A New Perspective on R&D Accounting

Date
2021
Authors
King, Zachary
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Abstract
U.S. GAAP generally requires firms to expense R&D outlays as incurred, a requirement that many prominent stakeholders view as deficient in reflecting the value of a firm’s R&D program. Prior academic research supports this view by applying a theory for tangible capital to the issue of R&D accounting. However, tangible capital is modeled in this theory as an item that can be used immediately to generate revenues with no uncertainty. Different from tangible capital, many R&D investments can be described as uncertain multi-period ventures in which measurable progress can be made each period, but revenues can only be generated in future periods after the venture is successfully completed. I apply and extend an alternative theory that models this well documented and uncertain time lag between R&D cash outflows and inflows. Theoretical analyses predict that R&D expensing results in more value relevant accounting numbers than R&D capitalization and amortization. Empirical tests confirm these predictions in a sample of R&D intensive firms, suggesting that current accounting reflects the value of a firm’s R&D program better than R&D capitalization and amortization. This research is timely because many prominent stakeholders believe the opposite, and such beliefs have motivated the FASB to consider changing U.S. GAAP in recent years.
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Accounting policy, accounting standards, dynamic R&D investment, standard setting
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