Book Value vs. Market Value: An Overview

Determining the book value of a company is more difficult than finding its market value, but it can also be far more rewarding. Many famous investors, including billionaire Warren Buffett, built their fortunes in part by buying stocks with market valuations below their book valuations. The market value depends on what people are willing to pay for a company's stock. The book value is similar to a firm's net asset value, which jumps around much less than stock prices. Learning how to use the book value formula gives investors a more stable path to achieving their financial goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Book value is the net value of a firm's assets found on its balance sheet, and it is roughly equal to the total amount all shareholders would get if they liquidated the company.
  • Market value is the company's worth based on the total value of its outstanding shares in the market, which is its market capitalization.
  • Market value tends to be greater than a company's book value since market value captures profitability, intangibles, and future growth prospects.
  • Book value per share is a way to measure the net asset value investors get when they buy a share.
  • The price-to-book (P/B) ratio is a popular way to compare book and market values, and a lower ratio may indicate a better deal.

Book Value

The book value literally means the value of a business according to its books or accounts, as reflected on its financial statements. Theoretically, it is what investors would get if they sold all the company's assets and paid all its debts and obligations. Therefore, book value is roughly equal to the amount stockholders would receive if they decided to liquidate the company.

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Understanding Book Value

Book Value Formula

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

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

Suppose that XYZ Company has total assets of $100 million and total liabilities of $80 million. Then, the book valuation of the company is $20 million. If the company sold its assets and paid its liabilities, the net worth of the business would be $20 million.

Total assets cover all types of financial assets, including cash, short-term investments, and accounts receivable. Physical assets, such as inventory, property, plant, and equipment, are also part of total assets. Intangible assets, including brand names and intellectual property, can be part of total assets if they appear on financial statements. Total liabilities include items like debt obligations, accounts payable, and deferred taxes.

Book Value Examples

Deriving the book value of a company becomes easier when you know where to look. Companies report their total assets and total liabilities on their balance sheets on a quarterly and annual basis. Additionally, it is also available as shareholders' equity on the balance sheet.

Investors can find a company's financial information in quarterly and annual reports on its investor relations page. However, it is often easier to get the information by going to a ticker, such as AAPL, and scrolling down to the fundamental data section.

Consider technology giant Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) balance sheet for the fiscal year ending June 2020. It reported total assets of around $301 billion and total liabilities of about $183 billion. That leads to a book valuation of $118 billion ($301 billion - $183 billion). $118 billion is the same figure reported as total shareholders' equity.

Note that if the company has a minority interest component, the correct value is lower. 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.

Mega retailer Walmart Inc. (WMT) provides an example of minority interest. It had total assets of about $236.50 billion and total liabilities of approximately $154.94 billion for the fiscal year ending January 2020. That gave Walmart a net worth of around $81.55 billion. Additionally, the company had accumulated minority interest of $6.88 billion. After subtracting that, the net book value or shareholders' equity was about $74.67 billion for Walmart during the given period.

Companies with lots of real estate, machinery, inventory, and equipment tend to have large book values. In contrast, gaming companies, consultancies, fashion designers, and trading firms may have very little. They mainly rely on human capital, which is a measure of the economic value of an employee's skill set.

Book Value Per Share (BVPS)

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Book Value of Equity Per Share (BVPS)

When we divide book value by the number of outstanding shares, we get the book value per share (BVPS). It allows us to make per-share comparisons. Outstanding shares consist of all the company's stock currently held by all its shareholders. That includes share blocks held by institutional investors and restricted shares.

Limitations of Book Value

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

Book valuation is an accounting concept, so it is subject to adjustments. Some of these adjustments, such as depreciation, may not be easy to understand and assess. If the company has been depreciating its assets, investors might need several years of financial statements to understand its impact. Additionally, depreciation-linked rules and accounting practices can create other issues. For instance, a company may have to report an overly high value for some of its equipment. That could happen if it always uses straight-line depreciation as a matter of policy.

Book value does not always include the full impact of claims on assets and the costs of selling them. Book valuation might be too high if the company is a bankruptcy candidate and has liens against its assets. What is more, assets will not fetch their full values if creditors sell them in a depressed market at fire-sale prices.

The increased importance of intangibles and difficulty assigning values for them raises questions about book value. As technology advances, factors like intellectual property play larger parts in determining profitability. Ultimately, accountants must come up with a way of consistently valuing intangibles to keep book value up to date.

Market Value

The market value represents the value of a company according to the stock market. It is the price an asset would get in the marketplace. In the context of companies, market value is equal to market capitalization. It is a dollar amount computed based on the current market price of the company's 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 XYZ Company trades at $25 per share and has 1 million shares outstanding, its market value is $25 million. Financial analysts, reporters, and investors usually mean market value when they mention a company's value.

As the market price of shares changes throughout the day, the market cap of a company does so as well. On the other hand, the number of shares outstanding almost always remains the same. That number is constant unless a company pursues specific corporate actions. Therefore, market value changes nearly always occur because of per-share price changes.

Market Value Examples

Returning to the examples from before, Microsoft had 7.57 billion shares outstanding at the end of its fiscal year on June 30, 2020. On that day, the company's stock closed at $203.51 per share. The resulting market cap was about $1,540.6 billion (7.57 billion * $203.51). This market value is over 13 times the value of the company on the books.

