Purchase Method vs. Pooling of Interests

In the world of accounting, the methods used to handle business combinations are crucial for accurately representing the financial health and structure of entities involved. Two prominent methods historically employed for such purposes are the purchase method and the pooling of interests method.

These methods dictate how assets, liabilities, and equity are recorded and reported following mergers and acquisitions. Understanding the nuances, similarities, and differences between these methods is essential for accountants, auditors, financial analysts, and business stakeholders. This comprehensive exploration delves into the intricacies of the purchase method and pooling of interests, highlighting their historical context, application, and implications in financial reporting.

The evolution of accounting standards governing business combinations has been influenced by both economic factors and regulatory changes. Historically, the Pooling of Interests method was widely accepted and utilized for its simplicity and perceived alignment with economic substance. Under this method, combining entities were viewed as equals, and the historical cost basis of assets and liabilities was carried forward without adjustment to fair market values.

However, concerns arose over the potential abuse of pooling as companies sought to avoid recognizing the true economic impact of mergers and acquisitions. This led to significant differences in reported financial figures between companies using pooling and those using other methods, prompting regulatory bodies to reevaluate the standards. Consequently, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in the United States and other standard-setting bodies globally began to advocate for a shift towards the Purchase Method, which emphasizes fair value accounting and transparency in financial reporting.

  • The Purchase Method

The purchase method, also known as the acquisition method, has been a predominant approach in accounting for business combinations. This method treats the acquisition as a transaction where one entity (the acquirer) purchases the net assets or equity of another entity (the acquiree). The key principle is that the acquisition is recorded at fair market value, and any excess of the purchase price over the fair value of the identifiable net assets is recognized as goodwill.

The purchase method has evolved over time to improve transparency and accuracy in financial reporting. Initially governed by Accounting Principles Board (APB) Opinion No. 16, the rules were later refined by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) through the issuance of Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) No. 141, which was subsequently updated to SFAS No. 141(R) and eventually incorporated into the Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 805.

  • Pooling of Interests Method

The Pooling of Interests method was historically favored for its simplicity and avoidance of immediate recognition of goodwill. Under this method, combining entities were treated as equals, and the assets and liabilities of the acquired entity were recorded at their historical carrying values. The shareholders’ equity accounts of the combining entities were combined without any adjustments to reflect the fair values of assets and liabilities.

Despite its simplicity, the Pooling of Interests method faced significant criticism and regulatory scrutiny. Critics argued that it allowed companies to avoid recognizing the true economic impact of mergers and acquisitions, leading to potential misrepresentation of financial performance and misleading stakeholders. Additionally, the method’s strict criteria limited its applicability, making it less feasible for transactions involving cash payments or significant changes in ownership structure.

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  • The Purchase Method

1. Recognition of Fair Value:

  • All identifiable assets acquired and liabilities assumed in a business combination are recorded at their fair market values at the acquisition date.
  • Goodwill is recognized if the purchase price exceeds the fair value of net identifiable assets.

2. Subsequent Measurement:

  • Goodwill is not amortized but tested annually for impairment.
  • Intangible assets with definite lives are amortized over their useful lives.

3. Impact on Financial Statements:

  • Immediate impact on the balance sheet with the recognition of new assets and liabilities at fair value.
  • Potentially significant impact on future earnings due to amortization of intangible assets and impairment testing of goodwill.

4. Purchase Consideration:

  • Can include cash, securities, or other forms of consideration.
  • Contingent consideration may also be recognized and measured at fair value at the acquisition date.
  • Pooling of Interests Method

1. Combination of Historical Costs:

  • The assets, liabilities and equity of the combining entities are recorded at their historical book values.
  • No goodwill or fair value adjustments are recognized.

2. Continuity of Ownership Interests:

  • The shareholders of the combining companies continue to hold an interest in the newly combined entity.
  • The financial statements reflect the historical operating results of the entities as if they had always been combined.

3. Simplified Financial Reporting:

  • No recognition of new goodwill or intangible assets means no subsequent impairment testing or amortization.
  • Financial statements may be simpler to prepare but lack the reflection of current market values.

