Shareholders’ or Stockholders’ equity is the amount you get when you deduct from the assets on hand to shareholders all paid liabilities of the company.  It is computed either as total assets of the company less its entire liabilities; or as an alternative, the total retained earnings and amount of shares constituting the capital less the treasury shares. 

Other terms used for it are “Share Capital” and “Net Worth.”  This term applies to corporations.  For single proprietorship and partnerships, its equivalent is “Capital.”  Technically speaking, shareholders’ equity exists as the amount showing how the business has been funded with the aid of preferred and common shares of stock.  

It is valuable as a way of assessing the funds held by a business.  When its balance figure is a negative amount, it can show a looming bankruptcy for the firm, more so when there, too, is an enormous liability.  This term often denotes the book or net value or worth of the business.


Stockholders’ Equity has two chief sources.  The primary source stays the money initially, and additional cash later put in the business out of share offerings or subscriptions.  The initial funds in the Stockholders’ Equity stand as the Paid-in Capital. The other sources comprise the RE or retained earnings that the company has accumulated over time over its business operations.

There are also other Stockholders’ Equity sources.  An example is when a business owns an affiliate company that transacts business using foreign currency.  Sometimes, a gain is realized in currency conversion, which increases the Stockholders’ Equity balance.  Another source is the company acknowledging an “Unrealized Gains of Securities” when it is waiting to sell. 

On the overall, the universal aspect of these other sources stays that they are unrelated to the core operations of the business.  In the majority of cases, mainly with corporations operating for numerous years, the Balance Sheet shows a Stockholders’ Equity with retained earnings as the most significant element.  

Meanwhile, investors must know that the amount reflected under Stockholders’ Equity is subject to change.  When the Stockholders’ Equity declines, the top reason is always losses on the operation.  Once a firm shows a loss, the net amount remains subtracted from the retained earnings.  Then again, there can be other reasons for the Stockholders’ Equity balance to drop.  

One is due to a declaration to pay dividends to the stockholders.  Another is when the company decides to buy back issued shares of stocks.  These decisions reduce the cash balance on the Statement of Financial Position or Balance Sheet, besides subsequently reducing the Stockholders’ Equity value.  


Generally, Stockholders’ Equity includes the following:

Paid-in Capital

Considered as the primary source of Stockholders’ Equity, Paid-in Capital exists as the money produced by a business after selling company stocks.  These funds often stay as the first source, and over time, companies may opt to sell more stocks, common or preferred shares, to raise funds for various purposes.  

For example, the company might need additional funds for expansion into a foreign market or add a new product line.  When more shares of stock are marketed, the Stockholders’ Equity accordingly builds-up.  

Common Stock

These represent ownership shares in a company and the kind of stock that most persons prefer to buy.  When people mention the word “stocks,” they exist usually talk about common stocks.  The vast bulk of stock issued is always within this form.  These shares symbolize a right to profits, called as dividends, and give voting rights. 

Most often, investors hold one vote for every common stock share owned to pick members of the board who supervise the major pronouncements made by the management group.  Thus, stockholders have the power to exert control over the policies of the corporation and issues on management when compared to the preferred shareholders.

Common stocks lean towards outperforming preferred shares and bonds.  Also, it is the specific stock that offers the biggest makings for long-term profits.  If the company performs well, the common stock value goes up.  On the other hand, if the business does below par, the value of the common stock also goes down.

Still, the common stock share value is controlled by the market participants’ demand and supply.  Meanwhile, note that common stockholders stay the last to be paid if the company folds up.  When this happens, the business goes through the liquidation process, which entails converting company assets into cash, if possible, and paying the creditors, bondholders, preferred shareholders, and finally, the common shareholders.

Preferred Stocks

This type of stock functions like bonds because investors, as a rule, are usually assured of a fixed income in perpetuity when buying preferred stocks.  And this remains different from the common stock shares that hold variable dividends, as stated by the company’s board of directors, as well as never guaranteed. 

In reality, many companies infrequently pay dividends to holders of the common stock.  Also, similar to bonds, preferred stock shares hold a value per share that is modified by interest percentages.  So, when there is an increase in the interest rate, the preferred stock value goes down.  And when the interest rate declines, the preferred stock value goes up.

The main variation between common and preferred stocks is that the latter has no right to vote.  Yet, preferred shareholders are prioritized in the payment of dividends and the liquidation process of the company, as mentioned earlier.  

So, preferred stockholders own a greater right to the assets and profits of a company.  When a company has extra cash and doing pretty well, the board of directors may decide to allocate money to the investors as dividends.  Usually, preferred stockholders get more dividends than common stockholders, besides getting priority in payment.  

