Return on Equity – ROE Definition

Return on Equity – ROE Definition

Return on equity (ROE) is a measure of financial performance calculated by dividing net income by shareholders’ equity. Because shareholders’ equity is equal to a company’s assets minus its debt, ROE is considered the return on net assets.


ROE is considered a measure of how effectively management is using a company’s assets to create profits. Preferred stock, common stock, additional paid‐in‐capital, retained earnings, and treasury stock are all reported on the balance sheet in the stockholders’ equity section. Information regarding the par value, authorized shares, issued shares, and outstanding shares must be disclosed for each type of stock. If a company has preferred stock, it is listed first in the stockholders’ equity section due to its preference in dividends and during liquidation. Net income over the last full fiscal year, or trailing 12 months, is found on the income statement—a sum of financial activity over that period.


It is important to note that, just like ROE, ROCE can easily be overstated. Suppose that a company chooses to pursue an NPV-positive opportunity and funds the project with debt capital. The project pays off and the company sees its net income figure rise. In this scenario, ROCE would increase by a fair margin since the amount of outstanding common equity has not changed, but net income has increased.

A good rule of thumb is to target an ROE that is equal to or just above the average for the peer group. For example, assume a company, TechCo, has maintained a steady ROE of 18% over the last few years compared to the average of its peers, which was 15%.

However, calculating a single company’s return on equity rarely tells you much about the comparative value of the stock, since the average ROE fluctuates significantly between industries. From a creditor’s point of view, a high proportion of stockholders’ equity is desirable. A high equity ratio indicates the existence of a large protective buffer for creditors in the event a company suffers a loss. However, from an owner’s point of view, a high proportion of stockholders’ equity may or may not be desirable.

For example, if a company has $12 million in assets and $7 million in liabilities, the company has $5 million in common stockholders’ equity. Common stockholders’ equity consists of a company’s share capital and retained earnings minus its treasury stock. Share capital refers to the money a company received for shares initially sold. For example, if a company sold 1 million shares at $10 each, it has $10 million in share capital, no matter the current stock price.


The balance sheet shows a company’s financial position only at a single point in time at the end an accounting period. To determine the approximate level of shareholders’ equity the company held throughout an accounting period, you must calculate its average shareholders’ equity between two periods. A higher average shareholders’ equity is typically better for shareholders.

An investor could conclude that TechCo’s management is above average at using the company’s assets to create profits. Relatively high or low ROE ratios will vary significantly from one industry group or sector to another. When used to evaluate one company to another similar company, the comparison will be more meaningful.

If the business can use borrowed funds to generate income in excess of the net after-tax cost of the interest on such funds, a lower percentage of stockholders’ equity may be desirable. If a company issues common shares or reduces its dividend payments during a particular reporting period, the average equity would increase. This would mean a lower ROE, assuming that the net income stays the same.

  • Shareholders’ equity is also used to determine the value of ratios, such as the debt-to-equity ratio (D/E), return on equity (ROE), and thebook value of equity per share (BVPS).
  • Shareholders’ equity represents the net worth of a company, which is the dollar amount that would be returned to shareholders if a company’s total assets were liquidated, and all of its debts were repaid.

Investors use ROE in combination with other financial ratios to analyze and compare different companies in an industry. If a company has preferred shares outstanding, you would subtract preferred dividends from net income to get the net income attributable to shareholders. Average common equity is the average of the starting and ending common stockholders’ equity for a reporting period, which is usually a quarter or a year. Shareholders’ equity is the residual value of a company’s assets if the company were to pay off its debts, and represents its shareholders’ total stake in the company. A company reports shareholders’ equity on its balance sheet, which is one of its financial statements.

Who Gets Paid: Bondholders or Stockholders?

All that is required is to restate all prior calculations of EPS using the increased number of shares. For example, assume a company reported EPS for the year as $1.20 (or $120,000/100,000 shares) and earned $120,000 of net income during the year. The only change in common stock was a two-for-one stock split on December 1, which doubled the shares outstanding to 200,000. To compute the weighted-average number of common shares outstanding, we weight the change in the number of common shares by the portion of the year that those shares were outstanding. Shares are outstanding only during those periods that the related capital investment is available to produce income.

However, the rise in net income was not due to management’s effective use of equity capital. Stockholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of a business from total assets or as the sum of share capital and retained earnings minus treasury shares.

The retained earnings add the amount of profit held by the company because it represents money added to the value of the company. Treasury stock refers to shares repurchased by the company, so they are not currently owned by common shareholders.

Shareholders’ Equity

We should point out, however, that too low a percentage of stockholders’ equity (too much debt) has its dangers. Financial leverage magnifies losses per share as well as Earnings Per Share (EPS) since there are fewer shares of stock over which to spread the losses. As a result, the company may be forced into liquidation, and the stockholders could lose their entire investments. In terms of assessing management’s use of equity capital, analysts and investors should exercise caution in using the ROCE ratio.

Shareholders’ equity represents the net worth of a company, which is the dollar amount that would be returned to shareholders if a company’s total assets were liquidated, and all of its debts were repaid. Typically listed on a company’s balance sheet, this financialmetricis commonly used by analysts to determine a company’s overall fiscal health. Shareholders’ equity is also used to determine the value of ratios, such as the debt-to-equity ratio (D/E), return on equity (ROE), and thebook value of equity per share (BVPS). Return on common stockholders’ equity, commonly known as return on equity or ROE, measures a company’s ability to generate a return on the investment of common stockholders. ROE is the ratio of net income to average common equity and numerous economic factors can affect the ROE including changes in net income and fluctuations in equity.

Share buybacks are, as their names suggest, shares that were bought back by the corporation. Return on Equity (ROE) is a measure of a company’s profitability that takes a company’s annual return (net income) divided by the value of its total shareholders’ equity (i.e. 12%). ROE combines the income statement and the balance sheet as the net income or profit is compared to the shareholders’ equity.

A common shortcut for investors is to consider a return on equity near the long-term average of the S&P 500 (14%) as an acceptable ratio and anything less than 10% as poor. By following the formula, the return XYZ’s management earned on shareholder equity was 10.47%.

Shareholders’ equity comes from the balance sheet—a running balance of a company’s entire history of changes in assets and liabilities. Shareholders’ equity is equal to assets minus liabilities or share capital plus retained earnings minus share buybacks.

The easiest way to calculate common stockholders’ equity from a company’s balance sheet is to subtract the company’s assets from its liabilities. A company’s assets include property the company owns, cash in its accounts and money it is owed. A company’s liabilities include long-term debt, expenses and accounts payable.

Shareholders’ equity may be calculated by subtracting itstotal liabilities from its total assets–both of which are itemized on a company’s balance sheet. Shareholders’ equity may be calculated by subtracting its total liabilities from its total assets, both of which are itemized on a company’s balance sheet. One of the most important profitability metrics for investors is a company’s return on equity (ROE). Return on equity reveals how much after-tax income a company earned in comparison to the total amount of shareholder equity found on the balance sheet. Such shares do not increase the capital invested in the business and, therefore, do not affect income.