Variable Versus Absorption Costing

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On the left is the income statement prepared using the absorption costing method, and on the right is the same information using variable costing. For now, assume that Nepal sells all that it produces, resulting in no beginning or ending inventory. The key difference between absorption costing and variable costing lies in how fixed manufacturing overhead costs are handled. A typical illustration of decision making based on variable costing data looks simple enough.

  1. The total of direct material, direct labor, and variable overhead is $5 per unit with an additional $1 in variable sales cost paid when the units are sold.
  2. Because fixed costs remain the same at every production level till the maximum capacity of production is reached.
  3. Absorption costing is required by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for external reporting.
  4. Let us assume that the total production units are 1000 and the cost card is as follows.
  5. In the context of measuring inventory and income, a manager will want to understand both absorption costing and variable costing techniques.
  6. Key factors to consider include GAAP compliance needs, how cost data is used for decision-making, and desired inventory valuation methods.

Absorption costing is a costing method that allocates both variable costs and fixed manufacturing overhead costs to each unit produced. The key difference from variable costing is that fixed manufacturing overhead costs are treated as product costs under absorption costing. Conversely, when fewer units are manufactured (10,000) than sold (15,000), operating income is lower under absorption costing ($50,000).

This is an important metric as it represents the residual amount that is available to cover fixed costs and provide profit after the variable costs of production have been covered. This means that a portion of fixed overhead is allocated to each unit produced. Under absorption costing, fixed overhead is considered part of the cost of goods manufactured and becomes an asset until the inventory is sold. Advocates of absorption costing argue that fixed manufacturing overhead costs are essential to the production process and are an actual cost of the product. They further argue that costs should be categorized by function rather than by behavior, and these costs must be included as a product cost regardless of whether the cost is fixed or variable.

In contrast to the variable costing method, every expense is allocated to manufactured products, whether or not they are sold by the end of the period. Ultimately, companies should analyze their specific business and information needs and decide whether variable costing or absorption costing better aligns with their operational goals and objectives. Key factors to consider include GAAP compliance needs, how cost data is used for decision-making, and desired inventory valuation methods.

Example of Absorption Costing

Whichever costing method a company selects to use for accounting purposes, there are advantages and disadvantages. Absorption costing results in a higher net income compared with variable costing. As such, absorption costing ensures proper inventory accounting and adheres to external reporting standards. The term “absorption costing” describes the method of accounting for a cost that is applied in vertically integrated organizations.

Disadvantages of Absorption Costing

Second, if a company offers special deals on a selective basis, regular customers may become alienated or hold out for lower prices. The key point here is that variable costing information is useful, but it should not be the sole basis for decision making. Because absorption costing defers costs, the ending inventory figure differs from that calculated using the variable costing method. As shown in Figure 6.13, the inventory figure under absorption costing considers both variable and fixed manufacturing costs, whereas under variable costing, it only includes the variable manufacturing costs.

Inventory Differences

Manufacturing companies often struggle with choosing the right costing method for their operations. If a company uses just-in-time inventory, and therefore has no beginning or ending inventory, profit will be exactly the same regardless of the costing approach used. However, in the short run, the manager will increase profit by increasing production.

This treatment is based on the expense recognition principle, which is one of the cornerstones of accrual accounting and is why the absorption method follows GAAP. The principle states that expenses should be recognized in the period in which revenues are incurred. Including absorption costing vs variable costing fixed overhead as a cost of the product ensures the fixed overhead is expensed (as part of cost of goods sold) when the sale is reported. Absorption costing takes into account all of the costs of production, not just the direct costs as is the case with variable costing.

The choice of costing method can impact the valuation of inventory and the measurement of net income. Variable costing provides a better view of marginal profitability, while absorption costing adheres more closely to GAAP and matches all production costs against revenue. (3) When units produced is less than units sold, variable costing yields the highest profit. Under U.S. GAAP, all non-manufacturing costs (selling and administrative costs) are treated as period costs because they are expensed on the income statement in the period in which they are incurred. This brings uncertainty for management decisions, so businesses usually use variable costs for internal decision-making and absorption costing to communicate the costs to various stakeholder groups.

A company may see an increase in gross profit after paying off a mortgage or finishing the depreciation schedule on a piece of manufacturing equipment. These are considerations cost accountants must closely manage when using absorption costing. Under variable costing, the other option for costing, only the variable production costs are considered. Absorption costing is a costing method in which all costs attributed to the production of a product are estimated. This costing method entails a full estimation of total expenses incurred in manufacturing a product. When it comes to measuring the cost of manufacturing processes, several methods can determine the cost of manufactured goods.

Direct and Indirect Costs

Do this by simply increasing production volume disproportionately to sales volume. When all units manufactured (15,000) are sold (15,000), operating income under absorption costing is the same as it is under variable costing, $100,000. Under both costing methods, $150,000 of fixed factory overhead costs is deducted to arrive at operating income. Under variable costing, the flat amount of $150,000 follows the contribution margin line. The fixed cost per unit is $10, determined by dividing the $150,000 total fixed factory overhead cost by the number of units produced, 15,000. Finally, remember that the difference between the absorption costing and variable costing methods is solely in the treatment of fixed manufacturing overhead costs and income statement presentation.

Absorption costing “absorbs” all of the costs used in manufacturing and includes fixed manufacturing overhead as product costs. Absorption costing is in accordance with GAAP, because the product cost includes fixed overhead. Variable costing considers the variable overhead costs and does not consider fixed overhead as part of a product’s cost. It is not in accordance with GAAP, because fixed overhead is treated as a period cost and is not included in the cost of the product. With variable costing, all variable costs are subtracted from sales to arrive at the contribution margin.

However, absorption costing adheres to GAAP and provides a fuller valuation of inventory. The variable cost per unit is $22 (the total of direct material, direct labor, and variable overhead). The absorption cost per unit is the variable cost ($22) plus the per-unit cost of $7 ($49,000/7,000 units) for the fixed overhead, for a total of $29. Under variable costing, the fixed overhead is not considered a product cost and would not be assigned to ending inventory.

If management was limited to absorption costing information, this opportunity would likely have been foregone. Overall, absorption costing principles better align with financial accounting standards and provide a more accurate, stable view of manufacturing costs. Companies have to weigh these factors based on their specific accounting needs and industry dynamics when choosing between the two methods. If a company uses variable costing for internal reporting, they would still need to prepare external financial statements using absorption costing to comply with tax regulations.

It was the number of units produced that varied among the three pairs of statements. One of the big advantages of absorption costing is that it is the method required for a company to be in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Even if a company decides to use variable costing in-house, it is required by law to use absorption costing in any external financial statements it publishes. Absorption costing is also the method that a company is required to use for calculating and filing its taxes. The fixed costs that differentiate variable and absorption costing are primarily overhead expenses, such as salaries and building leases, that do not change with changes in production levels.

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