The book value of a company is the aggregate amount of all line items reported within the stockholders' equity section of its most recent balance sheet. If all assets were to be liquidated at their book values and used to pay off the stated amount of liabilities, this would be the residual amount of cash remaining.
The book value of a company may vary substantially from its market value, which is usually higher. A third party could pay substantially more than book value for a business, because it could obtain many additional benefits than just those stated on the balance sheet. For example:
- The value of a company's brand names
- The value of a company's intellectual property
- The value of a company's intangible assets
- The value of a company's early positioning in a valuable market
- The value of a company's distribution network
In some cases a company may sell for less than its book value. This can happen when assets are overstated on the balance sheet, or when there is a "fire sale" situation in which there are few buyers making competing offers for the business.