The Balance Sheet Deserves Investor Attention
The balance sheet provides important information for investors, but has been neglected on Wall Street in recent years. Studying the balance sheet can show how much capital is invested in the business, reveal the company's financial strength, detail its capital structure, check the validity of reported earnings, and analyze income sources.
Book Value Has Limitations But Still Matters
The book value per share, calculated as total tangible assets minus liabilities and senior securities divided by shares outstanding, used to be seen as indicating a stock's "value." This is no longer the case as fixed asset values on the balance sheet are often arbitrary and bear little relation to earnings power or sale value. However, extreme disparities between book value and market price are still noteworthy and deserve investor attention.
Financial vs. Business Mindset
Wall Street focuses on market price, while a business person would value a company based on its assets/capitalization. Investors should keep a "business mindset" and consider what valuation their purchase price implies for the whole company, and whether this is reasonable compared to the tangible assets/capital invested. Extremely high or low valuations relative to book value should give pause.
Book Value Alone Not Determinative
While cheapness relative to book value suggests a margin of safety and expensiveness raises a caution flag, book value alone should not dictate investment decisions. Market prices based on earnings power have validity, as do "intangible" assets like brands and organizational strength. The investor should simply have a rationale for the relationship between price paid and net assets acquired.