What is Fair Value?

Legal Definition
In accounting and economics, fair value is a rational and unbiased estimate of the potential market price of a good, service, or asset. It takes into account such objective factors as:

  • acquisition/production/distribution costs, replacement costs, or costs of close substitutes
  • actual utility at a given level of development of social productive capability
  • supply vs. demand

and subjective factors such as


In accounting, fair value is used as a certainty of the market value of an asset (or liability) for which a market price cannot be determined (usually because there is no established market for the asset). Under US GAAP (FAS 157), fair value is the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date. This is used for assets whose carrying value is based on mark-to-market valuations; for assets carried at historical cost, the fair value of the asset is not used. One example of where fair value is an issue is a college kitchen with a cost of $2 million which was built five years ago. If the owners wanted to put a fair value measurement on the kitchen it would be a subjective estimate because there is no active market for such items or items similar to this one. In another example, if ABC Corporation purchased a two-acre tract of land in 1980 for $1 million, then a historical-cost financial statement would still record the land at $1 million on ABC’s balance sheet. If XYZ purchased a similar two-acre tract of land in 2005 for $2 million, then XYZ would report an asset of $2 million on its balance sheet. Even if the two pieces of land were virtually identical, ABC would report an asset with one-half the value of XYZ’s land; historical cost is unable to identify that the two items are similar. This problem is compounded when numerous assets and liabilities are reported at historical cost, leading to a balance sheet that may be greatly undervalued. If, however, ABC and XYZ reported financial information using fair-value accounting, then both would report an asset of $2 million. The fair-value balance sheet provides information for investors who are interested in the current value of assets and liabilities, not the historical cost.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
the value that a seller will sell an item for a and a value the buyer is willing to pay.