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Net asset value is the value of an entity's assets minus the value of its liabilities, often in relation to open-end or mutual funds, since shares of such funds registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are redeemed at their net asset value. This may also be the same as the book value or the equity value of a business. Net asset value may represent the value of the total equity, or it may be divided by the number of shares outstanding held by investors, thereby representing the net asset value per share.
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Net asset value is most commonly used in the context of open-end funds. Shares and interests in such funds are not traded between investors, but are issued by the fund to each new investor and redeemed by the fund when an investor withdraws. A fund will issue and redeem shares and interests at a price calculated by reference to the NAV of the fund, with the intention that new investors receive a fair proportion of the fund and redeeming investors receive a fair proportion of the fund's value in cash.
For example, if a fund has a NAV of $200 million and 1 million shares in issue on a certain day, the "NAV per share"—the price at which shares are issued—is $200. A person investing $40 million on that day will therefore be given 200,000 shares. Immediately following his investment the total NAV of the fund will be $240 million, as the new investor's cash becomes part of the fund and is available for investment by the fund. The investor will then be entitled to 1/6 of whatever the fund's value is when he withdraws his investment, if in the meantime his 1/6 ownership is not altered by any further withdrawals or investments to the fund.
The valuation of the assets and liabilities of an open-ended fund is therefore very important to investors. If the NAV in the above example had, with the same assets, been calculated as $160 million (and the NAV per share as $160), the investor would have been given 250,000 shares and would become entitled to 1/5 of the fund's value.
In contrast, closed-end funds are traded in the open market between investors and so the price of shares or interests in a closed-end fund will be whatever the parties agree it to be, which may not correspond to the fund's NAV. Publicly traded shares in such funds generally trade at a price below NAV.
The NAV of a collective investment scheme (such as a U.S. mutual fund or a hedge fund) is calculated by reference to the total value of the fund's portfolio (its assets) less its accrued liabilities (money owed to lending banks, fees owed to investment managers and service providers and other liabilities).
Turning to operating companies as opposed to investment companies (mutual funds), in determining whether shares in a public company are a cheap or expensive investment, one tool used by investors is a comparison of the company's current market capitalization (being the price at which the market values the company) with its NAV. The NAV may be below the market price for the following reasons:
A company's market value will not always be greater than its NAV. For example, analysts and management estimated that Liberty Media Corporation was trading for 30-50% below its net asset value (or "core asset value") in June 2007. Where a company's market value is lower than its NAV, it may be considered more profitable to wind the company down and sell off its assets individually rather than continue to run it as a going concern.
In contrast to fund valuation, the assets of a company will generally be valued for the purpose of a NAV calculation using the book value, the historical cost or the amortised cost of the company's assets, or an appropriate combination of the three.
Real estate investment trusts
NAV is one of the valuation indices of real estate investment trusts (REITs, pronounced "Reets"). NAV is normally quoted "per investment unit" where the value is divided by the number of total outstanding investment units. In simple terms, NAV is an adjusted net asset value reflecting the market values of real estate properties held by an investment corporation. The degree of premium/discount on individual investment unit prices relative to the per-unit NAV serves as the yardstick for assessment. The NAV index is synonymous to the adjusted price-to-book ratio in which factors such as unrealized losses/gains of owned properties and brand values are reflected. News companies such as PropertyMall typically report on a REITs NAV when the company reports it.
Variable insurance and variable annuity contracts
Variable universal life insurance policies and variable annuity contracts often are structured somewhat similar to mutual funds, and they may vary in value as securities and markets fluctuate. Typically, these insurance or annuity products issue "units" of ownership to policyholders/annuitants in exchange for their investment—similar to shares of a mutual fund. Also similar to a fund, the assets, liabilities and net assets of these product entities are valued periodically resulting in an asset unit value or AUV or UAV per share, which is similar to NAV for a fund.