Flexible Budgets and Performance Analysis

Chapter 9 Flexible Budgets and Performance Analysis


After studying  Chapter 9 , you should be able to:

· LO1 Prepare a flexible budget.

· LO2 Prepare a report showing activity variances.

· LO3 Prepare a report showing revenue and spending variances.

· LO4 Prepare a performance report that combines activity variances and revenue and spending variances.

· LO5 Prepare a flexible budget with more than one cost driver.

· LO6 Understand common errors made in preparing performance reports based on budgets and actual results.

BUSINESS FOCUS: The Inevitability of Forecasting Errors


While companies derive numerous benefits from planning for the future, they must be able to respond when actual results deviate from the plan. For example, just two months after telling Wall Street analysts that it would break even for the first quarter of 2005, General Motors (GM) acknowledged that its actual sales were far less than its original forecast and the company would lose $850 million in the quarter. For the year, GM acknowledged that projected earnings would be 80% lower than previously indicated. The company’s stock price dropped by $4.71.

When a company’s plans deviate from its actual results, managers need to understand the reasons for the deviations. How much is caused by the fact that actual sales differ from budgeted sales? How much is caused by the actions of managers? In the case of GM, the actual level of sales is far less than the budget, so some actual costs are likely to be less than originally budgeted. These lower costs do not signal managerial effectiveness. This chapter explains how to analyze the sources of discrepancies between budgeted and actual results.▪


Source: Alex Taylor III, “GM Hits the Skids,” Fortune, April 4, 2005, pp. 71–74.

In the last chapter we explored how budgets are developed before a period begins. Budgeting involves a lot of time and effort and the results of the budgeting process should not be shoved into a filing cabinet and forgotten. To be useful, budgets should provide guidance in conducting actual operations and should be part of the performance evaluation process. However, managers need to be very careful about how budgets are used. In government, budgets often establish how much will be spent, and indeed, spending more than was budgeted may be a criminal offense. That is not true in other organizations. In for-profit organizations, actual spending will rarely be the same as the spending that was budgeted at the beginning of the period. The reason is that the actual level of activity (such as unit sales) will rarely be the same as the budgeted activity; therefore, many actual costs and revenues will naturally differ from what was budgeted. Should a manager be penalized for spending 10% more than budgeted for a variable cost like direct materials if unit sales are 10% higher than budgeted? Of course not. In this chapter we will explore how budgets can be adjusted so that meaningful comparisons to actual costs can be made.

Flexible Budgets


Prepare a flexible budget.

Characteristics of a Flexible Budget

The budgets that we explored in the last chapter were planning budgets. A  planning budget  is prepared before the period begins and is valid for only the planned level of activity. A static planning budget is suitable for planning but is inappropriate for evaluating how well costs are controlled. If the actual level of activity differs from what was planned, it would be misleading to compare actual costs to the static, unchanged planning budget. If activity is higher than expected, variable costs should be higher than expected; and if activity is lower than expected, variable costs should be lower than expected.

Flexible budgets take into account how changes in activity affect costs. A  flexible budget  is an estimate of what revenues and costs should have been, given the actual level of activity for the period. When a flexible budget is used in performance evaluation, actual costs are compared to what the costs should have been for the actual level of activity during the period rather than to the static planning budget. This is a very important distinction. If adjustments for the level of activity are not made, it is very difficult to interpret discrepancies between budgeted and actual costs.

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