Return on Investment (ROI)

The benefit from investing in a certain resource

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What is Return on Investment (ROI)?

Return on Investment (ROI) is a performance measure used to evaluate the returns of an investment or to compare the relative efficiency of different investments. ROI measures the return on an investment relative to the cost of the investment.

The Return on Investment (ROI) formula:

Return on Investment Formula

Where “Gain from Investment” refers to the amount of profit generated from the sale of the investment or the increase in value of the investment regardless of whether it is sold or not.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Breaking Down Return on Investment

Return on Investment is a very popular financial metric due to the fact that it is a simple formula that can be used to assess the profitability of an investment. ROI is easy to calculate and can be applied to all kinds of investments.

Return on investment helps investors to determine which investment opportunities are most preferable or attractive.

For example, let us consider Investment A and Investment B, each with a cost of $100. These two investments are risk-free (cash flows are guaranteed) and the cash flows are $500 for Investment A and $400 for Investment B next year.

Calculating the Return on Investment for both Investments A and B would give us an indication of which investment is better. In this case, the ROI for Investment A is ($500-$100)/($100) = 400%, and the ROI for Investment B is ($400-$100)/($100) = 300%. In this situation, Investment A would be a more favorable investment.

Clearing Up Confusion: Return on Investment

1. Due to the fact that Return on Investment is expressed as a percentage (%) and not as a dollar amount, it can clear up confusion that may exist in merely looking at dollar value returns.

For example, Investor A made $200 investing in options and Investor B made $50,000 investing in new condominiums. If only this information is given, you may assume that Investor B holds the better investment.

However, let us continue the example by assuming Investor A incurred costs of $50 and Investor B incurred costs of $40,000 to attain the respective $200 and $50,000 profits. These additional facts illustrate that the dollar value of return bears no significance without considering the cost of the investment. In this example, the return on investment for Investor A is ($200-$50)/($50) = 300%, while the ROI for Investor B is ($50,000-$40,000)/($40,000) = 25%. Therefore, Investor A actually holds the better investment.

2. The time horizon must also be considered when you want to compare the ROI of two investments.

For example, assume that Investment A has an ROI of 20% over a three-year time span while Investment B has an ROI of 10% over a one-year time span. If you were to compare these two investments, you must make sure the time horizon is the same. The multi-year investment must be adjusted to the same time horizon as the one-year investment. To arrive at an average annual return, follow the steps below.

Changing a multi-year ROI into an annualized year formula: 

Multi-year ROI Formula


x = Annualized return

T = Time horizon

For Investment A with a return of 20% over a three-year time span, the annualized return is:

x = Annualized

T = 3 years

reTherefore, (1+x)3 – 1 = 20%

Solving for x gives us an annualized ROI of 6.2659%. This is less than Investment B’s annual return of 10%.

To check if the annualized return is correct, assume the initial cost of an investment is $20. After 3 years, $20 x 1.062659 x 1.062659 x 1.062659 = $24

ROI = (24 – 20) / (20) = 0.2 = 20%.

Common Mistakes in Calculating ROI

ROI can be used for any type of investment. The only variation in investments that must be considered is how costs and profits are accounted for. Below are two examples of how return on investment can be commonly miscalculated.

  • Stocks: Investors commonly fail to incorporate transaction costs and dividend payouts into the ROI of stocks. Transaction costs are a cost to your investment, while dividend payouts are a gain to your investment. The investor must take into account both the transaction cost and dividend gain to get an accurate return calculation. If this is not done, then the ROI would be misrepresented.
  • Real Estate: Investors commonly fail to incorporate rental income, taxes, insurance, and upkeep in the return on investment calculation of real estate. Rental income is a gain to your investment, while taxes, insurance, and upkeep are costs to your investment.

It is important to account for all costs and gains of your investment throughout its entire lifespan, instead of merely taking the ending investment value and dividing it by initial cost.

ROI Calculator in Excel

Download CFI’s free ROI Calculator in Excel to perform your own analysis.  The calculator uses the examples explained above and is designed so that you can easily input your own numbers and see what the output is under different scenarios.

The calculator covers four different methods of calculating ROI: net income, capital gain, total return, and annualized return.

ROI Calculator - Free Download Excel File

The best way to learn the difference between each of the four approaches is to input different numbers and scenarios and see what happens to the results.

Download the Free Template

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The Importance of ROI

Return on Investment, one of the most used profitability ratios, is a simple formula that measures the gain or loss from an investment relative to the cost of the investment.

ROI is expressed as a percentage and is commonly used in making financial decisions, comparing companies’ profitability, and comparing the efficiency of different investments.

Video Explanation of Return on Investment (ROI)

Watch this short video to quickly understand the main concepts covered in this guide, including the formula for calculating ROI and the reasons why ROI is a useful metric to look at.

Other Resources

CFI is a global provider of financial modeling courses and financial analyst certification. To learn more about evaluating investments, see the following additional CFI resources:

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