4. Impact on Financial Statements:

  • Less immediate impact on the balance sheet since no fair value adjustments are made.
  • Historical earnings and book values are preserved, which can sometimes provide a clearer view of long-term performance.

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Understanding the similarities and differences between the purchase method and pooling of interests is crucial for appreciating their impact on accounting practices and financial reporting.


Purpose: Both methods aim to account for business combinations and provide a framework for integrating the financial statements of the involved entities.

Regulatory Framework: Both methods have been governed by specific accounting standards and principles, ensuring compliance and consistency in financial reporting.

Financial Statement Integration: Both methods result in the combination of the financial statements of the merging entities, though the manner and results of the combination differ significantly.

Disclosure Requirements: Both methods require detailed disclosures about the nature of the business combination, including the entities involved, the method of accounting used, and the financial impact of the combination.


Purchase Method:

Recognizes assets and liabilities at fair market value at the acquisition date, leading to the creation of goodwill.

Valuation Basis

Pooling of Interests:

Combines assets and liabilities at their historical book values, avoiding the recognition of goodwill or fair value adjustments.

Goodwill and identifiable intangible assets are recognized and subject to annual impairment testing or amortization.

Goodwill and Intangible Assets

No goodwill or intangible assets are recognized, simplifying future financial reporting.

Does not affect future earnings with amortization or impairment, reflecting historical performance consistently.

Impact on Future Earnings

Combines assets and liabilities at their historical book values, avoiding the recognition of goodwill or fair value adjustments.

Results in an updated balance sheet with assets and liabilities at fair value.

Balance Sheet Impact

Maintains the historical balance sheet values of the combining entities.

Provides a more transparent and current valuation of the acquired assets and liabilities, though it introduces complexity with goodwill and intangibles.

Complexity and Transparency

Simpler and more straightforward, but less transparent regarding the current market value of the combined entity’s assets and liabilities.

Financial Statement Users

For investors, analysts, and other financial statement users, understanding the differences between the purchase method and pooling of interests is essential for interpreting the financial health and performance of companies involved in mergers and acquisitions. The purchase method offers a more accurate reflection of the current value of assets and liabilities, providing valuable information for decision-making. However, the resulting goodwill and its subsequent impairment can introduce volatility to financial statements.

On the other hand, the pooling of interests method, with its preservation of historical values, may offer a clearer view of long-term performance without the fluctuations caused by fair value adjustments and goodwill impairments. However, it may not provide an accurate representation of the current market value of the entity’s assets and liabilities, potentially obscuring the true financial position.

Regulatory and Standard-Setting Bodies

The move away from the pooling of interests method towards the exclusive use of the purchase method reflects a broader trend towards improving transparency, comparability, and relevance in financial reporting. Regulatory bodies, such as the FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), have emphasized the importance of fair value measurements in providing users with relevant information about the economic realities of business combinations.

Companies and Accountants

For companies and accountants, the choice of method (historically, when both were options) had significant implications for financial reporting, tax considerations, and stakeholder perceptions. The purchase method’s recognition of fair value and goodwill can impact financial ratios, debt covenants, and future earnings, requiring careful management and communication with stakeholders.

The pooling of interests method, while simpler, required companies to justify its use and ensure compliance with the stringent criteria that were historically in place. Its prohibition has streamlined the accounting for business combinations, reducing opportunities for earnings management and enhancing the comparability of financial statements across companies and industries.


In conclusion, the differences between the Purchase Method and Pooling of Interests for accounting business combinations are significant and reflect broader shifts in accounting standards towards transparency, fair value accounting, and international convergence. While the Pooling of Interests method offered simplicity and stability in financial reporting, it was phased out due to concerns over transparency and economic substance. In contrast, the Purchase Method mandates fair value accounting, providing stakeholders with more accurate and relevant information about the financial position and performance of the combined entity.

As regulatory frameworks continue to evolve and global standards converge, the importance of accurate financial reporting in business combinations remains paramount. Companies must navigate the complexities of fair value measurements, goodwill assessments, and regulatory compliance to ensure transparency and reliability in financial disclosures. By understanding the nuances of these two accounting methods, stakeholders can make informed decisions and assess the true economic impact of mergers and acquisitions on corporate performance and shareholder value.

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