What Are Retained Earnings?

What Are Retained Earnings?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

Retained earnings are the portion of a company’s net income that is kept or ‘retained’ by the company rather than being distributed to shareholders as dividends. Essentially, it’s the profit that the company has earned to date, less any dividends or other distributions paid to investors. This money is often reinvested back into the company, used to pay off debts, or kept as reserves for future use.

Related Questions

1. How are Retained Earnings Calculated?

The retained earnings calculation is fairly straightforward. You start with the beginning balance of retained earnings from the prior period, add your net income (or subtract your net loss), then subtract any dividends paid out during the current period. The formula is: Beginning Retained Earnings + Net Income – Dividends = Ending Retained Earnings.

2. What is the difference between Retained Earnings and Reserves?

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While both retained earnings and reserves are forms of profits set aside for use within the business, their purposes differ. Retained earnings refers to all the cumulative net income of the company that is retained within the business since its inception, minus any dividends paid out to shareholders. On the other hand, reserves refer to a portion of profits set aside for a specific purpose, such as contingencies or re-investment into the business.

3. What can a Negative Retained Earnings balance indicate?

Negative retained earnings, also known as an accumulated deficit, can indicate several issues. It could mean that the company has been running at a loss, or it might signal that the company has been issuing more dividends than its net income. This isn’t necessarily bad, as it could also mean that the company is investing heavily for growth. But it’s important to see why the company is in deficit before concluding.

4. Do Retained Earnings Affect Company Value?

Yes, retained earnings do affect a company’s value. The retained earnings account carries the sums of the profits the company reinvests, and these reinvested profits can lead to a growth in earnings, which can increase the company’s value over time. Increasing retained earnings typically corresponds to increased profitability, contributing to a higher valuation.

5. Does a high Retained Earnings balance always signify a successful company?

Not necessarily. A high retained earnings balance doesn’t automatically signify a successful company. It’s possible for a company to have high retained earnings because it isn’t reinvesting enough back into the company, or isn’t paying out sufficient dividends, both of which could reflect poor financial management. Other factors such as the company’s profitability, growth rate, and risk profile must also be taken into account.