Although every attempt is made to prepare and present financial data that are free from bias, accountants do employ a degree of conservatism. Conservatism dictates that accountants avoid overstatement of assets and income. Conversely, liabilities would tend to be presented at higher amounts in the face of uncertainty. This is not a hardened rule, just a general principle of measurement.

In the case of inventory, a company may find itself holding inventory that has an uncertain future; meaning the company does not know if or when it will sell. Obsolescence, over supply, defects, major price declines, and similar problems can contribute to uncertainty about the “realization” (conversion to cash) for inventory items. Therefore, accountants evaluate inventory and employ lower of cost or net realizable value considerations. This simply means that if inventory is carried on the accounting records at greater than its net realizable value (NRV), a write-down from the recorded cost to the lower NRV would be made. In essence, the Inventory account would be credited, and a Loss for Decline in NRV would be the offsetting debit. This debit would be reported in the income statement as a charge against (reduction in) income.



NRV, in the context of inventory, is the estimated selling price in the normal course of business, less reasonably predictable costs of completion, disposal, and transportation. Obviously, these measurements can be somewhat subjective, and may require the exercise of judgment in their determination. It is also important to note that a company using LIFO or the retail method (as described in the next section of this chapter) would not use the lower-of-cost-or-NRV method, but would instead value inventory at lower of cost or “market.” Substitution of the word “market” entails subtle technical distinctions, the details of which are usually covered in more advanced accounting classes.

It is noteworthy that the lower-of-cost-or-NRV adjustments can be made for each item in inventory, or for the aggregate of all the inventory. In the latter case, the good offsets the bad, and a write-down is only needed if the overall value is less than the overall cost. In any event, once a write-down is deemed necessary, the loss should be recognized in income and inventory should be reduced. Once reduced, the Inventory account becomes the new basis for valuation and reporting purposes going forward. Unlike international reporting standards, U.S. GAAP does not permit a write-up of write-downs reported in a prior year, even if the value of the inventory has recovered.


Did you learn?
What is the purpose of the lower of cost or net realizable value rule?
How is NRV generally defined in the lower of cost or net realizable value method?
Be able to perform lower of cost or net realizable value method computations.