Accounting for Cross Holdings

            In the category of investments and marketable securities, accountants consider investments made by firms in the securities or assets of other firms, and other marketable securities including treasury bills or bonds. The way in which these assets are valued depends upon the way the investment is categorized and the motive behind the investment. In general, an investment in the securities of another firm can be categorized as a minority, passive investment; a minority, active investment; or a majority, active investment. The accounting rules vary depending upon the categorization.

Minority, Passive Investments

            If the securities or assets owned in another firm represent less than 20% of the overall ownership of that firm, an investment is treated as a minority, passive investment. These investments have an acquisition value, which represents what the firm originally paid for the securities and often a market value. Accounting principles require that these assets be sub-categorized into one of three groups: investments that will be held to maturity, investments that are available for sale and trading investments. The valuation principles vary for each.

      For investments that will be held to maturity, the valuation is at historical cost or book value, and interest or dividends from this investment are shown in the income statement under net interest expenses

      For investments that are available for sale, the valuation is at market value, but the unrealized gains or losses are shown as part of the equity in the balance sheet and not in the income statement. Thus, unrealized losses reduce the book value of the equity in the firm, and unrealized gains increase the book value of equity. 

      For trading investments, the valuation is at market value and the unrealized gains and losses are shown in the income statement. 

Firms are allowed an element of discretion in the way they classify investments and, subsequently, in the way they value these assets. This classification ensures that firms such as investment banks, whose assets are primarily securities held in other firms for purposes of trading, revalue the bulk of these assets at market levels each period. This is called marking-to-market and provides one of the few instances in which market value trumps book value in accounting statements.

Minority, Active Investments

            If the securities or assets owned in another firm represent between 20% and 50% of the overall ownership of that firm, an investment is treated as a minority, active investment. While these investments have an initial acquisition value, a proportional share (based upon ownership proportion) of the net income and losses made by the firm in which the investment was made, is used to adjust the acquisition cost. In addition, the dividends received from the investment reduce the acquisition cost. This approach to valuing investments is called the equity approach.

            The market value of these investments is not considered until the investment is liquidated, at which point the gain or loss from the sale, relative to the adjusted acquisition cost is shown as part of the earnings under extraordinary items in that period.

Majority, Active Investments

            If the securities or assets owned in another firm represent more than 50% of the overall ownership of that firm, an investment is treated as a majority active investment[1]. In this case, the investment is no longer shown as a financial investment but is instead replaced by the assets and liabilities of the firm in which the investment was made. This approach leads to a consolidation of the balance sheets of the two firms, where the assets and liabilities of the two firms are merged and presented as one balance sheet. The share of the firm that is owned by other investors is shown as a minority interest on the liability side of the balance sheet. A similar consolidation occurs in the financial statements of the other firm as well. The statement of cash flows reflects the cumulated cash inflows and outflows of the combined firm. This is in contrast to the equity approach, used for minority active investments, in which only the dividends received on the investment are shown as a cash inflow in the cash flow statement.

            Here again, the market value of this investment is not considered until the ownership stake is liquidated. At that point, the difference between the market price and the net value of the equity stake in the firm is treated as a gain or loss for the period.



[1] Firms have evaded the requirements of consolidation by keeping their share of ownership in other firms below 50%.