Similarly, Walmart had 2.87 billion shares outstanding. Its closing price was $114.49 per share at the end of Walmart's fiscal year on January 31, 2020. Therefore, the firm's market value was roughly $328.59 billion (2.87 billion * $114.49). That is more than four times Walmart's book valuation of $74.67 billion that we calculated earlier.

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

Market Value Limitations

While market cap represents the market perception of a company's valuation, it may not necessarily represent the real picture. It is common to see even large-cap stocks moving 3 to 5 percent up or down during a day's session. Stocks often become overbought or oversold on a short-term basis, according to technical analysis.

Long-term investors also need to be wary of the occasional manias and panics that impact market values. Market values shot high above book valuations and common sense during the 1920s and the dotcom bubble. Market values for many companies actually fell below their book valuations following the stock market crash of 1929 and during the inflation of the 1970s. Relying solely on market value may not be the best method to assess a stock’s potential.

Key Differences

The examples given above should make it clear that book and market values are very different. Many investors and traders use both book and market values to make decisions. There are three different scenarios possible when comparing the book valuation to the market value of a company.

Book Value Greater Than Market Value

It is unusual for a company to trade at a market value that is lower than its book valuation. When that happens, it usually indicates that the market has momentarily lost confidence in the company. It may be due to business problems, loss of critical lawsuits, or other random events. In other words, the market doesn't believe that the company is worth the value on its books. Mismanagement or economic conditions might put the firm's future profits and cash flows in question.

Value investors actively seek out companies with their market values below their book valuations. They see it as a sign of undervaluation and hope market perceptions turn out to be incorrect. In this scenario, the market is giving investors an opportunity to buy a company for less than its stated net worth. However, there is no guarantee that the price will rise in the future.

Market Value Greater Than Book Value

The market value of a company will usually exceed its book valuation. The stock market assigns a higher value to most companies because they have more earnings power than their assets. It indicates that investors believe the company has excellent future prospects for growth, expansion, and increased profits. They may also think the company's value is higher than what the current book valuation calculation shows.

Profitable companies typically have market values greater than book values. Most of the companies in the top indexes meet this standard, 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 high prices.

Book Value Equals Market Value

Sometimes, book valuation and market value are nearly equal to each other. In those cases, the market sees no reason to value a company differently from its assets.

Price-to-Book Ratio

The price-to-book (P/B) ratio is a popular way to compare market value and book value. It is equal to the price per share divided by the book value per share.

For example, a company has a P/B of one when the book valuation and market valuation are equal. The next day, the market price drops, so the P/B ratio becomes less than one. That means the market valuation is less than the book valuation, so the market might undervalue the stock. The following day, the market price zooms higher and creates a P/B ratio greater than one. That tells us the market valuation now exceeds book valuation, indicating potential overvaluation. However, the P/B ratio is only one of several ways investors use book value.

Special Considerations

Most publicly listed companies fulfill their capital needs through a combination of debt and equity. Companies get debt by taking loans from banks and other financial institutions or by floating interest-paying corporate bonds. They typically raise equity capital by listing the shares on the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO). Sometimes, companies get equity capital through other measures, such as follow-on issues, rights issues, and additional share sales.

Debt capital requires payment of interest, as well as eventual repayment of loans and bonds. However, equity capital creates no such obligation for the company. Equity investors aim for dividend income or capital gains driven by increases in stock prices.

Creditors who provide the necessary capital to the business are more interested in the company's asset value. After all, they are mostly concerned about repayment. Therefore, creditors use book value to determine how much capital to lend to the company since assets make good collateral. The book valuation can also help to determine a company's ability to pay back a loan over a given time.

On the other hand, investors and traders are more interested in buying or selling a stock at a fair price. When used together, market value and book value can help investors determine whether a stock is fairly valued, overvalued, or undervalued.

Book Value FAQs

How do you calculate book value?

The book value of a company is equal to its total assets minus its total liabilities. The total assets and total liabilities are on the company's balance sheet in annual and quarterly reports.

What is book value per share?

Book value per share is a way to measure the net asset value that investors get when they buy a share of stock. Investors can calculate book value per share by dividing the company's book value by its number of shares outstanding.

Is a higher book value better?

All other things being equal, a higher book value is better, but it is essential to consider several other factors. People who have already invested in a successful company can realistically expect its book valuation to increase during most years. However, larger companies within a particular industry will generally have higher book values, just as they have higher market values. Furthermore, some businesses are more profitable than others. Such firms can afford to pay a higher dividend yield. That may justify buying a higher-priced stock with less book value per share.

What is price per book value?

The price per book value is a way of measuring the value offered by a firm's shares. It is possible to get the price per book value by dividing the market price of a company's shares by its book value per share. A lower price per book value provides a higher margin of safety. It implies that investors can recover more money if the company goes out of business. The price-to-book ratio is another name for the price per book value.

The Bottom Line

Both book and market values offer meaningful insights into a company's valuation. Comparing the two can help investors determine if a stock is overvalued or undervalued given its assets, liabilities, and ability to generate income. Like all financial measurements, the real benefits come from recognizing the advantages and limitations of book and market values. The investor must determine when to use the book value, market value, or another tool to analyze a company.