Measuring intangible investment

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 15/05

Date: October 2005


L. C. Hunter
Elizabeth Webster
Anne Wyatt


Recent years have seen a growth in the literature on a variety of aspects of intangible investment, the complement of the more familiar investment in tangible assets such as buildings, plant, and equipment. For economic and business analysts this change in emphasis necessitates the selection of a meaningful metric for intangible investment and the firm’s total capital stock of tangible and intangible assets, which is not provided by conventional accounting systems. This gives rise to a deficiency of information for two principal audiences: shareholders and external stakeholders in the firm and the internal management of the firm . Information to know and understand the level of returns to past investments; and to form expectations about future investments, their returns, and risk profiles is accordingly missing. This paper builds on recent studies focusing on this problem to (1) characterize the nature and implications of the information deficiency; and (2) develop an intangible metric that illustrates what can be achieved with suitable accounting data.

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