Paper Wealth

Amount of money a person or business owns as determined by the value of their listed assets.

Author: Josh Pupkin
Josh Pupkin
Josh Pupkin
Private Equity | Investment Banking

Josh has extensive experience private equity, business development, and investment banking. Josh started his career working as an investment banking analyst for Barclays before transitioning to a private equity role Neuberger Berman. Currently, Josh is an Associate in the Strategic Finance Group of Accordion Partners, a management consulting firm which advises on, executes, and implements value creation initiatives and 100 day plans for Private Equity-backed companies and their financial sponsors.

Josh graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and is currently an MBA candidate at Duke University Fuqua School of Business with a concentration in Corporate Strategy.

Reviewed By: Elliot Meade
Elliot Meade
Elliot Meade
Private Equity | Investment Banking

Elliot currently works as a Private Equity Associate at Greenridge Investment Partners, a middle market fund based in Austin, TX. He was previously an Analyst in Piper Jaffray's Leveraged Finance group, working across all industry verticals on LBOs, acquisition financings, refinancings, and recapitalizations. Prior to Piper Jaffray, he spent 2 years at Citi in the Leveraged Finance Credit Portfolio group focused on origination and ongoing credit monitoring of outstanding loans and was also a member of the Columbia recruiting committee for the Investment Banking Division for incoming summer and full-time analysts.

Elliot has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Columbia University.

Last Updated:October 14, 2023

What is Paper Wealth?

Paper wealth is the amount of money a person or business owns as determined by the value of their listed assets. In other terms, it is an estimated measure of worth, calculated as the money that might be made when an individual or business sells its assets.

The concept is straightforward, but it has a convoluted financial history. Simply put, it is a value that has been promised but not yet delivered. Typically backed by some asset, this value may be very different from the item items worth, which is the price paid for it when sold.

The value of a person or a business as determined by the assets listed on paper is referred to as "paper" wealth." It "refers to wealth as expressed in monetary terms, as seen by asset values, or as the possible selling price of one's possessions.

As a result, this is an estimated indicator of wealth, calculated as the potential cash generated from the sale of an entity's resources. Compared to realized profits, this is less concrete, referring to the value of one asset.

Example of Paper Wealth

Several entities own items or assets that go up and down in value but may be worth more than they cost.

Example 1: Your apartment, a priceless collection of baseball cards, or even a closely-held firm you own. 

Assuming someone sold a similar collection of baseball cards for $80,000, your group has an equal value on paper. Despite being backed by a physical asset, this is only paper riches; the value represents what it might be worth if everything goes your way. 

The true worth, however, is what someone would be willing to pay for the house or card collection if you urgently needed money.

What about your stock investment value as of now? That $100,000 portfolio might only be worth $86,000 or $90,000 if the market experiences a negative shock.

Example 2: Let's say one owns a house, and its assessed value rises (relative to the overall cost level, i.e., more than inflation). At that point, one's paper wealth has increased since the asset has increased in value, which means it will, theoretically, be sold for more money. 

However, one's natural wealth has not changed because the actual resource is still the same house. The phrase "get wealthy on paper" refers to one's financial situation "as an accounting matter"; while the figures on a balance sheet may have changed, the natural world has not.

It differs from "real" or "actual" wealth, which refers to the value of a person's or organization's tangible assets. The expression is widely used in discussions about finances, incredibly personal or business finances.

Can Paper Wealth Make You a Millionaire?

A person with a high net worth due to the substantial market value of their assets is known as a "pape" millionaire." 

The majority of the time, this phenomenon happens when investors purchase marketable assets brought up to significantly higher prices on the open market.

Even though this generates a lot of wealth for the "pape" millionaire", it "is typically not secure until these holdings are sold, and the profits are locked in. Without liquidation, a decline in the market might wipe out the gains.

Paper millionaires are frequently transient. They can only reach millionaire status by adding up their theoretical digital net worth, for example, based on the current market value of their securities and assets.

Paper millionaires should be distinct from actual millionaires, typically defined as having more than $1 million in cash on hand. It is because the assets or securities whose values increased sufficiently to result in the "mill" Bonaire" sta" us could just as quickly see a decrease in value.

Actual millionaires, who often have more than $1 million in cash in the bank rather than in securities or other non-liquid investments, are not the same as paper millionaires. 

Many paper billionaires invested in Internet businesses during the dot-com bubble in the 1990s when their valuations surged. Many gained millions of dollars. These people were regarded as "paper" millionaires" if "they did not sell their shares for cash.

Many paper millionaires saw their purse strings burst wide as the valuation of Internet companies continued to rise, including individual investors, venture capitalists, and employees with stock options. 

Despite having very little money in the bank, none of these investors' shares was sold in the market. They would have become a "pape" millionaire," on" the brokerage statement.

How Is Paper Money Different From Paper Wealth?

A piece of paper currency will represent a specific face value. It serves as a means of exchange for trading, charitable giving, and other businesses. For a better understanding of paper currency, let us walk you through its evolution.

Thousands of years ago, people used the barter trading system to get any commodity they needed. It involved trading a thing for another. Weapons, metals, fabrics, animal skins, and food items were all acceptable exchange items.

Due to the difficulties in comparing one item value to another and the requirement that each party has something the other wants (the coincidence of desires), this proved ineffective. For instance, when trying to trade for specific amounts of maize or rice, it might be challenging to determine the value of wooden logs.

