Understanding Intrinsic Value: The Key to Successful Investing

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Contributor, Benzinga
September 22, 2023

Some investors seem to have a knack for finding great deals in the stock market, leaving others wondering how they know when to buy or sell a stock and make a profit. The secret might lie in understanding the concept of intrinsic value, a key aspect of value investing. This article explains intrinsic value, its significance and how to use it to make better investment decisions. 

What is Intrinsic Value?

Intrinsic value is an asset or stock's true or fair value based on fundamental characteristics and prospects, distinct from the market price determined by supply and demand. While market price can fluctuate due to emotions, expectations, news and events, intrinsic value remains constant unless there is a change in underlying performance factors. 

To estimate a stock's intrinsic value, investors analyze the company's earnings and growth potential, competitive advantage and market position, financial strength, stability, dividend policy and payout ratio, management quality and corporate governance, industry trends and outlook and macroeconomic environment and risks. 

Importance of Understanding Intrinsic Value

Understanding intrinsic value is crucial for successful investing because it helps investors:

  • Identify undervalued or overvalued stocks: Investors can determine whether a stock is overvalued (good selling opportunity) or undervalued  (good buying opportunity) by comparing its intrinsic value to its market price. This strategy allows them to make informed decisions and potentially buy low and sell high, which is the essence of investing.
  • Avoid emotional biases: Concentrating on a stock's intrinsic value can help investors steer clear of fear, greed, optimism or pessimism. Such sentiments can hinder their judgment and prompt them to make irrational choices based on market noise or herd mentality.
  • Adopt a long-term perspective: Investors can focus on a company's long-term potential by evaluating its intrinsic value. This approach can help them avoid making hasty decisions based on temporary market fluctuations or short-lived trends.
  • Enhance their confidence and discipline: With a firm grasp of a stock's intrinsic value, investors can make more confident investment decisions and avoid impulsive buying or panic selling.

Example: Applying Intrinsic Value Analysis

A common method to determine a company's intrinsic value is through discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis. To conduct this analysis, the company's future cash flows are projected and discounted back to their present value using a discount rate. The resulting amount represents the company's intrinsic value.

For instance, let's assume an investor is interested in purchasing shares in Company X. After examining the company's financial statements and industry trends, the investor projects that the company will generate $10 million in cash flow each year for the next five years. By applying a discount rate of 10%, the investor computes that the present value of these cash flows is $38 million. This amount is considered Company X's intrinsic value.

If Company X's current stock price is trading below its intrinsic value, the investor may consider purchasing the stock as it could be undervalued. Conversely, if the stock price is trading above its intrinsic value, the investor may consider selling it as it could be overvalued.

How to Calculate Intrinsic Value

There are different methods to calculate the intrinsic value of an investment, such as:

  • Discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis: One way to evaluate an investment is by discounting its future cash flows to their present value with a suitable discount rate. The resulting present value of the cash flows reflects the investment's intrinsic value. This method is most effective for investments that generate consistent and predictable cash flows, such as bonds, stocks or businesses.
  • Dividend discount model (DDM): This method is a variation of the DCF analysis that focuses on the dividends a company pays its shareholders. It uses a relevant discount rate to discount future dividends to their present value. The resulting present value of dividends is indicative of the true value of the company's stock. This method is particularly applicable for investments in companies that offer consistent and increasing dividends, such as established and profitable businesses.
  • Earnings multiple model: This method uses the earnings of a company or an industry to estimate the intrinsic value of a company's stock. It involves calculating the earnings per share (EPS) and multiplying it by a specific multiple, like the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio. The multiple used can be based on the company's historical average, the industry average or the projected growth rate of the company or industry. This method is most effective when comparing companies within the same industry or sector with similar earnings and growth potential.

Factors Influencing Intrinsic Value

The value of an investment is influenced by internal and external factors, including:

Financial Statements

A company's financial statements offer insight into its performance, profitability, liquidity, solvency, efficiency and growth. These statements comprise the income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet and statement of changes in equity. Through examination, investors can gauge a company's financial well-being and potential and determine its inherent worth.

Market Conditions

Market conditions encompass the economic and industry trends that impact a company's operations. These factors include GDP growth, inflation, interest rates, exchange rates, consumer confidence, consumer spending, unemployment, competition, regulation and innovation. Monitoring these elements allows investors to forecast their potential impact on the supply and demand of a company's goods or services and estimate their true value.

Industry trends are the changes and developments that occur in a particular sector or niche where a company operates. These trends involve various factors such as technological advancements, consumer preferences, social movements, environmental issues, ethical standards and legal frameworks. Following these trends can help investors identify potential opportunities and threats that a company might face, as well as estimate its intrinsic value.

Intrinsic Value and Market Risk

The risk of losing money because of fluctuations in the market price of an investment is called market risk. This type of risk is also known as systematic risk or non-diversifiable risk because it affects all investments in the market and cannot be eliminated by diversification.

Intrinsic value and market risk are inversely related. If an investment has a high intrinsic value, then it will have a lower market risk. This relationship is because an investment with a high intrinsic value has a strong fundamental basis and a low probability of losing its value in the long run. On the other hand, an investment with a low intrinsic value has a weak fundamental basis and a high probability of losing its value in the long run.

Investors who understand intrinsic value can reduce their market risk by investing in undervalued stocks with a high safety margin and a low chance of losing money. Conversely, they can avoid investing in overvalued stocks with a low safety margin and a high probability of losing money. 

Options Trading and Intrinsic Value

Options are contracts that allow the buyer to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specific price (the strike price) on or before a particular date (the expiration date), but not necessarily the obligation. The option seller receives a premium from the buyer in exchange for granting this right.

Options trading involves speculating on the direction and extent of an underlying asset's price movements. Options traders can use different strategies to capitalize on various scenarios, such as bullish, bearish, neutral or volatile markets.

Intrinsic value plays a crucial role in options trading since it influences the price and profitability of an option. Intrinsic value is the difference between the market price and the strike price of an underlying asset if the option is in-the-money. An option is in-the-money if it has a positive intrinsic value, meaning exercising it would result in a profit. In contrast, an option is out-of-the-money if it has a negative or zero intrinsic value, meaning exercising it would result in a loss or no gain.

Unlocking Investment Success: The Power of Intrinsic Value

Understanding intrinsic value helps identify undervalued and overvalued stocks, promotes rational decision-making and encourages a long-term perspective. By employing methods like discounted cash flow analysis, dividend discount models and earnings multiples, investors can estimate intrinsic value accurately. This knowledge is a cornerstone of making wise investment decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Is high intrinsic value good?

A

Yes. An asset or stock with high intrinsic value has solid fundamentals and promising future prospects, making it undervalued by the market and a wise purchase.

Q

How to calculate the intrinsic value of a stock?

A

You can use several methods to calculate a stock’s intrinsic value, including discounted cash flow analysis, dividend discount model, earnings multiple model, book value model, asset-based model and relative valuation model.

Q

Why is intrinsic value so important?

A

Understanding intrinsic value is crucial for investors to evaluate the true worth of an asset or stock, identify undervalued or overvalued stocks and make better investment decisions with confidence and discipline. This knowledge can help reduce market risk and create profit opportunities through options trading, while avoiding emotional biases and adopting a long-term perspective.

Anna Yen

About Anna Yen

Anna Yen, CFA is an investment writer with over two decades of professional finance and writing experience in roles within JPMorgan and UBS derivatives, asset management, crypto, and Family Money Map. She specializes in writing about investment topics ranging from traditional asset classes and derivatives to alternatives like cryptocurrency and real estate. Her work has been published on sites like Quicken and the crypto exchange Bybit.