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The Profits of the Dutch East India Company's Japan Trade

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This article analyses the eighteenth-century accounting practices of the Japanese trading station or factory of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC). The factory's trade and its reported profits declined during the eighteenth century, but because of the complexity of the accounting issues involved, contemporaries held different views on whether the accounting data supported a continuation of the factory's operations. For similar reasons, some historians have argued that the maintenance of the factory in the face of declining profits illustrates the poor quality of the VOC's management, while others have argued in favour of the economic viability of the factory. The purpose of this article is to a more comprehensive analysis of the accounting issues facing the Japanese factory present in the eighteenth century than offered to date, in order to propose a way in which the accounting records may be approached as a source of data for historical research.

The conclusions are twofold. First, there were three main accounting issues facing the factory that should be considered when interpreting the accounting records. These issues can be summarized as transfer pricing, currency translation and overhead allocation. While all these issues have been recognized in the literature at some stage, they have never been considered in combination. Second, we tentatively conclude that if the recorded accounting figures are adjusted as proposed, they support the view that keeping the factory open was a correct decision from a commercial point of view.
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Keywords: (Dutch) East India Company; Accounting; Currency translation; History; Overhead costs, allocation; Profits; Transfer pricing

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 2004

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