Book Value Vs. Market Value: An Overview

Valuing a listed company is a complex task, and several different measures are used to arrive at a fair valuation. While none of the methods is precise and each presents a different version with varying results, investors use them in combination to get a good understanding of how stocks have performed. Two most commonly used quantitative measures for valuing a company are market value and book value. This article compares the two popular factors, their differences, and how they can be used in analyzing companies.

Book Value

The book value literally means the value of a business according to its books (accounts) that is reflected through its financial statements. Theoretically, book value represents the total amount a company is worth if all its assets are sold and all the liabilities are paid back. This is the amount that the company’s creditors and investors can expect to receive if the company is liquidated.

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Book Value of Equity Per Share (BVPS)

Book Value Formula

Mathematically, book value is calculated as the difference between a company's total assets and total liabilities.

Book value of a company=Total assetsTotal liabilities\text{Book value of a company} = \text{Total assets} - \text{Total liabilities}Book value of a company=Total assetsTotal liabilities

For example, if Company XYZ has total assets of $100 million and total liabilities of $80 million, the book value of the company is $20 million. In a broad sense, this means that if the company sold off its assets and paid down its liabilities, the equity value or net worth of the business would be $20 million.

Total assets include all kinds of assets, such as cash and short term investments, total accounts receivable, inventories, net property, plant and equipment (PP&E), investments and advances, intangible assets like goodwill, and tangible assets. Total liabilities include items like short and long term debt obligations, accounts payable, and deferred taxes.

Book Value Example

Deriving the book value of a company is straightforward since companies report total assets and total liabilities on their balance sheet on a quarterly and annual basis. Additionally, the book value is also available as shareholders' equity on the balance sheet. For example, technology leader Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) balance sheet for the fiscal year ending June 2018 reports total assets of $258.85 billion and total liabilities of $176.13 billion. It leads to a book value of ($258.85 billion - $176.13 billion) $82.72 billion. This is the same figure reported as shareholder's equity.

One must note that if the company has a component of minority interest, that value must be further reduced to arrive at the correct book value. Minority interest is the ownership of less than 50 percent of a subsidiary's equity by an investor or a company other than the parent company. For instance, retail giant Walmart Inc. (WMT) had total assets of $204.52 billion and total liabilities of $123.7 billion for the fiscal year ending January 2018, which gives its net worth as $80.82 billion. Additionally, the company had accumulated minority interest of $2.95 billion, which when reduced gives the net book value or shareholder’s equity as $77.87 billion for Walmart during the given period.

Companies with a lot of machinery inventory and equipment, or financial instruments and assets tend to have large book values. In contrast, gaming companies, consultancies, fashion designers, or trading firms may have little to no book value because they mainly rely on human capital, which is a measure of the economic value of an employee's skill set.

When book value is divided by the number of outstanding shares, we get the book value per share (BVPS) which can be used to make a per share comparison. Outstanding shares refer to a company's stock currently held by all its shareholders, including share blocks held by institutional investors and restricted shares.

Limitations of Book Value

One of the major issues with book value is that the figure is reported quarterly or annually. It is only after the reporting that an investor would know how the company’s book value has changed over the months.

Book value is an accounting item and is subject to adjustments (e.g., depreciation) which may not be easy to understand and assess. If the company has been depreciating its assets, one may need to check several years of financial statements to understand its impact. Additionally, due to depreciation-linked rules of accounting practices, a company may be forced to report a higher value of its equipment though its value may have gone down.

Book value may also not consider the realistic impact of claims on its assets, like those for loans. The book valuation may be different than the real value if the company is a bankruptcy candidate and has several liens against its assets.

Book value is not very useful for businesses relying heavily on human capital.

Market Value

The market value represents the value of a company according to the stock market. While market value is a generic term that represents the price an asset would get in the marketplace, it represents the market capitalization in the context of companies. It is the aggregate market value of a company represented as a dollar amount. Since it represents the “market” value of a company, it is computed based on the current market price (CMP) of its shares.

Market Value Formula

Market value—also known as market cap—is calculated by multiplying a company's outstanding shares by its current market price.

Market cap of a company=Current market price (per share)Total number of outstanding shares\text{Market cap of a company} = \text{Current market price (per share)} * \text{Total number of outstanding shares}Market cap of a company=Current market price (per share)Total number of outstanding shares

If Company XYZ is trading at $25 per share and has 1 million shares outstanding, then the company's market value is $25 million. Market value is most often the number analysts, newspapers, and investors refer to when they mention the value of a company.

Since the market price of shares changes throughout the day, the market cap of a company also changes accordingly. Changes to the number of shares outstanding are rare as that number changes only when a company pursues certain types of corporate actions, due to which market cap changes are primarily attributed to per share price changes.

