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What Is Fair Value Adjustment?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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A fair value adjustment journal entry is crucial for accurately reflecting an asset's market position. According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), fair value is the price that would be received to sell an asset in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date (FASB ASC 820-10-35-2). 

This process becomes particularly significant when market volatility leads to substantial discrepancies between an asset's book value and its fair value. For instance, during the fiscal year 2020, companies in the S&P 500 reported billions in asset revaluations due to market fluctuations. 

Ensuring that these adjustments are meticulously recorded through journal entries not only aligns financial statements with current market conditions but also upholds transparency for investors and stakeholders, maintaining the integrity of financial reporting.

The exact process of conducting such an adjustment will depend on the type of asset involved and what has occurred to create the wider disparity between the currently identified fair value and the book value of that asset. For example, if the asset involved is a piece of real estate, then the process will require identifying the current market value, based on the increases or decreases in demand for similar properties in the immediate area. This can be compared to both the book value and the current fair market value and taken into account when determining a reasonable and fair amount for the adjustment.

One of the more common approaches with fair value adjustment relies on identifying a similar event or situation for comparison, then making the adjustment accordingly. It is not unusual for several similar situations to be considered, effectively making it possible to utilize the sum total of those events to arrive at an adjustment that is within reason. First priority goes to events that are exactly like the situation cited for readjustment, with similar events being considered when and if there are no exact matches readily available for scrutiny.

While a fair value adjustment is often based on factual information gathered for purposes of ensuring the adjustment is reasonable and logical, there is also some degree of subjectivity that may be present. The idea is to limit the amount of subjectivity that is brought to the task and make efforts to evaluate the available data with the highest degree of objectivity as possible. Doing so helps to minimize the chances of the fair value adjustment not really addressing the underlying reasons for the disparity between the book value and the current fair value, while also increasing the chances that the fair value is more in line with the current market value.

How To Calculate Fair Value Adjustment

Calculating the fair value adjustment is conceptually very simple. It is nothing more than the difference between the current book value of an asset and its fair value on the market. If the fair value is greater than the book value, subtract the latter from the former to calculate the gain. If the reverse is true, subtract the former from the latter to calculate the loss.

However, the key challenge is determining what the fair value of the asset is. For publicly traded securities, such as corporate bonds and stocks, this is fairly simple. You can just look up the most recent closing price to get an accurate fair value. Similarly, if the asset is a commodity, it will have a well-established and publicly available market price.

For other assets, the process can become a little more challenging. You can potentially work off of pricing data for similar assets. For example, if you are trying to determine the fair value of real estate, you can look at recent local property sales prices and adjust according to the relative size of your property. For machinery and other capital assets, you may be able to find data on resale values. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to have an independent appraiser assist with the process. In some cases, an independent appraiser may be legally required to determine the value.

Although it is perfectly legal to make reasonable fair market adjustments to your books to account for gain or loss of value, it is illegal to misrepresent the value of assets to try to defraud others. For example, you can’t claim a huge and unsubstantiated loss of fair value to lower your taxes. Similarly, you can’t claim a baseless increase in value to attract investment.

In short, you should always make sure your fair value adjustments are based on a reasonable assessment of fair market value and that you have the paperwork and data to back up your assertions. If you can demonstrate that a generally accepted process was used to estimate the fair value, you will likely avoid any legal issues, even if there is a disagreement over the value of an asset.

How To Record Fair Value Adjustment

Recording a fair value adjustment is typically simple. However, the correct process depends slightly on the type of asset(s) being adjusted. For example, a change in the value of a portfolio of securities is handled differently than a change in the value of real estate. It is important to note that fair value adjustments are different than the depreciation of carrying value.

You do not necessarily need to include a fair value adjustment in your income or balance sheet. This is typically only done when the change is significant. Otherwise, you can wait until you realize the loss or gain at the point of selling the asset. For certain assets, you may apply standard depreciation during this period.

To record your fair value adjustment, you will need to make a journal entry that affects the balance sheet account of the asset and your income. If the fair value has increased, you would debit the valuation account and credit your income. For losses, you should credit the valuation account and debit your income.

