What Is Margin Of Safety?

Margin of safety has two separate meanings, depending on the application. It is used to describe the degree to which sales or security losses may accumulate before having a material impact on a business or investment.

Margin Of Safety In Accounting

Accountants refer to the margin of safety as the difference between estimated sales and the necessary amount of sales required to break even. It is often used in break-even analysis and profitability analysis to identify the level to which sales can decline before having a material impact on the business.

The margin of safety helps to provide management with a measurement of potential risk that could occur as a result of changing demand. Typically, if the margin of safety compared to overall sales is low that is an indicator that expenses need to be managed better.

Margin Of Safety In Investing

Investment professionals refer to the margin of safety as the difference between a stock or securities intrinsic value and its current market price. The intrinsic value is often viewed as the actual value of all assets and liabilities or the present value of future cash flows.

Because it relies on intrinsic value, this makes the margin of safety much more subjective in the field of investing than it does in the field of accounting. When determining the intrinsic value of a security, several assumptions must be made on future sales, expenses, and market conditions that help financial analysts arrive at a present value. 

Why Margin Of Safety Matters In Accounting And Finance

While the margin of safety is used in different ways, both investment professionals and accountants rely on it as a measure of risk. Even its name tells you that it is primarily concerned with providing a degree of comfort.

In accounting, margin of safety is relied upon to indicate the extent sales can dip in a company before it is in trouble. The margin is routinely monitored throughout the fiscal period and if it reduces to certain levels, management should be formulating plans to counteract the loss of sales.

Investment professionals rely on the margin of safety in two ways. One is to determine the level of risk associated with a security at its current market price and the second is to determine if a security is significantly undervalued compared to its intrinsic value.

In both cases, finance professionals can gain an understanding of investor sentiment that might not be reflected in their own financial models. For example, if a security is priced significantly over its intrinsic value then it could be an indicator that it is overvalued, or it could mean that the market is pricing in factors that you have excluded from your valuation analysis.

Both accountants and investors use the margin of safety for the same underlying core principle, to help mitigate the risk of financial losses.

How To Calculate Margin Of Safety

Since investment professionals and accountants use the margin of safety for two separate things, there are two ways to calculate it.

Calculating Margin Of Safety In Accounting

Operational managers often monitor sales volume in terms of dollars. Because of this, it is often calculated in terms of dollars, as shown below:

Margin of Safety = Current Sales – Break Even point

In some cases, the margin of safety is expressed in terms of percentage of sales. This approach demonstrates the percentage of total sales that are considered to be above the break even point.

Margin of Safety = (Current Sales – Break Even point) / Current Sales x 100

Calculating Margin Of Safety In Finance

In order to calculate the margin of safety for investing purposes, you must first calculate the intrinsic value of a security. There are many approaches to doing this, ranging from discounted cash flow models to multiples of EBITDA.

Once the intrinsic value is calculated the margin of safety is a simple formula:

Margin of Safety = Current Market Price (per share) – Intrinsic Value (per share)

In certain cases, the stock price might be trading well below its intrinsic value. This is often associated with what is referred to as “value investing”.

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