4: Contingency Table for Food and Drink Industry Showing Leverage and Capitalization of Goodwill and/or Brands Capitalizing Leverage < 18% Leverage ? 18% Observed Expected Observed Expected 59. 80 72. 20 Not capitalizing 5348. 20 610. 80 Total 58 13 Food and Drink Industry The next two tables are concerned with the Food and Drink Industry. The median value for leverage was calculated at 18% for all intangible assets and in the following table an arbitrary cut-off point of 26% has been selected to ensure cells of adequate size and Table 3 shows the result for those companies capitalizing all intangible assets.
The chi-square test was significant at the 0. 01 level with a chi-square factor of 11. 292 and 1 degree of freedom. The null hypothesis can therefore be rejected and we can accept that highly leveraged companies are more likely to place intangible assets on the balance sheet than low-leveraged companies in the food and drink industry. Table 4 shows the results for those companies capitalizing goodwill and/or brands in the food and drink industry. In this instance the median leverage level of 18% was accepted for the calculations. Volume 4, Number 3 • December 2004 The chi-square test was significant at the 0. 1 level with a chi-square factor of 7. 604 and 1 degree of freedom. The null hypothesis can therefore be rejected and we can accept that highly leveraged companies are more likely to place goodwill/ brands on the balance sheet than low-leveraged companies in the food and drink industries. Capitalization as a Function of the Level of Leverage Two further hypotheses had been established based on the premise explored by Archer et al. (1995) that the value of intangible assets was a function of leverage, in other words the higher the leverage ratio the higher the value of intangible assets.
H3: The value of intangible assets will be associated with the level of leverage. H4: The value of goodwill and/or brands will be associated with the level of leverage. 159 These hypotheses have been tested in previous research with somewhat contradictory results. It was considered that this study with its larger sample and separate focus on two industrial sectors might provide more conclusive results. Additionally, it was decided to extend the variables. Earlier studies have concentrated only on the absolute value of intangible assets i. e. the absolute amount appearing in the balance sheet. For the resent study a new variable of relative value was introduced and to test these hypotheses two aspects of the value of intangible assets were considered i. e. : a) its absolute value, i. e. the amount capitalized in the balance sheet (INTASS); b) its relative value, calculated by expressing intangible assets as a percentage of total fixed assets (INTFIX). Both Industries Table 5 shows the correlation based on our 43 companies, which capitalize all intangible assets: Table 5: Leverage as a Function of All Intangible Assets (Both industries) Gear Gear 1. 0000 (43) P=. .0179 (43) P= . 909 . 3229 (43) P= . 035 Intass . 0179 (43) P= . 09 1. 0000 (43) P= . .1876 (43) P= . 228 Intfix . 3229 (43) = . 035 . 1876 (43) P= . 228 1. 0000 (43) P= . appears to have stronger explanatory power. It is therefore possible to state that a relationship does exist between the level of leverage and the relative value of intangibles. In addition to looking at the sample of companies capitalizing all intangible assets, the same analysis has been conducted on the sample of 31 companies capitalizing only goodwill and/or brands. The results are shown below in Table 6. Table 6: Leverage as a Function of Goodwill / Brands (Both Industries) Gear Gear 1. 0000 (31) P= . -. 0176 (31) P= . 24 . 3275 (31) P= . 067 Intass -. 0176 (31) P= . 924 1. 0000 (31) P= . .1573 (31) P= . 390 Intfix . 3275 (31) P= . 067 . 1573 (31) P= . 390 1. 0000 (31) P= . Intass Intfix Intass Once again, Table 6 does not demonstrate a significant relationship between leverage and the absolute value of goodwill/brands. However, the association between leverage and the relative value of intangible assets is significant at 6. 7% level. It is therefore possible to state that a relationship does exist between the level of leverage and the relative value of goodwill/brands although it is less strong than that with all intangible assets.