Market Value Example

Continuing the above-mentioned examples, the shares outstanding for Microsoft on June 29, 2018 (end of Microsoft’s fiscal year) were 7.794 billion, and the stock closed at the price of $98.61 per share. The resulting market cap was (7.794 billion * $98.61) $768.56 billion. This market value is more than nine times the book value of the company ($82.72 billion) calculated in the earlier section.

Similarly, Walmart had 3.01 billion shares outstanding and a closing price of $106.6 per share as of January 31, 2018 (end of Walmart’s fiscal year). The firm's market value was (3.01 billion * $106.6) $320.866 billion, which is more than four times the book value of Walmart ($77.87 billion) calculated in the earlier section.

It is quite common to see the book value and market value differ significantly. The difference is attributed to several factors, including the company's operating model, its industrial sector, the nature of a company's assets and liabilities, and the company's specific attributes.

Market Value Limitations

While market cap represents the market perception of a company’s valuation, it may not necessarily represent the true picture. It is common to see even mega-cap and large-cap stocks moving 3 to 5 percent up or down during a day’s session. A stock often gets overbought or oversold, and relying solely on market cap valuations may not be the best method to assess a stock’s realistic potential.

Book Value and Market Value Use

Most publicly listed companies fulfill their capital needs through a combination of debt and equity. Debt is raised by taking loans from banks and other financial institutions or by floating interest-paying corporate bonds. Equity capital is raised by listing the shares on the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO) or through other measures, such as follow-on issues, rights issues, and additional share sales. Debt capital requires payment of interest, as well as repayment of loaned money to the creditors; however, equity capital has no such obligation for the company as equity investors aim for dividend income or capital gains emerging from fluctuations in the stock prices.

Creditors who provide the necessary capital to the business are interested in the company's asset value as they are more concerned about repayment. Book value is used by creditors to determine how much capital to lend to the company since assets are typically used as collateral or determine a company's ability to pay back the loan over a given time.

On the other hand, investors and traders are more interested in timely buying or selling of a stock at a fair price. Market value, when used in comparison with other measures, including book value, provides a fair idea of whether the stock is fairly valued, overvalued, or undervalued.

Comparing Book and Market Value

Most investors and traders use both values; there can be three different scenarios while comparing the book value and market value.

  1. Book value greater than market value: If a company is trading at a market value which is lower than its book value, it usually indicates that the market has momentarily lost confidence in the company. It may be due to problems with the business, loss of important business-related lawsuits, or chances of financial anomalies. In other words, the market doesn't believe that the company is worth the value on its books or that there are enough assets to generate future profits and cash flowsValue investors often like to seek out companies in this category in hopes that the market perception turns out to be incorrect in the future. In this scenario, the market is giving investors an opportunity to buy a company for less than its stated net worth, meaning the stock price is lower than the company's book value. However, there is no guarantee that the price will rise in the future.
  2. A market value greater than book value: When the market value exceeds the book value, the stock market is assigning a higher value to the company due to the potential of it and its assets' earnings power. It indicates that investors believe the company has excellent future prospects for growth, expansion, and increased profits that will eventually raise the book value of the company. They may also believe the value of the company is higher than what the current book value calculation shows. Consistently, profitable companies typically have market values greater than book values, and most of the companies in the top indexes meet this criterion, as seen from the examples of Microsoft and Walmart mentioned above. Growth investors may find such companies promising. However, it may also indicate overvalued or overbought stocks trading at a high price.
  1. Book value equals market value: The market sees no compelling reason to believe the company's assets are better or worse than what is stated on the balance sheet.

A popular ratio that is used to compare market and book values is the price-to-book (P/B) ratio, which is calculated as the price per share divided by the book value per share. For example, a company has a P/B of 1, meaning that the book value and market value are equal. The next day, the market price drops and the P/B ratio becomes less than 1, meaning the market value is less than the book value (undervalued). The following day the market price zooms higher and creates a P/B ratio greater than 1, meaning market value now exceeds book value (overvalued). Since prices change every second, it is possible to track and spot stocks which move from a P/B ratio of less than one to more than one and time the trades to maximize the profits.

Key Takeaways

Book value the worth of a business according to the company's records or accounts. 

Book value represents the value of all assets if liquidated.

Market value is the worth of a business ascribed by the stock market.

Another name for market value is the market cap.

The Bottom Line

Both book value and market value offer meaningful insights to a company's valuation, and comparing the two can help investors determine whether a stock is overvalued or undervalued given its assets, liabilities, and its ability to generate income. Like any financial metric, the real utility comes from recognizing the advantages and limitations of book value and market value. An investor must determine when the book value or market value should be used and when it should be discounted or disregarded in favor of other meaningful parameters when analyzing a company.