inventory count

How to prepare for year-end physical inventory counts

As year end approaches, it’s time for calendar-year entities to perform physical inventory counts. This activity is more than a compliance chore. Proactive companies see it as an opportunity to improve operational efficiency.

Inventory basics

Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value. There are three types of inventory:

  1. Raw materials,
  2. Work-in-progress, and
  3. Finished goods.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. The value of work-in-progress inventory can be especially hard to assess, because it includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

Physical counts

A physical inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory your company has on hand at year end. For example, a manufacturing plant might need to count what’s on its warehouse shelves, on the shop floor and shipping dock, on consignment, at the repair shop, at remote or public warehouses, and in transit from suppliers and between company locations.

Before counting starts, you should consider:

  • Ordering or creating prenumbered tags that identify the part number and location and leave space to add the quantity and person who performed the count,
  • Conducting a dry run a few days before the count to identify any potential roadblocks and determine how many workers to schedule,
  • Assigning two-person teams to count inventory to minimize errors and fraud,
  • Carving the location into “count zones” to ensure full coverage and avoid duplication of efforts,
  • Writing off any unsalable or obsolete items, and
  • Precounting and bagging slow-moving items.

It’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place. Usually, inventory is counted during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations.

Auditor’s role

If your company issues audited financial statements, one or more members of your external audit team will be present during your physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help you count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Be ready to provide auditors with invoices and shipping/receiving reports. They review these documents to evaluate cutoff procedures for year-end deliveries and confirm the values reported on your inventory listing.

Making counts count

When it comes to physical inventory counts, our auditors have seen the best (and worst) practices over the years. For more information on how to perform an effective inventory count, contact us before year end.

© 2018

Signs of inventory fraud

Is your inventory being stolen by dishonest employees or customers? Inventory is a prime target for fraud schemes, second only to cash. And it doesn’t always involve the physical theft of items. Here are some early warning signs that your inventory has been targeted.

Know your risk profile

Some companies are more at risk for inventory fraud than others. Obviously, service companies with minimal inventory on hand bear little risk of inventory embezzlement; instead, it’s more common among retailers, manufacturers and contractors. In general, higher-value inventory items, such as electronics or jewelry, tend to be more attractive to thieves.

Sometimes, however, the inventory account is just a convenient place to hide financial misstatement ploys, such as skimming or bogus sales. Thousands of journal entries are typically made to the inventory account, and it’s closed out to cost of sales each year. So, thieves with access to the accounting systems may bury their scams in the inventory account. Then, victim-organizations may write off discrepancies between the computerized perpetual inventory records and physical inventory counts as external pilferage, obsolescence or errors — when, in fact, it’s due to intentional manipulation of the accounting systems.

Monitor inventory metrics

If your year-end inventory counts aren’t adding up, don’t just write off the discrepancy as a cost of doing business; investigate why. You can shed light on the situation by computing various inventory ratios, including:

  • Days in inventory (average inventory divided by annual cost of sales times 365 days),
  • Gross margin (sales minus cost of sales) as a percentage of sales,
  • Inventory as a percentage of total assets,
  • Returns as a percentage of annual sales, and
  • Shipping costs as a percentage of sales.

These metrics should be consistent over time and comparable to industry benchmarks. Sudden changes require immediate action.

Catch fraud early

The median duration — from inception to detection of a fraud scam — is 18 months, according to the 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Many victims are unaware that inventory balances are inaccurate until they’ve accrued substantial losses. Diligent managers know the signs of inventory fraud and can identify anomalies early. Contact us for help investigating a suspected inventory scam.

© 2016

Tips for efficient year-end physical inventory counts

The basics

Inventory includes raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods. Your physical inventory count also may include parts and supplies inventory. Under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), inventory is recorded at the lower of cost or market value.

Estimating the value of inventory may involve subjective judgment calls, especially if your company converts raw materials into finished goods available for sale. For example, the value of work-in-progress inventory includes overhead allocations and, in some cases, may require percentage-of-completion assessments.

A moving target

The inventory count gives a snapshot of how much inventory is on hand at year end. The value of inventory is always in flux, as work is performed and items are delivered or shipped. To capture a static value, it’s essential that business operations “freeze” while the count takes place.

Usually, it makes sense to count inventory during off-hours to minimize the disruption to business operations. Larger organizations with multiple locations may be unable to count everything at once. So, larger companies often break down their counts by physical location.

Proactive planning

Planning is the key to minimizing disruptions. Before counting starts, management can:.

  • Order (or create) prenumbered inventory tags,
  • Conduct a dry run to identify roadblocks and schedule workers,
  • Assign workers to count inventory using two-person teams to prevent fraud,
  • Write off any unsalable items, and
  • Precount and bag slow-moving items.

If your company issues audited financial statements, your audit team will be present during the physical inventory count. They aren’t there to help count inventory. Instead, they’ll observe the procedures, review written inventory processes and cutoffs, evaluate internal controls over inventory, and perform independent counts to compare to your inventory listing and counts made by your employees.

Beyond the count

When the inventory count is complete, it’s critical to investigate discrepancies between your computerized accounting records and physical inventory counts. We can use this information to help you evaluate how to stock items more efficiently and safeguard against future write-offs due to fraud, damage or obsolescence.

© 2016