Hence, when the company overlooks a dividend disbursement, it is obligated to first pay the arrears to holders of preferred shares before paying the common shareholders.  Perhaps, the downside for preferred stockholders is that the shares they hold have a callback feature.  And this means that the company has the power to buy back their shares after a prearranged time.  

And when this happens, the investors have the real opportunity to have their shares redeemed at a premium rate way above their purchase value.  For this reason, the prices bid up accordingly as the market for this particular shares often expects callbacks.

Retained Earnings

These comprise the secondary principal Stockholders’ Equity source, which results from the accumulated annual profits generated by the company, minus dividend payments.  An example of this is when a firm shows a net income of $10 million in a specific year-end.  

This amount accordingly increases the Stockholders’ Equity appearing on the Statement of Financial Position or Balance Sheet by $10 million.  These returns echo how successful the company has worked on the said period.  Please take note that businesses finance their capital acquisitions with borrowed capital and equity.  

So, if the company has a considerable equity balance and liquid, there is less chance for them to borrow capital.  The retained earnings technically represent profits on the total Stockholders’ Equity that are reinvested into the business.  Thus, it has the potential to accumulate over time, and at some defined point in time, may even exceed the entire contributed equity, making it the core Stockholders’ Equity source.  

Treasury Stocks

These are the reacquired shares of stock repurchased by the company from stockholders.  The result of this transaction decreases the total outstanding shares of stocks in the market.  The treasury shares remain issued, but not outstanding, and therefore, excluded in the distribution of dividends or the computation of EPS or Earnings per Share.

Treasury stock stands as a contra-equity account recorded within the section of the Shareholders’ Equity of the Statement of Financial Position or Balance Sheet.  Since treasury stocks represent the repurchased shares from the market, it brings down the Shareholders’ Equity at the amount disbursed to buy back the stocks.

Aside from exclusion from dividends and EPS calculations, these shares also hold zero voting rights.  The volume of treasury stocks by a company can be restricted by a national regulatory body, which is usually the SEC or Securities and Exchange Commission of the country the company is operating.  

On the other hand, treasury shares of stock can be issued back to investors at any time the company may need more capital.  Also, if the company does not wish to hold on to these shares as a future financing tool, it can always decide to retire these shares.

Information Imparted in the Stockholders’ Equity 

As typical of all numbers, the total amount in the Stockholders’ Equity may be either positive or negative.  If positive, this means that the company has plenty of assets to settle its liabilities.  Otherwise, the liabilities of the company exceed its resources or assets.  If this condition is prolonged, the Balance Sheet shows insolvency or a pending bankruptcy. 

As such, many investors see companies having a negative Stockholders’ Equity balance as risky and unsafe for investments.  In reality, the Stockholders’ Equity section alone is just a tentative indicator of the financial health of the company.  

When the Stockholders’ Equity value is used with other metrics and tools, the investor may still accurately scrutinize the financial health of the organization.  All the info needed to calculate the Stockholders’ Equity of a company is in the Balance Sheet.  

The bottom line is that the Stockholders’ Equity remains a crucial metric in finding out the return generated against the total investment of equity investors.  Ratios are used towards measuring how well the management of the company is employing its equity to generate earnings.  Among these ratios is the ROI, short for Return on Investments.  This ratio is computed by dividing the net income of the company by the amount of Shareholders’ Equity. 


1. What is stockholders' equity?

Stockholders' equity is the portion of a company's balance sheet that represents the shareholders' investment in the company.

2. How is stockholders' equity calculated?

Stockholders' equity is calculated by subtracting a company's liabilities from its assets. It can also be calculated by taking the sum of share capital, retained earnings, and other paid-in capital.

3. What are some examples of stockholders' equity?

Stockholders' equity might include common stock, preferred stock, warrants, and options outstanding.

4. Is stockholders’ equity equal to cash on hand?

No, stockholders' equity is not equal to cash on hand. Stockholders' equity includes a company's assets and liabilities, while cash on hand only represents the company's cash.

5. What is Included in stockholders' equity?

Generally, stockholders’ equity includes the following:

  • Paid-in Capital - considered as the primary source of Stockholders’ Equity, Paid-in Capital exists as the money produced by a business after selling company stocks.

  • Common Stock - this represents the number of shares a company has issued to investors. It also signifies how much ownership an investor has in the company.

  • Preferred Stock - this is a type of stock that usually offers priority rights over common stock holders with respect to dividends and assets in the event of liquidation.

  • Retained Earnings - these are profits earned by the company that have not been paid out as dividends to shareholders. They are usually reinvested back into the company to generate more earnings and increase the value of the stock.

  • Treasury Stocks - these are stocks that the company has repurchased from shareholders.

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