First-in, First-out Calculations
With first-in, first-out, the oldest cost (i.e., the first in) is matched against revenue and assigned to cost of goods sold. Conversely, the most recent purchases are assigned to units in ending inventory. For Mueller's nails the FIFO calculations would look like this:
Last-in, First-out Calculations
Last-in, first-out is just the reverse of FIFO; recent costs are assigned to goods sold while the oldest costs remain in inventory:
The weighted-average method relies on average unit cost to calculate cost of units sold and ending inventory. Average cost is determined by dividing total cost of goods available for sale by total units available for sale. Mueller Hardware paid $330 for 300 pounds of nails, producing an average cost of $1.10 per pound ($330/300). The ending inventory consisted of 140 pounds, or $154. The cost of goods sold was $176 (160 pounds X $1.10):
Preliminary Recap and Comparison
The preceding discussion is summarized by the following comparative illustrations. Examine each, noting how the cost of beginning inventory and purchases flow to ending inventory and cost of goods sold. As you examine this drawing, you need to know that accountants usually adopt one of these cost flow assumptions to track inventory costs within the accounting system. The actual physical flow of the inventory may or may not bear a resemblance to the adopted cost flow assumption.
Having been introduced to the basics of FIFO, LIFO, and weighted average, it is now time to look at a more comprehensive illustration. In this illustration, there will also be some beginning inventory that is carried over from the preceding year. Assume that Gonzales
Chemical Company had a beginning inventory balance that consisted of 4,000 units with a cost of $12 per unit. Purchases and sales are shown in the schedule. The schedule suggests that Gonzales should have 5,000 units on hand at the end of the year. Assume that Gonzales conducted a physical count of inventory and confirmed that 5,000 units were actually on hand.
Based on the information in the schedule, we know that Gonzales will report sales of $304,000. This amount is the result of selling 7,000 units at $22 ($154,000) and 6,000 units at $25 ($150,000). The dollar amount of sales will be reported in the income statement, along with cost of goods sold and gross profit. How much is cost of goods sold and gross profit? The answer will depend on the cost flow assumption adopted by Gonzales.
If Gonzales uses FIFO, ending inventory and cost of goods sold calculations are as follows, producing the financial statements at right:
If Gonzales uses LIFO, ending inventory and cost of goods sold calculations are as follows, producing the financial statements at right:
If the company uses the weighted-average method, ending inventory and cost of goods sold calculations are as follows, producing the financial statements at right:
Comparing Inventory Methods
The following table reveals that the amount of gross profit and ending inventory numbers appear quite different, depending on the inventory method selected:
The results above are consistent with the general rule that LIFO results in the lowest income (assuming rising prices, as was evident in the Gonzales example), FIFO the highest, and weighted average an amount in between. Because LIFO tends to depress profits, you may wonder why a company would select this option; the answer is sometimes driven by income tax considerations. Lower income produces a lower tax bill, thus companies will tend to prefer the LIFO choice. Usually, financial accounting methods do not have to conform to methods chosen for tax purposes. However, in the USA, LIFO "conformity rules" generally require that LIFO be used for financial reporting if it is used for tax purposes. In many countries LIFO is not permitted for tax or accounting purposes.
Accounting theorists may argue that financial statement presentations are enhanced by LIFO because it matches recently incurred costs with the recently generated revenues. Others maintain that FIFO is better because recent costs are reported in inventory on the balance sheet. Whichever side of this debate you find yourself, it is important to note that the inventory method in use must be clearly communicated in the financial statements and related notes. Companies that use LIFO will frequently augment their reports with supplement data about what inventory would be if FIFO were instead used. No matter which method is selected, consistency in method of application should be maintained. This does not mean that changes cannot occur; however, changes should only be made if financial accounting is improved.
As was noted earlier, another inventory method is specific identification. This method requires a business to identify each unit of merchandise with the unit's cost and retain that identification until the inventory is sold. Once a specific inventory item is sold, the cost of the unit is assigned to cost of goods sold. Specific identification requires tedious record keeping and is typically only used for inventories of uniquely identifiable goods that have a fairly high per-unit cost (e.g., automobiles, fine jewelry, and so forth).