“Employees are our greatest asset” is a phrase often heard from companies. However, due to accounting rules requiring that most expenditures related to employees be treated as costs and expensed as incurred, the value of employees is an intangible asset that does not appear on any balance sheet. That leaves the interesting question of whether employee satisfaction provides information on future returns.
As mind-bending as it sounds, although a company’s internally generated intangible investments generate future value, they are currently not accepted as assets under US GAAP. Omission of this increasingly important class of assets reduces the usefulness and relevance of financial statement analysis that uses book value. In fact, Amitabh Dugar and Jacob Pozharny, authors of the December 2020 study “Equity Investing in the Age of Intangibles,” concluded that the relationship between financial variables and contemporaneous stock prices has weakened so much for high intangible intensity companies in both the U.S. and abroad that investors can no longer afford to ignore the changes in the economic environment created by intangibles.
Taken together, our results suggest that firms’ personnel expenditures reflect not just the cost of labor in the current period but also the investment in human capital contained within that cost, and that market participants fail to fully understand the opportunity and efficacy of human capital development embedded in the disclosure of the expense.
Despite the fact that a company’s internally generated intangible investments create future value, under current U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, internally developed intangibles are not included in reported assets. While research and development is an important intangible asset, so too is branding. Omission of an increasingly important class of assets reduces the usefulness and relevance of financial statement analysis that uses book value.
Recent research, including the 2020 studies “Explaining the Recent Failure of Value Investing” and “Intangible Capital and the Value Factor: Has Your Value Definition Just Expired?,” have investigated the impact on U.S. value strategies of [...]