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Impairment is a financial term that refers to the reduction in the value of an asset, either tangible or intangible, due to a decrease in its expected future economic benefits. It occurs when the asset’s carrying amount exceeds its recoverable amount. Impairment losses must be recognized in financial statements to accurately reflect the company’s financial health and true value of its assets.


The phonetic spelling of the keyword “Impairment” is:/ɪmˈpɛr.mənt/

Key Takeaways

  1. What does financial impairment mean? In the world of finance, impairment refers to a decline in an asset’s value below its carrying value. This may occur for a variety of reasons, including a change in the asset’s fair value, a modification of the anticipated future cash flows from the asset, or an occurrence of a legal or regulatory circumstance that lessens the asset’s worth.
  2. What makes impairment crucial to finance? Because it can significantly affect a company’s financial statements, impairment is crucial in finance. When an asset is impaired, the business must reduce its balance sheet’s asset value, which can lower net income and equity. This may make the business appear less financially successful and prosperous.


Impairment is an important term in business and finance because it reflects the reduction in the value of an asset over time due to various factors such as wear and tear, obsolescence, or changes in market demand. It impacts the financial health and reporting of a company, as accurate assessment and recognition of impairment losses help maintain the transparency and reliability of financial statements. By identifying and accounting for impairments, businesses can make informed decisions on asset management, resource allocation, and future investments. Furthermore, understanding the concept of impairment is crucial for investors and stakeholders to evaluate a company’s true financial position and assess the potential risks and returns associated with their investment.


Impairment is a crucial concept in the finance and business world as it serves to maintain a fair representation of a company’s financial health. The primary purpose behind recognizing and accounting for impairments is to prevent the overstatement of assets and to provide a more accurate assessment of a company’s financial position. When assets such as property, plant, equipment, or intangible assets lose value or their ability to generate future cash flows diminishes, impairments occur. By writing down or adjusting the value of these assets on financial statements, a company is better able to communicate its real financial standing to investors, creditors, and other stakeholders. This transparency is essential, as it not only assists in investment decisions but also aids in certain operational and strategic decisions by the company’s management. Impairment tests are performed to identify and measure any substantial decline in the value of an asset, which may impact a company’s financial position. Regular and timely assessments of assets’ carrying values ensure that a company’s financial statements reflect the economic reality. When an organization identifies an impairment, management must determine the new fair value of the asset, which may require consultation with specialists or through market-based pricing methods. The impairment loss, i.e., the difference between the original carrying amount and the new fair value, is then recognized in the company’s income statement, resulting in a decrease in the company’s total assets and net income. By recognizing these impairments in a timely manner, a company can manage its balance sheet more effectively and make informed decisions about asset utilization, budgeting, and forecasting, ultimately contributing to its long-term success.


1. General Electric (GE) Power Unit: In 2018, General Electric declared an impairment loss of $22 billion due to its coal and natural gas power plant portfolio in the power unit. This was mainly because the company overestimated the revenue and profit projections when it acquired the energy units of Alstom in 2015. The shift towards renewable energy sources, decreased demand for coal and gas-fired plants, and a downturn in the global power market also contributed to the significant impairment in the value of GE’s power assets. 2. Telefonica’s O2 UK operations: In 2016, Telefonica, a Spanish multinational telecommunications company, recognized an impairment loss of around €2.2 billion (about $2.4 billion) for its UK operation, O2. The impairment was due to the devaluation of the British pound following the Brexit referendum, which led to a decrease in the value of O2’s assets, as well as market uncertainty and increased competition. 3. BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: In 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in one of the largest oil spills in history. This disaster not only caused 11 deaths but also had significant environmental and economic impacts. BP had to recognize an impairment loss of over $17 billion for its cleanup efforts and legal liabilities resulting from the accident. The impairment charges reflected the decrease in value of its assets due to the incident and the subsequent financial ramifications.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What does Impairment mean in the context of finance and business?
Impairment refers to a permanent decrease in the value of an asset due to various factors, such as changes in market conditions, obsolescence, legal restrictions, or physical damage, making the asset’s carrying value higher than its fair market value.
Can you provide examples of assets that can be impaired?
Assets subject to impairment include property, plant and equipment, intangible assets such as goodwill, copyrights, patents, and investments in other companies or financial instruments.
How is it determined that an impairment has occurred?
An impairment is generally considered to have occurred when the asset’s carrying value exceeds its recoverable amount. The recoverable amount is the higher of the asset’s fair value less costs to sell and its value in use, which represents the net present value of expected cash flows derived from the asset.
How is an impairment loss calculated?
The impairment loss is calculated as the difference between the asset’s carrying value and its recoverable amount. If the carrying value is higher than the recoverable amount, the asset’s value must be written down to reflect the impairment, resulting in an impairment loss recognized in the income statement.
How does impairment affect financial statements?
Impairment affects financial statements by reducing the carrying value of the impaired asset on the balance sheet and recognizing an impairment loss in the income statement, which can negatively impact a company’s financial performance, such as profitability and net assets.
Is the impairment loss reversible?
In some cases, the impairment loss might be reversed if there is an indication that the circumstances that led to the impairment have changed, and the recoverable amount of the impaired asset has increased. However, goodwill impairment cannot be reversed under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
Are there any specific accounting standards for impairment?
Yes, impairment of assets is governed by specific accounting standards, such as IAS 36 (Impairment of Assets) under IFRS and ASC 350 (Intangibles – Goodwill and Other) and ASC 360 (Property, Plant, and Equipment) under US GAAP. These standards provide guidelines on identifying, measuring, and recording impairment losses and reversals.

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