Companies commonly incur costs to obtain long-lived assets. Long-lived assets are assets expected to provide economic benefits over a future period of time greater than one year. Examples are land (property), plant, equipment, and intangible assets (assets lacking physical substance) such as trademarks. The costs of most long-lived assets are allocated over the period of time during which they provide economic benefits. The two main types of long-lived assets whose costs are not allocated over time are land and those intangible assets with indefinite useful lives.
Depreciation is the process of systematically allocating costs of long-lived assets over the period during which the assets are expected to provide economic benefits. “Depreciation” is the term commonly applied to this process for physical long-lived assets such as plant and equipment (land is not depreciated), and amortisation is the term commonly applied to this process for intangible long-lived assets with a finite useful life.32 Examples of intangible long-lived assets with a finite useful life include an acquired mailing list, an acquired patent with a set expiration date, and an acquired copyright with a set legal life. The term “amortisation” is also commonly applied to the systematic allocation of a premium or discount relative to the face value of a fixed-income security over the life of the security.
IFRS allow two alternative models for valuing property, plant, and equipment: the cost model and the revaluation model.33 Under the cost model, the depreciable amount of that asset (cost less residual value) is allocated on a systematic basis over the remaining useful life of the asset. Under the cost model, the asset is reported at its cost less any accumulated depreciation. Under the revaluation model, the asset is reported at its fair value. The revaluation model is not permitted under US GAAP. Here, we will focus only on the cost model. There are two other differences between IFRS and US GAAP to note: IFRS require each component of an asset to be depreciated separately and US GAAP do not require component depreciation; and IFRS require an annual review of residual value and useful life, and US GAAP do not explicitly require such a review.
The method used to compute depreciation should reflect the pattern over which the economic benefits of the asset are expected to be consumed. IFRS do not prescribe a particular method for computing depreciation but note that several methods are commonly used, such as the straight-line method, diminishing balance method (accelerated depreciation), and the units of production method (depreciation varies depending upon production or usage).
The straight-line method allocates evenly the cost of long-lived assets less estimated residual value over the estimated useful life of an asset. (The term “straight line” derives from the fact that the annual depreciation expense, if represented as a line graph over time, would be a straight line. In addition, a plot of the cost of the asset minus the cumulative amount of annual depreciation expense, if represented as a line graph over time, would be a straight line with a negative downward slope.) Calculating depreciation and amortisation requires two significant estimates: the estimated useful life of an asset and the estimated residual value (also known as “salvage value”) of an asset. Under IFRS, the residual value is the amount that the company expects to receive upon sale of the asset at the end of its useful life. Example 9 assumes that an item of equipment is depreciated using the straight-line method and illustrates how the annual depreciation expense varies under different estimates of the useful life and estimated residual value of an asset. As shown, annual depreciation expense is sensitive to both the estimated useful life and to the estimated residual value.