What is the Purchase Method in Accounting?

In the realm of accounting and business transactions, understanding how assets and businesses are acquired is crucial. One fundamental aspect of this process is the purchase method, which governs how acquisitions are accounted for in financial statements. This method is particularly important in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and has significant implications for financial reporting and decision-making. This comprehensive guide explores the purchase method in detail, covering its definition, application, implications, and regulatory framework.

Definition of Purchase Method

The purchase method, also known as the acquisition method, is an accounting standard used to record the acquisition of one company by another. It is employed when one entity purchases a controlling interest in another entity, thereby gaining control over its operations and assets. This method requires the acquiring entity to consolidate the financial statements of the acquired entity into its own financial statements.

Historical Context and Evolution

The purchase method has evolved over time in response to changes in accounting standards and regulations. Historically, various methods were used to account for mergers and acquisitions, including the pooling of interests method. However, due to concerns over transparency and comparability, accounting standards bodies such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in the United States and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) globally have moved towards promoting the purchase method as the standard approach.

Key Elements of the Purchase Method

  • Identifying the Acquirer and the Acquiree

    In any acquisition, it is crucial to identify the acquirer and the acquiree to properly account for the transaction. The acquirer is the entity that obtains control over the other entity, usually by purchasing a majority of its voting shares. The acquiree is the entity being acquired, whose operations and assets come under the control of the acquirer. Determining which entity is the acquirer involves assessing various factors such as which party initiated the transaction, the relative size of the entities, and the structure of the deal. Proper identification ensures the correct application of accounting standards and accurate financial reporting.

  • Purchase Price Allocation

    The purchase method requires the acquirer to allocate the purchase price to the identifiable assets and liabilities of the acquiree. This process involves a detailed assessment to determine the fair value of all assets acquired and liabilities assumed at the acquisition date. This includes tangible assets like property, plant, and equipment, as well as intangible assets such as patents, trademarks, and customer relationships. The fair value assessment may also involve recognizing contingent liabilities and other obligations. Accurate purchase price allocation is vital for reflecting the true value of the acquired assets and liabilities in the consolidated financial statements, ensuring transparency and compliance with accounting standards.

  • Recognition of Goodwill

    Goodwill represents the excess of the purchase price over the fair value of net identifiable assets acquired in a business combination. Under the purchase method, goodwill is recognized as an intangible asset on the acquirer’s balance sheet. Goodwill accounts for the premium paid for the acquiree’s intangible elements such as brand reputation, customer loyalty, and strategic synergies expected from the acquisition. Unlike other assets, goodwill is not amortized but is tested annually for impairment. Impairment testing ensures that the carrying amount of goodwill does not exceed its recoverable amount, thereby maintaining the accuracy of the financial statements.

  • Consolidation

    Once the purchase price allocation is complete, the acquirer consolidates the financial statements of the acquiree into its own financial statements. This consolidation involves combining the financial data of both entities to present a unified financial position and performance. The consolidated financial statements reflect the total assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses of the combined entity, providing a comprehensive view of the financial impact of the acquisition. During consolidation, intercompany transactions and balances are eliminated to prevent double counting. The process ensures that stakeholders have a clear and accurate representation of the financial health and performance of the newly combined organization.

Application of the Purchase Method

Step-by-Step Process
  1. Initial Recognition: Upon acquiring control, the acquirer records the purchase price paid and identifies the fair values of the acquiree’s assets and liabilities.
  2. Fair Value Assessment: The acquirer assesses the fair value of identifiable assets acquired, including tangible assets like property and equipment, intangible assets like patents and trademarks, and identifiable liabilities such as accounts payable and accrued expenses.
  3. Goodwill Calculation: Goodwill is calculated as the difference between the purchase price and the fair value of net identifiable assets acquired.
  4. Consolidation Adjustments: The acquirer makes adjustments to align the financial statements of the acquiree with its own accounting policies, ensuring consistency and comparability.
  5. Ongoing Impairment Testing: Goodwill and other intangible assets with indefinite useful lives are subject to annual impairment testing to assess if their carrying values exceed their recoverable amounts.

Importance of the Purchase Method

Financial Reporting and TransparencyDecision-Making and Strategic PlanningRegulatory Compliance
The purchase method enhances the transparency of financial reporting by providing stakeholders with a clear picture of the financial impact of an acquisition. By consolidating the financial statements of the acquiree, the acquirer presents a comprehensive view of its expanded operations, assets, liabilities, and financial performance.For businesses, the purchase method facilitates informed decision-making and strategic planning. It allows management to evaluate the financial implications of an acquisition, including potential synergies, risks, and integration costs. This information is crucial for assessing the overall impact on profitability, cash flows, and shareholder value.Adhering to the purchase method ensures compliance with accounting standards and regulatory requirements. Regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in Europe mandate the use of standardized accounting practices to maintain consistency and comparability across financial statements.

Challenges and Limitations

While the purchase method offers numerous benefits, it also presents challenges and limitations that businesses must navigate:


The process of fair value assessment and purchase price allocation can be intricate and resource-intensive, especially in acquisitions involving diverse assets, liabilities, and intangible assets. Valuing intangible assets such as intellectual property, customer relationships, and brand value requires specialized expertise and thorough analysis. The complexity increases when dealing with multinational acquisitions or when regulatory requirements vary across jurisdictions.


Determining fair values involves subjective judgments and estimates, which can introduce a degree of uncertainty into financial reporting. Differences in valuation methodologies or assumptions can impact the reported values of assets and liabilities, potentially leading to disagreements with auditors or regulatory authorities. Organizations must disclose the key assumptions used in the valuation process to enhance transparency and mitigate risks associated with subjective judgments.

Integration Risks

Successfully integrating the operations, systems, and corporate cultures of the acquirer and acquiree is critical to realizing anticipated synergies and financial benefits from the acquisition. Integration risks include operational disruptions, technological challenges, and human resource issues such as retaining key talent. Poorly managed integration processes can undermine the strategic rationale behind the acquisition, leading to underperformance or failure to achieve projected financial outcomes. Effective integration planning and execution are essential to minimize risks and maximize the long-term success of the combined entity.


In conclusion, the purchase method is a fundamental accounting standard used to record and report acquisitions in business transactions. It ensures transparency, comparability, and compliance with regulatory requirements while providing stakeholders with valuable insights into the financial impact of mergers and acquisitions. Despite its complexities and challenges, the purchase method remains essential for businesses navigating the dynamic landscape of global markets and strategic growth opportunities. As businesses continue to evolve and expand through acquisitions, understanding and effectively applying the purchase method will remain crucial for achieving long-term financial success and stakeholder value creation.

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