Due to the high demand for precious metals like gold and silver, various societies gradually began using them as a form of commerce. The Lydian Kings made the first coins in 600 BC and are credited with creating money.

Gold, silver, and copper coins became various communities' primary means of trade. In addition to burdening carriers with their weight, it began to cause a shortage of metals. This difficulty started to be solved by promissory notes. The Song Dynasty oversaw the introduction of paper money in China. Silver or gold served as the notes' backing.

After more than 500 years, paper notes appeared in Europe when the renowned traveller Marco Polo mentioned their presence in China. The paper notes continued to function as commodity money until 1971, backed by the value of either gold or silver. 

Paper money, often known as banknotes or fiat cash, first appeared in the 19th century. Some examples are a dollar, a euro, a peso, etc.

The majority of today's money is fiat money. Fiat money is legal tender because a nation's government supports it. Commodity money was equal to the value of the material it constructed. Fiat money lacks this kind of inherent value.

Paper Wealth vs. “Real” or Actual Wealth

Real or actual wealth, the value of the tangible assets at a person's or organization's disposal, is distinct from paper wealth. The phrase is frequently used in talks concerning finances, particularly those of a person or business.

On the other hand, paper wealth refers to wealth that only exists on paper and is not physically objective. The term is frequently used negatively. The wealth of an entity on paper is heavily related to accounting.

The idea refers to a financial asset rather than a genuine asset. In contrast to real or actual wealth, which is based on tangible - or physical - assets, it often refers to intangible assets.

The value is approximative and unrealized. Many people and businesses fall into the paper riches trap. Although the assets listed appear to be worth a specific amount on paper, the actual holdings in possession may not add up to that number.

Wealthy people and businesses are aware of these pitfalls and steer clear of them by investing in assets that increase in value over time, produce wealth, and expand in value. 

When people or companies fall victim to the "paper" wealth trap," they" frequently find that their money is invested in non-wealth-producing obligations, like mortgages and delayed revenue.

Investing in income-generating assets such as commercial real estate, apartment complexes that generate monthly rent, and other assets that generate income is a wise strategy to avoid falling into the trap. People in their later years who are nearing or have already entered retirement may find substantial assets important.

Investing in material goods, such as commodities like gold and silver, can also be an intelligent decision. It is frequently possible to accumulate wealth over time thanks to these investments. If one keeps holding assets in unprofitable stocks and other liabilities, their wealth will only decline.

Paper Wealth Trap

Asset price inflation or deflation occurs when an asset's aggregate (nominal) value is changed due to inflation/deflation. It means that the buying power of the owner does not increase.

Many people and businesses fall victim to the paper abundance trap. On paper, it appears that the resources logged are worth a certain amount, but the tangible assets are not worth the same amount.

Wealthy people and companies are aware of these pitfalls and steer clear of them by investing in assets that grow and add value over time, creating true wealth. Because of this, paper wealth does not "come" from" or "go to" anyone; instead, values merely increase or decrease. 

A frequent misconception is "where" did the money go? "It" specifically questions when a stock market disaster or a price bubble bursts.

A more colourful way of saying this is "a lot" of the money goes to money-heaven." Falling prey to the trap typically results in people and businesses having money invested in non-value-adding obligations like mortgages, postponed revenues, etc.

When referring to riches that only exist on paper and are not physically present, the term "paper" wealth" is "frequently used as a derogatory term. The time is related to the wealth calculated by accountants.

It has some mocking connotations, suggesting that something is "only" rich on paper (yet not in reality), while it can also be used neutrally to denote "(essentially) as an accounting matter." The "abundance of wealth on paper is typically thought of as a financial rather than a natural resource.

In other words, it typically refers to intangible assets, whereas real or actual wealth is built on tangible or physical support.

Wealth Effect

Paper wealth is typically an accounting issue; one's overall asset value is their bookkeeping value, less their bookkeeping obligations. Various bookkeeping methods exist for different assets and liabilities, producing different ideas of total assets; some forms are considerably more unstable than others. 

An intelligent way to avoid falling into the "paper" wealth trap" is "to invest in income-generating assets, such as commercial real estate, apartment buildings with monthly rent, and other assets that generate money. Another smart move is to consider investing in tangible goods like gold and silver. 

Mainstream economics attributes the wealth effect as a factor in economic cycles, although some heterodox schools relate it to price bubbles. 

Such hypotheses frequently enable wealth creation and the gradual expansion of its control. A person only sets themselves up for their abundance to collapse by leaving interests in non-profitable stocks and various liabilities.

The wealth effect, which states that people are more likely to spend more when their wealth increases and less when it decreases, is the most well-known consequence of this "fake" wealth.

Less frequently, increases in general paper wealth are seen as signs of cost bubbles and irrational increases in price levels. Crucially, there is no way to know whether paper riches will ever be undertaken.

Think of an individual who has been saving up their prized sports memorabilia collection for years, confident that its worth will increase with time. If the sports memorabilia collector owns memorabilia valued at $10,000, it is merely paper wealth. 

Sports memorabilia is the asset on which the assessment is based. Still, no one has offered the individual to exchange the sports memorabilia for $10,000, so the appraisal value is still unrealized.

Paper Wealth FAQs

Researched and authored by Drishti Kohli | LinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

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