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What is fair value?

Understanding Fair Value in Stock Market

Fair value, in terms of the stock market, can be framed as an estimate of a security’s worth on the open market. It is a critical concept for investors and traders, as it helps them determine whether a stock is undervalued or overvalued, thus driving their investment decisions. However, to fully comprehend this term and how to use it in stock evaluations, we must delve into greater depth.

An Overview of Fair Value

Let’s begin by defining fair value. Essentially, it is a rational and unbiased estimate of the potential market price of a good, service, or asset. It is significant because, in the financial markets, the concept of fair value aligns the price of a security more closely with its intrinsic value, which is considered to be a true reflection of a company’s worth.

This underlying intrinsic value is derived from fundamental analysis, which includes varied aspects like the company’s earnings potential, assets, liabilities, and more. It offers investors in-depth insight into a company, helping them decide if the current market price is reflective of its real value or not.

Role of Fair Value

The role of fair value in the stock market cannot be undermined. It is a tool that provides an estimate of a distinctive balance price for securities such as options contracts, futures contracts, and stocks. Particularly for options and futures contracts, the fair value is extensively used because it helps to highlight the price difference between the spot market, where the security is bought or sold outright, and the futures market.

Calculating the Fair Value

Now, an important aspect – how to compute the fair value? Different models and techniques can be used, with the most common ones being discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis, comparable company analysis (CCA), and precedent transaction analysis.

Discounted Cash Flow Analysis:

Here, the fair value of a company is calculated based on its future cash flows, discounted back to its present value. This offers an intrinsic value for the company that can be compared to the current market value.

Comparable Company Analysis:

Under this method, the valuation and performance metrics of other comparable companies are used to derive the fair value of a company. By comparing similar companies within the same industry or sector, the market value might then either seem overvalued or undervalued.

Precedent Transaction Analysis:

It refers to the method where the prices paid for similar companies in the past are used to determine a value for the current company.

Fair Value: A Double-Edged Sword

Fair value, however, can be a double-edged sword. Since it is based on future cash flows and assumptions about future growth, the fair value of a security could either be overestimated if the growth rates are set to high or underestimated if set too low. Determining fair value is not a perfect science and relies heavily on the accuracy of the predictions made by the analyst or investor using the tool.

Fair Value Investing

The calculation of fair value is an integral part of value investing – an investment strategy based on buying stocks for less than their intrinsic values. Warren Buffett, a renown value investor, often looks to buy stocks that are trading less than their fair value with the belief that they will eventually rise to this level.


In a nutshell, understanding the fair value of a stock is a critical aspect of investment analysis. It presents an estimated ‘right price’ for stocks, serving as a benchmark for investors when making purchasing or selling decisions. However, while using it as a barometer for investment decisions, it is also important to remember the inherent limitations and subjectivity of calculating fair value. Overall, a keen understanding of fair value can enhance not only your stock picking skills but also your wider investment strategy by providing a logical, analytical approach to investment and removing emotion from the decision-making process.