Inventory

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Inventory


Inventory

Quick Summary of Inventory


Stocks of goods held for manufacture or for resale.




What is the dictionary definition of Inventory?

Dictionary Definition


  1. operations The stock of an item on hand at a particular location or business
  2. operations a detailed list of all of the items on hand
  3. operations the process of producing or updating such a list

Full Definition of Inventory


  1. An itemised catalogue or list of tangible goods or property, or the intangible attributes or qualities.
  2. The value of materials and goods held by an organisation
    1. to support production (raw materials, subassemblies, work in process),
    2. for support activities (repair, maintenance, consumables), or
    3. for sale or customer service (merchandise, finished goods, spare parts).

Inventory is often the largest item in the current assets category and must be accurately counted and valued at the end of each accounting period to determine a company’s profit or loss. Organisations whose inventory items have a large unit cost generally keep a day-to-day record of changes in inventory (called perpetual inventory method) to ensure accurate and ongoing control.

Organisations with inventory items of small unit cost generally update their inventory records at the end of an accounting period or when financial statements are prepared (called periodic inventory method). The value of an inventory depends on the valuation method used, such as the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method or the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method. GAAP requires that inventory should be valued on the basis of either its cost price or its current market price whichever is lower of the two to prevent overstating of assets and earnings due to a sharp increase in the inventory’s value in inflationary periods. The optimum level of inventory for an organization is determined by inventory analysis. Called also stock in trade, or just stock.

Inventory Systems

There are two inventory systems, the perpetual inventory system, and the periodic inventory system. With the perpetual system, a (computer) system is in place which keeps track of inventory. It is therefore possible to compare the actual inventory with the inventory according to the system. However, such a system comes at a cost. With the periodic system, inventory is not kept up to date. To find out the units that have been sold, a physical count is necessary. Choosing between the two systems involves a complex cost-benefit tradeoff. Benefits of a computerized system include having up-to-date information (and potentially better decision-making) and less theft by employees. However, automated systems are not for free. Software needs to be purchased or programmed. Also, separation of duties between employees is required for making somebody accountable for missing units.

In this section, I take a firm’s choice for either system as a given and focus on the accounting implications of each system.

When the perpetual inventory system is used, the inventory T-account is updated with every purchase and every sale. When new inventory is purchased, the asset inventory is increased. When sold, the inventory is reduced and expensed as the cost of goods sold. This system is therefore in line with the matching principle.

With the periodic inventory system, however, no up-to-date system is in place. When inventory is purchased, it is expensed. When sold, no entry is made (as it has already been expensed when purchased). At the end of the period, a correction needs to be made, because in the income statement the cost of goods sold needs to be expensed. Purchases are generally not equal to the cost of goods sold. Since beginning inventory + purchases = ending inventory + cost of goods sold, the correction that needs to be made is beginning inventory – ending inventory. This correction is added to inventory on the balance sheet and also added to purchases so that the income statement is expensed with the cost of goods sold.

Example


The following information is available about inventory, purchases, and sales:

Beginning inventory 10
Purchases 25
__
Goods available for sale 35
Cost of goods sold 17
Ending inventory (physical count) 18
__
Goods available for sale 35

Verify that beginning inventory + purchases = cost of goods sold + ending inventory

If the periodic inventory system is used, then purchases of 25 are expensed, whereas, in reality, the cost of the goods sold is only 17. At the same time, the T-account inventory has not been used over the year and will show an ending balance of 10, whereas it actually is 18. Thus, the journal entry of the correction needed is:

T-account Debit Credit
Inventory 8
Purchases 8

If the perpetual system were used, no such correction for inventory nor cost of goods sold would be needed. Under the perpetual system, inventory is kept up-to-date at all times and the cost of goods sold is expensed when inventory is sold.

Key points:

  • with the perpetual inventory system at all times inventory is kept up to date. This method applies the matching principle. Purchases are booked as inventory, and at the time of sale inventory is reduced and recognized as the cost of goods sold.
  • with the periodic inventory system, purchases are expensed. As a result, at the end of the year inventory as well as the cost of goods sold needs to be corrected beginning inventory minus ending inventory

Cost Flow Assumptions

To determine the cost of a product that is sold, a firm can either determine the original cost of that specific unit or, when goods are similar, make an assumption about the ‘flow’ of goods for costing purposes. When goods are not similar in nature – for example, a gallery selling paintings of the masters of the 1700’s – it makes sense to tag products or in some other way keep track of the products’ original cost. This way, when a product is sold, the original cost can be matched as the cost of goods sold.

