What Is Face Value?

Face value is a financial term used to describe the nominal or dollar value of a security, as stated by its issuer. For stocks, the face value is the original cost of the stock, as listed on the certificate. For bonds, it is the amount paid to the holder at maturity, which is customarily $1,000. The face value for bonds is often referred to as "par value" or simply "par."

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Face Value

Understanding Face Value

In bond investing, face value (par value) is the amount paid to a bondholder at the maturity date, as long as the bond issuer doesn't default. However, bonds sold on the secondary market fluctuate with interest rates. For example, if interest rates are higher than the bond's coupon rate, then the bond is sold at a discount (below par).

Conversely, if interest rates are lower than the bond's coupon rate, the bond is sold at a premium (above par). While face value of a bond provides for a guaranteed return, the face value of a stock is generally a poor indicator of actual worth.

While the par value of bonds is generally static, there is a noted exception with inflation-linked bonds, whose par value is adjusted by inflation rates for predetermined time periods.

Face Value and Bonds

A bond's face value is the amount the issuer provides to the bondholder, once maturity is reached. A bond may either have an additional interest rate, or the profit may be based solely on the increase from a below-par original issue price and the face value at maturity.

Face Value and Stock Shares

The cumulative face value of the entirety of a company’s stock shares designates the legal capital a corporation is obligated to maintain. Only the above-and-beyond capital may be released to investors, in the form of dividends. In essence, the funds that cover the face value, function as a type of default reserve.

However, there is no requirement dictating the face value businesses must list upon issue. This affords businesses the leeway to use very low values to determine the size of the reserve. For example, the par value of AT&T shares is listed as $1 per common share, while shares of Apple Inc. have a par value of $0.00001.

Key Takeaways

  • Face value describes the nominal value or dollar value of a security; the face value is stated by the issuing party.
  • A stock's face value is the initial cost of the stock, as indicated on the certificate of the stock in question; a bond's face value is the dollar figure due to be paid to the investor, once the bond reaches maturity.
  • The actual market value of a stock or a bond is not reliably indicated by its face value, because there are many other influencing forces at play, such as supply and demand.

Face Value vs. Market Value

The face value of a stock or bond does not denote the actual market value, which is determined based on principles of supply and demand--often governed by the dollar figure at which investors are willing to buy and sell a particular security, at a specific point in time. In fact, depending on market conditions, the face value and market value may have very little correlation.

In the bond market, interest rates (compared with the bond’s coupon rate) may determine if a bond sells above or below par. Zero-coupon bonds, or those where investors receive no interest, aside from that associated with purchasing the bond below face value, are generally only sold below par because that's the only feasible way an investor can receive a profit.