It is a good idea to work with a professional accountant when making fair value adjustments. The rules can vary depending on jurisdiction and elected accounting method.

Are Dividends Accounted in Adjusting to Fair Value Trading SEC?

No, dividends are not directly accounted for in fair value adjustments. They are only reflective of changes in the fair market value of an asset. Any dividends would be recorded separately as income.

Of course, dividends may impact the fair value of an asset. This may have a positive impact because it reflects that the business is profitable and potentially lucrative. However, it may also have a negative impact if there is a perception that a potential investment and subsequent growth was missed due to paying dividends. Thus, the dividends are indirectly accounted for, even if they are not a direct part of the equation.

It is worth noting that fair market adjustments for securities are most commonly used for hold-for-trading securities. These are stocks and bonds that have been purchased with the intention of selling them within a short timeframe (typically a year). Thus, dividends are not typically a major element of the buying or selling decisions. Instead, securities that may be impacted by fair value adjustments are typically those that are expected to be profitable due to changes in value.

FAQ on Fair Value Adjustment

What is a fair value adjustment in accounting?

A fair value adjustment in accounting refers to the process of altering the reported value of a company's assets or liabilities to reflect their current market value, rather than their historical cost. This adjustment ensures that financial statements provide a more accurate picture of a company's financial health. According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), fair value is the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.

How is fair value determined for assets or liabilities?

Fair value is determined by considering the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an active market. This can involve using market data, such as stock prices for publicly traded securities, or valuation techniques like discounted cash flow analysis for assets without an active market. The FASB's ASC Topic 820 provides a framework for measuring fair value, emphasizing the use of observable inputs when available.

When is a fair value adjustment typically applied?

A fair value adjustment is typically applied during the preparation of financial statements, particularly for companies that follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). It is used when the carrying amount of an asset or liability differs from its fair value due to changes in market conditions, business models, or other factors. This adjustment is often seen in the context of investment portfolios, long-lived assets, and financial instruments.

What impact does a fair value adjustment have on financial statements?

A fair value adjustment can significantly impact financial statements by altering the reported value of assets and liabilities. This, in turn, affects key financial metrics such as net income and shareholders' equity. For example, an increase in the fair value of an investment will result in a gain that boosts net income, while a decrease will lead to a loss. These adjustments provide stakeholders with a more current and potentially volatile view of a company's financial position.

Are fair value adjustments reflected in a company's cash flow?

Fair value adjustments are non-cash accounting entries and do not directly affect a company's cash flow. However, they can have indirect implications. For instance, a fair value adjustment that leads to a reported loss might influence investor perceptions and the company's stock price, potentially impacting future cash flows. Additionally, changes in fair value could affect tax liabilities or compliance with loan covenants, which may have cash flow consequences.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including SmartCapitalMind, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Apr 01, 2013

It took me a while to get my head around it, but basically fair value just means whatever the thing (whether it is a house, or stock or whatever) is worth on the open market.

And the adjustment is making sure that everyone agrees with that value (after all, it's difficult to really estimate value on the market unless you actually sell the thing).

By MrsPramm — On Apr 01, 2013

@Ana1234 - And I think working this way is one of the causes of some kinds of economic crises as well, because if you think about it, if everyone's houses are dropping in value at once, that's a lot of adjustment going on and that shows up in the stock market and everything as well.

On the other hand, everyone is happy when it works in their favor. When you've paid ten dollars for stock, for example and it goes up to $15 that's the same kind of deal.

By Ana1234 — On Apr 01, 2013

I can imagine a lot of people finding it bitterly ironic that this is called a "fair value adjustment" since it happens quite often when someone buys a house and gets a mortgage for it, then the market falls and the house becomes worth much less than the mortgage.

It is almost never the mortgage which shifts, however and I've even heard of the bank basically taking possession of other things, like cars, to make up the difference.

It might be fair in terms of the market. When it comes to the fact that people end up losing all their money, it doesn't seem fair at all.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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