The above testing of the four hypotheses provides evidence that there is a relationship between leverage and the capitalization of intangible assets and there are differences between the two industries used in this study. The present research has also extended previous work of Archer et al b y introducing a new variable INTFIX and demonstrating that capitalization of intangible assets is a function of the relative value of intangible assets to fixed assets. The evidence from this study therefore provides support for the fudged accounting theory. Intfix
Table 5 does not demonstrate a significant relationship between leverage and the absolute value of intangible assets. However, the association between leverage and the relative value of intangibles is significant at 3. 5% level. This would suggest that the measure of relative value 160 Journal of Management Research Implications: The International Dimension Given the debate on the appropriate accounting treatment of intangible assets and the obvious deficiencies of the provisions of SSAP 22, it is not surprising that the national accounting standard body in the UK was compelled to introduce a substantial regulatory change.
FRS 10 and FRS 11 have replaced SSAP 22. Essentially, FRS 10 requires goodwill and intangible assets to be recognized and capitalized over 20 years. This presumption can be rebutted, however, and a longer life or an indefinite life can be selected. In these circumstances, an annual impairment review must be conducted as specified under FRS 11. At the international level, goodwill and intangible assets were first addressed by IAS 22 Business Combinations and IAS 38 Intangible Assets by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) respectively. IAS 22 was issued in 1993 and revised in 1998.
IAS 38 was issued for the first time in 1998. In March 2004, however, the IASB published IFRS 3 Business Combinations (which supersedes IAS 22) together with related amendments to IAS 36 and IAS 38 as part of Phase 1 of the IASB’s project on Business Combinations. IFRS 3 contains some significant differences compared to FRS 10 (Simmonds and SleighJohnson, 2003) as the former proposes that goodwill will only be subject to impairment testing and must not be amortized. In addition, goodwill and other identified intangibles, which are similar in nature, will be subject to different accounting treatments.
This reduces comparability and reliability and creates a serious risk of accounting arbitrage or fudged accounting. The current IASB proposals in IFRS 3 represent only Phase 1 and, thus, the ASB will consider replacing UK standards only when both Phases 1 and II are complete. Therefore, UK companies should not have to change to the IFRS 3 based on Phase 1. Although IFRS 3 differs from FRS 10, the former achieves a high degree of convergence with FAS 141 Business Combinations (FASB, 2001) and FAS 142 Goodwill and Other Intangible Assets (FASB, 2001) in the US.
With respect to managers, the introduction of IFRS 3 is expected to have important implications for brand managers and owners as well as the way trademarks are valued and accounted for (Haigh and Rocha, 2004). In particular, the separate recognition of trademarks and other acquired intangibles, together with annual impairment tests, will require companies to establish robust valuation methodologies for intangible assets in order to withstand increased scrutiny in the market.
Conclusion This study compares practices in accounting for intangible assets in two industries known for their propensity to capitalize those assets in their balance sheets. The study covered the period from 199397 when the debate and uncertainty on appropriate accounting treatment was at its height. The annual reports of 143 UK companies were selected to investigate whether there was an association between leverage and capitalization of intangible assets. The results demonstrate that companies with high leverage in both industries are more likely to capitalize intangible assets, particularly goodwill and brands.
A relationship between capitalizations of intangible assets as a function of leverage when the absolute value of intangible assets is used was not established. However, the present study added to our knowledge by demonstrating that the use of the relative value of intangible assets to fixed assets as a variable reveals that capitalization is a function of leverage. The findings from this study both confirm and extend the earlier research by Archer et al. It demonstrates that the topic of capitalization of intangible assets remains a fruitful area for the accounting researcher.
The present study establishes that there are industry differences and one can speculate that these may be due to a number of factors such as acquisition activity within the industry, marketing strategy in relation to brands and financial structures and motivations. An extension of the work using the variable Volume 4, Number 3 • December 2004 161 INTASS could lead to illumination of the underlying reasons. A study of present practices in the same industries may reveal what changes, if any, have occurred References following the adoption of FRS 10 and FRS 11.
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