Shareholders’ Equity

The shareholders’ claim on assets after all debts owed are paid up

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What is Shareholders’ Equity?

Shareholders’ equity refers to the owners’ claim on the assets of a company after debts have been settled. It is also known as share capital, and it has two components. The first is the money invested in the company through common or preferred shares and other investments made after the initial payment. The second is the retained earnings, which includes net earnings that have not been distributed to shareholders over the years.

Shareholders' Equity

Shareholders’ equity can also be calculated by taking the company’s total assets less the total liabilities. The account demonstrates what the company did with its capital investments and profits earned during the period.

It also reflects a company’s dividend policy by showing its decision to pay profits earned as dividends to shareholders or reinvest the profits back into the company. On the balance sheet, shareholders’ equity is broken up into three items – common shares, preferred shares, and retained earnings.


  • Shareholders’ equity is the shareholders’ claim on assets after all debts owed are paid up.
  • It is calculated by taking the total assets minus total liabilities.
  • Shareholders’ equity determines the returns generated by a business compared to the total amount invested in the company.

Understanding Shareholders’ Equity

The shareholders’ equity can either be negative or positive. A negative shareholders’ equity means that shareholders will have nothing left when assets are liquidated and used to pay all debts owed. On the other hand, positive shareholder equity shows that the company’s assets have grown to exceed the total liabilities, meaning that the company has enough assets to meet any liabilities that may arise.

Investors are wary of companies with negative shareholder equity since such companies are considered risky to invest in, and shareholders may not get a return on their investment if the condition persists. For example, if the assets are liquidated in a negative shareholder equity situation, all assets will be insufficient to pay all of the debt, and shareholders will walk away with nothing. Shareholders’ equity can help to compare the total amount invested in the company versus the returns generated by the company during a specific period.

When calculating the shareholders’ equity, all the information needed is available on the balance sheet – on the assets and liabilities side. The total assets value is calculated by finding the sum of the current and non-current assets.

Current assets are the assets that can be quickly converted into cash, usually in less than a year, and may include assets such as accounts receivable, stock, and cash. Non-current assets are the long-term assets that will generate benefits for more than a year and include buildings, trademarks, vehicles, etc.

On the other hand, liabilities are the total of current liabilities (short-term liabilities) and long-term liabilities. Current liability comprises debts that require repayment within one year, while long-term liabilities are liabilities whose repayment is due beyond one year.

How to Calculate Shareholders’ Equity

Shareholders’ equity is the owner’s claim when assets are liquidated and debts are paid up. It can be calculated using the following two formulas:

Formula 1:

Shareholders’ Equity = Total Assets – Total Liabilities

The above formula is known as the basic accounting equation, and it is relatively easy to use. Take the sum of all assets in the balance sheet and deduct the value of all liabilities. Total assets are the total of current assets, such as marketable securities and prepayments, and long-term assets, such as machinery and fixtures. Total liabilities are obtained by adding current liabilities and long-term liabilities.

All the values are available on a company’s balance sheet. What remains after deducting total liabilities from the total assets is the value that shareholders would get if the assets were liquidated and all debts were paid up.

Formula 2:

Shareholders’ Equity = Share Capital + Retained Earnings – Treasury Stock

The share capital method is sometimes known as the investor’s equation. The above formula sums the retained earnings of the business and the share capital and subtracts the treasury shares. Retained earnings are the sum of the company’s cumulative earnings after paying dividends, and it appears in the shareholders’ equity section in the balance sheet.

Treasury stocks are repurchased shares of the company that are held for potential resale to investors. It is the difference between shares offered for subscription and outstanding shares of a company.

Return on Equity

Return on equity is a measure that analysts use to determine how effectively a company uses equity to generate a profit. It is obtained by taking the net income of the business divided by the shareholders’ equity. Net income is the total revenue minus expenses and taxes that a company generates during a specific period.

Examining the return on equity of a company over several years shows the trend in earnings growth of a company. For example, if a company reports a return on equity of 12% for several years, it is a good indication that it can continue to reinvest and grow 12% into the future.


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