What Is Book Value?

Book Value Explained for Stock Evaluation

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Book value is a term that describes the basic net worth of a company. It's the total of its assets minus its liabilities.

A company's book value is one of the key ways you can assess the financial state of the firm and its potential as an investment. When you invest in a company, should know what book value is and how to assess it.

Definition and Examples of Book Value 

The book value of a company is simply its assets minus its liabilities. This means the total value of all assets except for intangible assets with no immediate cash value, such as goodwill. Liabilities include all current and long-term monies owed.

Book Value = Assets - Liabilities

In other words, if you wanted to close the doors of the business, how much money would be left after you sold off all the assets and settled all the outstanding obligations? That's the company's book value.

For instance, say a firm has a total of $2 million in assets and $1 million in outstanding liabilities. Its book value would be $1 million.

  • Alternate terms: Net worth, shareholders' equity

How to Use Book Value When You Invest

Book value on its own doesn't give you a lot of data about the real value and potential return of a company. For instance, just because one company has a net worth of $1 million and a second has a net worth of $2 million, that doesn't mean the second is always the better place to put your investment dollars. That's why people who use it often look at book value and how it relates to other metrics to compare different stocks.

One way to compare companies is to convert to book value per share, which is simply the book value divided by the number of outstanding shares. To build upon the example from above:

  • The first company has a book value of $1 million and has 100,000 shares outstanding. Its book value per share is $10.
  • The second company is worth $2 million and has 10,000 shares outstanding. Its book value per share is $200.

Another common practice people use is to compare price-to-book ratios across companies. This ratio compares a company's price per share to its book value per share. To build on the earlier example:

  • The first company has a book value per share of $10 and a market price of $50 per share. Its price-to-book ratio is 5.0. Investors are likely to see this as a stock that has been overvalued.
  • The second company has a book value per share of $200 and has a market price of $100 per share, Its price-to-book ratio is 0.5. Investors are likely to see this as a stock that has been undervalued.

As you can see, the second company looked like the better choice at first, but a deeper dive has raised some red flags.

Savvy investors will always be careful to assess a stock from a few angles instead of buying based on only one value indicator.

The Limits of Book Value

Another factor in looking at book value is the fact that it doesn't factor in intangible assets. These include things such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks. While these assets aren't tangibly valued on a company's books, they offer a lot of value over time.

Other limits of what book value shows are that it uses historical cost for pricing certain assets that may have gone up quite a bit over a long period of time. Real estate used and owned by the company often comes to mind. What's more, book value may not provide a clear picture when a company with a large amount of capital assets is using an aggressive depreciation method. In both cases, the book value could be higher than simple assets minus liabilities would show.

For these reasons, you should always look at other valuation metrics that deal with factors outside book value.

A company that is viable and growing will always be worth more than its book value because of its ability to create earnings and growth.

Other Vital Values for Investors

You won't want to jump in with both feet on an investment until you have a firm grasp of many other aspects of a stock's value. Here are a few other common terms you might want to look into and make sure you understand:

Key Takeaways

  • Book value is a measure of a company's net worth. It is the assets minus the liabilities.
  • You can use it to assess a company's value in relation to its total available shares and price per share.
  • It's important to evaluate book value along with other metrics before you decide whether a stock is a good choice for you to invest your money.