The choice between fair value and historical cost accounting is the subject of long-standing controversy among accounting academics and regulators. Nevertheless, the market-based evidence on this subject is limited. We study the choice of fair value versus historical cost accounting for non-financial assets in a setting where market forces rather than regulators determine the outcome. In general, we find a very limited use of fair value accounting. However, the observed variation is consistent with market forces determining the choice. Fair value accounting is used when reliable fair value estimates are available at a lower cost and when they convey information about operating performance. For example, with very few exceptions, firms’ managers commit to historical cost accounting for plant and equipment. Our findings contribute to the policy debate by documenting the market solution to one of the central questions in the accounting literature. Our findings indicate that, despite its conceptual merits, fair value is unlikely to become the primary valuation method for illiquid non-financial assets on a voluntary basis.
Review of Accounting Studies – Springer Journals
Published: May 29, 2013
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