Fudged Accounting Theory

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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

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 &...
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