What are the limitations of using the accounting rate of return (ARR) in capital budgeting?

ARR relies on accounting profits and doesn't consider the time value of money, leading to potential inaccuracies in investment appraisal. It may disregard cash flow timing and project duration, impacting the quality of investment decisions.

The Accounting Rate of Return (ARR), also known as the Average Accounting Return (AAR) or the Return on Average Investment (ROI), is a capital budgeting method that calculates the average annual accounting profit relative to the average investment. While ARR is easy to calculate and understand, it has several limitations that make it less reliable as a sole criterion for evaluating investment projects. Here are the main limitations of using the Accounting Rate of Return in capital budgeting:

  1. Ignores Time Value of Money:

    • ARR does not consider the time value of money. It treats all cash flows equally and does not discount future cash flows to their present value. As a result, it may not provide an accurate representation of the project's true profitability.
  2. Based on Accounting Profits, Not Cash Flows:

    • ARR is based on accounting profits, which include non-cash items such as depreciation. Since it does not consider cash flows, it may not reflect the actual cash generated by the project, leading to a potential mismatch between reported profits and actual cash availability.
  3. Ignores Project's Scale:

    • ARR does not take into account the scale or size of the investment. Two projects with different sizes and cash flow patterns may have the same ARR if their average accounting profits are the same, leading to a misleading comparison.
  4. Inconsistent Treatment of Depreciation:

    • The treatment of depreciation in ARR can be inconsistent across different projects or companies. The method used to calculate depreciation (straight-line, declining balance, etc.) can impact ARR results and make comparisons challenging.
  5. Subject to Accounting Manipulation:

    • Managers may manipulate accounting numbers to influence ARR. For example, changing the depreciation method or adjusting accounting policies can impact reported profits without necessarily reflecting the economic reality of the project.
  6. Ignores Project's Duration:

    • ARR does not consider the duration of the investment. Two projects with the same ARR but different lifespans may have significantly different cumulative profits over time. This limitation can lead to suboptimal investment decisions.
  7. Assumes Reinvestment of Profits:

    • ARR assumes that accounting profits are reinvested at the same rate, which may not be a realistic assumption. In practice, reinvestment opportunities may have different rates of return, affecting the overall profitability of the investment.
  8. No Consideration of Risk:

    • ARR does not incorporate the project's risk or the cost of capital. It does not provide information about the project's sensitivity to changes in market conditions or the risk preferences of the company.
  9. Not Suitable for Comparing Projects with Different Lifespans:

    • ARR may not be suitable for comparing projects with different lifespans. The method does not account for the differences in project duration, and projects with longer lifespans may be unfairly favored.
  10. Does Not Consider Financing Costs:

    • ARR does not consider financing costs or the cost of capital. It assumes that all funds are provided internally, and the financing structure of the project is not taken into account.

Due to these limitations, ARR is often used in conjunction with other capital budgeting methods, such as Net Present Value (NPV) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR), to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of investment projects.

Limitations of ARR in Investment Appraisal.

While the Accounting Rate of Return (ARR) is a straightforward and commonly used metric for investment appraisal, it possesses several limitations that can lead to misleading conclusions. Here are some of the key limitations of ARR:

1. Ignores the Time Value of Money:

ARR calculates the average annual return on investment without considering the time value of money. This means that it treats a dollar received today the same as a dollar received in the future, which is inaccurate. Investments that generate returns earlier in their life cycle are undervalued by ARR compared to those that generate returns later.

2. Preference for Short-Term Profitability:

Due to its focus on average annual return, ARR inherently favors investments with higher upfront returns, even if they have a shorter lifespan or lower overall profitability. This can lead to overlooking long-term investments with potentially higher total returns but slower initial growth.

3. Inaccurate Representation of Risk:

ARR does not account for risk, making it a poor measure for comparing investments with different risk profiles. A high ARR may seem attractive, but if it comes with significantly higher risk, it may not be the best decision in the long run.

4. Difficulty in Project Comparison:

ARR makes it challenging to compare projects of different sizes and durations. Investments with larger initial investments may appear to have lower ARR, even if they generate higher total returns. This can distort comparisons and lead to inaccurate investment decisions.

5. Ignores Qualitative Factors:

ARR focuses solely on quantitative financial data and ignores qualitative factors like market trends, strategic fit, and competitive landscape. These factors can be crucial for the success of an investment and should be considered alongside quantitative metrics.

Alternatives to ARR:

  • Net Present Value (NPV): Considers the time value of money and provides a more accurate measure of the overall profitability of an investment.
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR): Provides the discount rate at which the NPV is equal to zero, offering an alternative perspective on investment profitability.
  • Payback Period: Indicates the time it takes for an investment to recover its initial investment. While not a comprehensive measure, it can be useful for assessing the liquidity of an investment.


While ARR offers a simple and accessible way to assess investment returns, its limitations can lead to inaccurate and misleading conclusions. Investors should be aware of these limitations and utilize other metrics like NPV, IRR, and payback period, along with qualitative considerations, to make informed and well-rounded investment decisions.