Regime change in the accounting for goodwill: Goodwill write-offs and the value relevance of older goodwill

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Abstract

Purpose - This study aims to examine the impact of the recent regime change in accounting for goodwill, from the systematic periodic amortisation to the impairment testing, on the frequency and the extent of goodwill write-offs in the context of Australia. It also examines the impact of the change from the amortisation approach to the impairment approach on the value relevance of older goodwill. Design/methodology/approach - The authors approach the first research question by comparing the actual amount of goodwill impairment charge by the sample firms with the minimum "as if" amortisation charge that would have been required under the amortisation regime. The authors approach the second question using a modified Ohlson model (1995), similar to Bugeja and Gallery (2006). The sample consists of 911 firm-year observations with the number of observations in the particular year being 238, 242, 220 and 211 in 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006, respectively. Findings - The findings suggest that the adoption of the impairment approach has decreased the frequency and the amount of goodwill write-off. The goodwill impairment amount is substantially less than the "as if" amortisation amount that would have been required under the amortisation regime. The results also suggest that older goodwill is now value-relevant, whereas goodwill purchased during the current year is not value-relevant. One reason for this may be that AASB 3: Business Combination allows for the provisional allocation of the purchase price to goodwill to be allocated to other identifiable intangible assets latter on. Hence, during the year of business combination, investors do not form a firm view of the amount of goodwill arising out of the business combination. Research limitations/implications - This study uses data for the first four years since the inception of the impairment approach. Practical implications - The findings of this study have important implications for the fair value accounting debate. The discretions allowed the managers under the impairment approach to improve the information content of goodwill. The relatively low levels of goodwill impairment even during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis contradict to the apprehensions found in the literature that managers will use the goodwill write-off as a tool for downward earnings management. The findings also imply that if managers are allowed with adequate flexibility through accounting standards rather than stipulating some systematic and mechanistic rules, the information value of the accounting measurement may improve. Social implications - The findings feed into the debate of "rule-based" versus "principle-based" accounting standards and favours the "principle-based" accounting standards. The findings also contribute to the accounting measurement literature by concluding that if allowed with discretionary choices, managers may not always opt for the conservative accounting measurements (such as, recording goodwill write-offs). Originality/value - Adopting an alternative approach, this study shows that the fair value accounting for goodwill has resulted in an optimistic approach to goodwill write-offs. It has also improved the information content of reported goodwill. This is the first known study addressing the research questions in consideration after the adoption of the goodwill impairment approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-69
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Accounting and Information Management
Volume25
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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