Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail
Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail

Write-Down

What it is:

A write-down is the accounting term used to describe a reduction in the book value of an asset due to economic or fundamental changes in the asset.  A write-down is the opposite of a write-up.

How it works (Example):

A write-down can be processed whenever a firm readjusts their balance sheet numbers which typically happens when a company files their quarterly earnings.

Insurance companies often need to write down assets since they must maintain a certain stated level of capital compared to their portfolio of potential liabilities. For illiquid investments such as real estate, book value is calculated by analyzing current market conditions, taking into consideration rental rates, the values of similar buildings, as well as current interest rates.  When preparing quarterly financial updates, insurance firms reevaluate the value of their real estate holdings.  If market conditions change, the firm writes down the book value of the holding to adjust the value to current market conditions.

Thus a real estate write-down in our example can be caused by either a negative change in the overall macro environment, or a micro economic occurrence such as building deterioration.
 

Why it Matters:

Changes in book values caused by write-downs were at the heart of financial company failures caused by the sub-prime crisis. When write-downs occurred, many financial firms needed to raise capital from other sources to maintain their minimum capital obligations.

Companies that could not raise money by selling stock, new debt, or assets, were forced into bankruptcy or forced mergers when their assets could no longer cover their liabilities.

Related Terms View All
  • Auction Market
    Though most of the trading is done via computer, auction markets can also be operated via...
  • Best Execution
    Let's assume you place an order to buy 100 shares of Company XYZ stock. The current quote...
  • Book-Entry Savings Bond
    Savings bonds are bonds issued by the U.S. government at face values ranging from $50 to...
  • Break-Even Point
    The basic idea behind break-even point is to calculate the point at which revenues begin...
  • Calendar Year
    If Company XYZ starts its fiscal year on January 1 and ends its fiscal year on December...