When products are (very) similar or identical, it makes less sense to keep track of the original cost. Consider for example an oil trader. The main interest of an oil trader is today’s oil price, and when a barrel is sold, there is not much to gain to retrieve the cost of that specific barrel. He might as well have sold another (physically essentially the same) barrel that could have had another cost. In situations like this, it makes sense to assume a ‘cost flow’. I consider three cost flow assumptions: First In, First Out (FIFO), Last In, First Out (LIFO), and average cost.

With FIFO it is assumed that when a product is sold, it was the oldest product in inventory (‘First In’). As a result, the ending inventory is assumed to exist of the most recent purchases.

With LIFO it is assumed that to most recent purchase is sold. Thus, the ending inventory is assumed to exist of ‘old’ units (which physically need not be the case, as it is an assumption). With increasing prices (and non-decreasing inventory), net income using LIFO is lower than under FIFO.

Note that when a firm chooses between FIFO and LIFO it basically makes a decision of where it wants recent prices to go: if it prefers recent prices to be the basis for the valuation of ending inventory, the firm chooses FIFO. If it wants the cost of goods sold to be based on recent prices, it chooses LIFO. In this context, it is relevant to know that under IFRS, LIFO is not allowed. Apparently, the IASB (International Accounting Standard Board; the standard-setting body) believes the balance sheet to be more important than the income statement.

Finally, the average cost assumption assumes that all units have the same (weighted) average cost. The resulting cost of goods sold and ending inventory valuation is therefore between the numbers based on FIFO and LIFO.

When the firm uses the perpetual inventory system, the firm will need to assign a cost to the products at the time of sale, as the inventory T-account needs to be up-to-date at all times. In the situation that the periodic inventory system is used, the company can (and usually will) wait till the end of the period to determine the cost of goods sold. This affects the cost of goods sold (and ending inventory valuation) for the LIFO and average cost.

For example, if the firm uses the periodic system with LIFO and after the last sale but in the same period another purchase is made, it is assumed that this later purchase is sold first! Physically it is not possible to sell (and deliver) a product that has not been purchased by the firm. Accounting-wise it is nonetheless possible since the calculations for the periodic inventory system are made at the end of the period when all the period’s transactions are known.

Example


The following information is available about inventory, purchases, and sales:

Beginning inventory 1 unit of 10
Sale 1 unit
Purchase 1 unit for 9

The cost of goods sold and ending inventory depends on the choices for inventory system and cost flow assumption:

Method Cost of goods sold Ending inventory
FIFO (either perpetual or periodic) 10 9
Perpetual LIFO 10 9
Periodic LIFO 9 10
Perpetual average cost 10 9
Periodic average cost 9.5 9.5

Key points:

  • when products are (very) similar, a cost flow assumption is used for costing purposes; three common cost flow assumptions are FIFO (first in, first out), LIFO (last in, first out), and the average cost
  • With FIFO it is assumed that when a product is sold, it was the oldest product in inventory (‘First In’)
  • With LIFO it is assumed that to most recent purchase is sold. Thus, the ending inventory is assumed to exist of the oldest products
  • the average cost assumption assumes that all units have the same (weighted) average cost
  • with the perpetual inventory system, the cost of goods sold is determined at the time of sale
  • with the periodic inventory system, the cost of goods sold is determined at the end of the period
  • the perpetual and periodic inventory system can lead to different results for LIFO and average cost

Synonyms For Inventory


stock, list, store, record, register


Cite Term


To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
https://payrollheaven.com/define/inventory/
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Inventory. PayrollHeaven.com. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
January 27, 2022 https://payrollheaven.com/define/inventory/.
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Inventory. PayrollHeaven.com. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
https://payrollheaven.com/define/inventory/ (accessed: January 27, 2022).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Inventory. PayrollHeaven.com. Retrieved January 27, 2022
, from PayrollHeaven.com website: https://payrollheaven.com/define/inventory/

Definition Sources


Definitions for Inventory are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 22nd November, 2021 | 162 Views.