The Complete Guide to Stockholders Equity

The Complete Guide to Stockholders Equity

Deskera Content Team
Deskera Content Team
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

What Is Stockholders' Equity?

Stockholders' equity, also known as shareholders' equity or owner's equity, is the total amount of assets left with the company after deducting all liabilities. It is the assets minus the liabilities.

This metric is important in defining a company's financial health and is especially important for shareholders who have invested in the company. It also gives future investors an idea of the financial risks that the company may run into.

Why? Because, in the case of solvency, the amount that shareholders salvage is from the remaining assets, which is basically the stockholders' equity.

The value of stockholders' equity and the factors that influence it can give financial auditors a good deal of insight into the company's financial performance. We delve into this in detail in this article.

In this article, we cover stockholders' equity in complete detail. We will be discussing:

Understanding Stockholders' Equity

We've covered the definition of Stockholders' Equity: It is the assets remaining after all liabilities have been deducted or settled. But what is the significance of stockholders' equity, to the company, and to shareholders?

Stockholders' equity is derived from two main sources: the first source is the money that is invested into the company through shares sold and the second source is the retained earnings that the company acquired through day-to-day operations. This becomes another way to calculate stockholders' equity: Invested Capital plus Retained Earnings.

Stockholders' equity quantifies the company's ability to pay off all its liabilities. If the value of all assets is more than the liabilities, the stockholders' equity is positive and is indicative of a thriving business. If the value is negative, it means the company does not have enough assets to cover all its liabilities and this is often seen as a red flag by investors.

That being said, stockholders' equity is not the only metric that should be considered when judging a company's financial standpoint, but it is an important metric nonetheless. Understanding how it stockholders' equity and what factors influence it will give you an idea of what other values to check when assessing a company's financial status.

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How to Calculate Stockholders' Equity

Stockholders' equity can be calculated in two ways:

Stockholders' equity = Invested Capital + Retained Earnings


Stockholders' equity = Total Assets − Total Liabilities

The latter is the more commonly used formula. So,

Stockholder’s Equity = Total Assets − Total Liabilities

Understanding the components involved in the formula

Total assets are the sum of all assets on the balance sheet, both current and fixed (long-term) assets. Assets include cash, cash equivalents, land, machinery, inventory, accounts receivable, etc.

Total liabilities are the sum of all liabilities on the balance sheet, both current and fixed (long-term) liabilities. This includes accounts payable, taxes payable, bonds payable, leases, and pension obligations.

Example of Stockholders' Equity

Consider the following balance sheet for company XYZ:

Current Assets  
Cash and cash equivalents 75,000
Marketable securities 35,000
Accounts receivable 30,000
Inventories 125,000
Total current assets 2,65,000
Non-current assets  
Marketable securities 25,000
Property, plant, and equipment 135,000
Other non-current assets 35,000
Total non-current assets 195,000
Total assets 460,000
Current liabilities  
Accounts payable 25,000
Other current liabilities 50,000
Deferred revenue 35,000
Commercial paper 20,000
Term debt 15,000
Total current liabilities 145,000
Non-current liabilities  
Term debt 15,000
Other non-current liabilities 5,000
Total non-current liabilities 20,000
Total liabilities 165,000
Commissions and contingencies  
Common stock and additional paid-in capital 125,000
Retained earnings 170,000

Total assets at the year-end for this company is $460,000 and the total liabilities is $165,000. The stockholders' equity will be:

Stockholder’s Equity = Total Assets−Total Liabilities

Stockholder’s Equity = $460,000 - $165,000 = $295,000

You can also, from that balance sheet, that the formula stockholders' equity = Invested Capital + Retained Earnings also hold true: $125,000 + $170,000 = $295,000

What Influences Stockholders' Equity?

There are three main factors that influence stockholders' equity:

  • Share or Invested Capital – Amount received by the company by transactions with shareholders, for example, by selling shares.
  • Retained Earnings - Amount earned by the company through day-to-day operations.
  • Net Income & Dividends – Both these values affect the retained earnings. Net income increases retained earnings whereas dividends paid to shareholders reduces it.

Invested Capital

Invested capital is the amount raised by the company by selling shares to investors. Or in other words, it is the amount invested by shareholders in the company. Companies can issue shares as either common shares or preferred shares and people can acquire a stake in the company by purchasing these shares. In case of liquidation or when dividends are being disbursed, preferred shareholders receive a payment first followed by holders of common shares.

For example, if a company issues 5,000 shares for $100 each and all shares are sold, the company raises $500,000 as invested or share capital.

Retained Earnings

Retained Earnings are profits left over from the net income that is not divided as dividends among shareholders. This amount is invested back into the business, for reasons like funding working capital, purchasing inventory, debt servicing, etc.

Retained earnings are calculated by adding the starting retained earnings (from the previous year's balance sheet) to the net income or loss and then subtracting dividends paid to shareholders. A complete summary of retained earnings and its calculation is maintained called a statement of retained earnings.

Retained Earnings = Beginning Period Retained Earnings + Net Income/Loss – Cash Dividends – Stock Dividends

Since the retained earnings are available to the company for investments and expenditures, how they spend it is totally up to the company. They can choose to save retained earnings which get added to the next year's balance sheet as Beginning Period Retained Earnings and increase the retained earnings for that year, consequently increasing stockholders' equity.

Net Income and Dividends Paid

The formula for retained earnings is dependant on the net income earned by the company and the dividends the company decides to disburse to shareholders. Both these amounts depend on the company, one on its performance and one on its discretion.

The dividends distributed to shareholders are completely at the discretion of the company. The company has no obligation to pay its shareholders a dividend if it chooses to retain profits for internal business investments and expenditure. The company can thus, influence the stockholders' equity (by small amounts) by tweaking the dividends paid for the year.


Stockholders' equity is not the only number that should be analyzed when performing a financial audit or screening of a company, but it is definitely an important metric.

Stockholders' equity is a value that mainly gives investors an overview of potential risks that the company may be facing financially. For example, a company that has had its stockholders' equity gradually decline over the years is saving fewer assets and spending more on liabilities. This is indicative of bad financial planning and expenditure.

It's important to bear in mind that stockholders' equity is dependent on some factors that can be manipulated by the company, like dividends paid, for example. But refraining from dividends for a year, the company can increase its retained earnings and consequently increase stockholders' equity.

This is why investors should not solely consider the value of stockholders' equity, but also look at how the dependent factors, namely total assets, total liabilities, capital invested, retained earnings, and dividends paid are performing before coming to any conclusion.

Key Takeaways

  • Stockholders' equity represents the amount a company would have in assets after it paid off all its liabilities
  • Stockholders' equity is calculated by deducting all of the company's liabilities (current and fixed) from all its assets (current and fixed)
  • A positive value indicates a financially healthy company - it has assets to cover its liabilities and pay off shareholders in case of solvency. A negative value indicates the company is at risk of going bankrupt
  • Investors should study a company's balance sheet and particularly look at the stockholders' equity value over the years when deciding whether to invest in the company
  • Factors that affect the stockholders' equity are Capital Invested by shareholders (by buying shares) and Retained Earnings (that is dependent on net income and dividends paid)
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