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 financial metric is 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 the book value of equity per share (BVPS).

Key Takeaways

  • Shareholders' equity represents the net worth of a company, which is the amount that would be returned to shareholders if a company's total assets were liquidated and all of its debts repaid. 
  • This financial metric is frequently used by analysts to determine a company's general financial health. 
  • 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. 

How to Calculate Shareholders' Equity

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. 

Shareholders’ Equity=Total Assets  Total Liabilities\text{Shareholders' Equity}=\text{Total Assets }-\text{ Total Liabilities}Shareholders’ Equity=Total Assets  Total Liabilities

Total assets can be categorized as either current or non-current assets. Current assets are those that can be converted to cash within a year, such as accounts receivable and inventory. Long-term assets are those that cannot be converted to cash or consumed within a year, such as real estate properties, manufacturing plants, equipment, and intangible items like patents.

Total liabilities consist of current liabilities and long-term liabilities. Current liabilities are debts that are due for repayment within one year, such as accounts payable and taxes payable. Long-term liabilities are obligations that are due for repayment in periods beyond one year, including bonds payable, leases, and pension obligations.

Although shareholders' equity most often represents the amount of financing a company experiences through common and preferred shares, it can also be calculated by subtracting the value of treasury shares from a company's share capital and retained earnings.

Example of Shareholders' Equity Calculation

Consider the following actual balance sheet for Bank of America Corporation (BAC), taken from their annual 10K statement (see below). As of December 31, 2017, Bank of America had total assets of $2.281234 trillion and total liabilities of $2.014088 trillion. So, at the time, Bank of America's total shareholders' equity was $267.146 billion ($2.281234 in assets - $2.014088 in (liabilities), as shown in the green line item. Above that entry, that number is broken down by preferred stock, common stock, retained earnings, and accumulated other comprehensive income.

Shareholders' equity can also be calculated by simply adding up those figures. Case in point: $22.323 billion + $138.089 billion + $113.816billion – $7.082 billion = $267.146 billion.

What Insight Does Shareholders' Equity Provide?

Shareholders' equity can be either negative or positive. If it's in positive territory, the company has sufficient assets to cover its liabilities. If it's negative, its liabilities exceed assets, which may deter investors, who view such companies as risky investments. But shareholders' equity isn't the sole indicator of a company's financial health. Hence, it should be paired with other metrics to obtain a more holistic picture of an organization's standing.