In finance and business, equity refers to the ownership stake that individuals or entities have in a company.

It can be understood as the residual value of a company’s assets after all its liabilities have been settled.

In simpler terms, equity represents the remaining funds that would be available if the company were to liquidate its assets and pay off all its debts.

This ownership interest serves as a metric for assessing the financial position of a company and acts as a protective measure for creditors.

Equity grants shareholders a claim to the company’s assets and entitles them to a portion of the profits, as well as voting rights in corporate matters.

Shareholders’ Equity

Shareholders’ equity is one of the most common forms of equity and represents the amount of money that a company’s shareholders have invested in the business.

Shareholder’s equity includes the value of any stocks, bonds, or other securities that the company has issued and any retained earnings that it has accumulated over time.

Shareholders’ equity consists of two primary components: contributed capital and retained earnings:

Contributed Capital: Represents the amount invested by the shareholders into the company, usually in the form of common stock or preferred stock. It is the initial capital provided by shareholders to start or expand the business.

Retained Earnings: Retained earnings are the accumulated profits earned by the company that has not been distributed to shareholders as dividends. It includes net income, minus any dividends paid, and is typically reinvested in the business to fuel growth or used to pay off debts.

How Shareholders’ Equity Works

Equity works by providing investors with a stake in a company’s assets and earnings potential.

The stake can be held either directly, through the ownership of a company’s stocks or other securities, or indirectly, through investment vehicles like mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Shareholders’ equity is an important factor for investors and creditors when assessing the overall value and stability of a company.

A higher equity balance indicates that the company has more assets than liabilities, which implies better financial stability.

In addition to providing ownership rights, equity also enables shareholders to participate in the company’s decision-making process.

Shareholders can exercise voting rights to elect the board of directors, approve major business decisions, and have a say in other matters that impact the company.

The Formula for Shareholders’ Equity

The formula for calculating shareholders’ equity is simple: 

Shareholders’ Equity = Total Assets – Total Liabilities 

This formula takes into account all of the assets that a company owns and all of the liabilities that it owes to others, including loans, accounts payable, and accrued expenses.

Types of Equity

Equity can take many different forms, depending on the context in which it is being used. Here are the main types of equity structures:

  • Common Stock: Common stock is the most basic type of equity, representing the basic ownership interest in a company and granting voting rights to shareholders.
  • Preferred Stock: Provides certain preferences over common stock, such as a fixed dividend rate or priority in receiving assets during liquidation. Preferred stock is another type of equity that gives investors priority over common shareholders in terms of dividends and other payouts.
  • Treasury Stock: Refers to the shares of a company’s own stock that it has repurchased and is holding in its treasury. These shares are not considered outstanding.
  • Stock Options: Offer employees the right to purchase company shares at a predetermined price within a specified period. It is a common form of equity-based compensation.

Equity FAQ

  • Why is equity important in finance?

Equity provides a measure of financial stability, ownership rights, and potential for capital appreciation for shareholders.

  • How is equity different from debt?

Equity represents ownership, whereas debt refers to borrowed funds that need to be repaid with interest.

  • Can equity be negative?

Yes, equity can be negative in certain circumstances. When a company’s liabilities exceed its assets, it results in negative equity, which is often referred to as a deficit or accumulated losses. This situation indicates that the company has incurred significant losses or has a high level of debt that surpasses its asset value. Negative equity can be a cause for concern as it signifies financial distress and reduces the shareholders’ claim on the company’s assets.

  • How does equity impact the valuation of a company?

Equity plays a significant role in determining the valuation of a company. The higher the equity value, the more valuable the company is considered to be. Investors and analysts often use financial ratios like price-to-book ratio (P/B ratio) to assess the valuation of a company based on its equity. A higher P/B ratio indicates that the market values the company’s assets and future earnings potential more favorably.

  • Can equity be diluted?

Yes, equity can be diluted when a company issues additional shares, either through a secondary offering or by converting convertible securities such as stock options or convertible bonds. Dilution occurs because the existing shareholders’ ownership percentage decreases when new shares are introduced into the market, which can impact the earnings per share and the overall value of existing shares.

  • How can companies increase their shareholders’ equity?

Companies can increase shareholders’ equity through:

  1. Generating Profits: Increasing net income and retaining a portion of the earnings can contribute to retained earnings, thereby boosting shareholders’ equity.
  2. Issuing Additional Equity: Companies can raise capital by issuing new shares, either to the public or through private placements, which increases contributed capital and subsequently shareholders’ equity.
  3. Decreasing Liabilities: Paying off debts or reducing liabilities will increase the difference between total assets and total liabilities, resulting in higher shareholders’ equity.
  4. Revaluation of Assets: If the value of the company’s assets appreciates, either due to market conditions or an internal revaluation process, it can lead to an increase in shareholders’ equity.