The Shareholders’ Equity Definition is one of the three primary components of the balance sheet: assets, liabilities, shareholders’ (or owners’) equity. These three components comprise the well-known accounting equation of assets = liabilities + shareholders’ equity. This equation is important when beginning to think about what shareholders’ equity means for a business.
The owners’ equity category includes two things: investments into the company and retained earnings from each period. The investments can be from when the company launched and from later points in time. The important part is recording the investment under the shareholders’ equity section on the balance sheet. These two combine to fill the gap between the value of a company’s assets and liabilities. Using this logic, you can see how it is equally important to know the value of your assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity. If any component is incomplete or inaccurate, the financials will not be complete.
For example Company A started with a $100,000 investment from the sole owner. In the beginning, the owner’s equity account is equivalent to the owner’s investment. After one year of business, the company has $60,000 in net profit. The owner decides to pay $10,000 in dividends and sends the other $50,000 to retained earnings. Thus, the owner’s equity account grew by the same amount as the retained earnings for that period.
When discussing shareholders’ equity, it makes a difference whether the company is private/public or mature/startup. Private companies often use separate terms for things like stocks, owners’ equity, and dividends. Public companies have more regulations and shareholders to please, so the financials of public companies usually look different than those of a private company. It is important to know whether a company is mature or a startup when looking at the financials. For example, if a startup has a very large retained earnings account under owners’ equity, something is either incorrect or extraordinary. Similarly, if a mature company’s shareholders’ equity is largely composed of owner investments and new partners’ investments, it could represent a struggling business. If the business is not creating enough net profit to reinvest into the company, it would have more owner investments than retained earnings.