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Goodwill in accounting is an intangible asset that arises when a buyer acquires an existing business. Goodwill represents assets that are not separately identifiable. Goodwill does not include identifiable assets that are capable of being separated or divided from the entity and sold, transferred, licensed, rented, or exchanged, either individually or together with a related contract, identifiable asset, or liability regardless of whether the entity intends to do so. Goodwill also does not include contractual or other legal rights regardless of whether those are transferable or separable from the entity or other rights and obligations. Examples of identifiable assets that are not goodwill include a company’s brand name, customer relationships, artistic intangible assets, and any patents or proprietary technology. The goodwill amounts to the excess of the "purchase consideration" (the money paid to purchase the asset or business) over the total value of the assets and liabilities. It is classified as an intangible asset on the balance sheet, since it can neither be seen nor touched. Under US GAAP and IFRS, goodwill is never amortized. Instead, management is responsible for valuing goodwill every year and to determine if an impairment is required. If the fair market value goes below historical cost (what goodwill was purchased for), an impairment must be recorded to bring it down to its fair market value. However, an increase in the fair market value would not be accounted for in the financial statements. Private companies in the United States, however, may elect to amortize goodwill over a period of ten years or less under an accounting alternative from the Private Company Council of the FASB.
The value of goodwill typically arises in an acquisition when one company is purchased by another company. The amount the acquiring company pays for the target company over the target’s book value usually accounts for the value of the target’s goodwill. If the acquiring company pays less than the target’s book value, it gains “negative goodwill,” meaning that it purchased the company at a bargain in a distress sale.
Goodwill is difficult to price, but it does make a company more valuable. For example, a company like Coca-Cola (which has been around for decades, makes a widely popular product based on a secret formula, and is generally positively perceived by the public), would have a lot of goodwill. A competitor (a small, regional soda company that has only been in business for five years, has a small customer base, specializes in unusual soda flavors and recently faced a scandal over a contaminated batch of soda), would have far less goodwill, or even negative goodwill.
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