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Retained earnings

Learn how to calculate retained earnings and what they mean for your business

Retained earnings are the amount of profit a company has left over after paying all its direct costs, indirect costs, income taxes and its dividends to shareholders. This represents the portion of the company’s equity that can be used, for instance, to invest in new equipment, R&D, and marketing.

When accumulated year after year, retained earnings are known as “accumulated profits.”

“Year after year, retained earnings are added to the balance sheet and become part of the company’s equity with the money that was initially invested by shareholders,” says François-Xavier Lemay, Manager, Business Centre, BDC. “That’s what creates the value of the business.”

How are retained earnings calculated?

Let’s take the example of a cosmetics company with \$10 million in sales.

Several elements are then subtracted:

 Variable or direct costs (e.g. inventory, salary of staff working on goods sold, electricity consumed to manufacture the products) \$4 million Fixed or indirect costs (rent, insurance, marketing, telecommunications, training, salary of administrative personnel) \$5.4 million Taxes \$100,000 Net profit \$500,000 Dividends \$100,000

The formula for calculating retained earnings is:

 Sales (\$10M) - Variable costs (\$4M) - Fixed costs (\$5.4M) - Taxes (\$100,000) = Net profit (500,000) - Dividends (\$100,000) = Retained earnings (\$400,000)

“We would then add the \$400,000 as retained earnings to the shareholders’ equity of the company’s balance sheet,” Lemay says.

Where are retained earnings indicated in financial statements?

Retained earnings appear in the shareholders’ equity section of the balance sheet.

In most financial statements, there is an entire section allocated to the calculation of retained earnings.

For smaller businesses, the calculation of retained earnings can be found on the income statement, as shown below.

What is the relationship between net profit, dividends and retained earnings?

Net profit is the profit a company has left over after all the variable costs, fixed costs and taxes have been paid.

In the example above, the net profit would be calculated as follows:

 Sales (\$10M) - Variable costs (\$4M) - Fixed costs (\$5.4M) - Taxes (\$100,000) = Net profit (\$500,000)

To obtain the retained earnings, the dividends are subtracted from the net profit.

 Net profit (\$500,000) - Dividends (\$100,000) = Retained earnings (\$400,000)

How are retained earnings analyzed?

Keep in mind that banks look at retained earnings before they make a loan to a company.

“A bank looks at the company’s debt-to-equity ratio to assess the risk,” Lemay says. “Banks will generally lend about three or four times what the company has in terms of equity, a major component of which is retained earnings.”

Using the example above, the company has \$400,000 in retained earnings, so it can expect to get an increase in borrowing capacity of \$1.2 or \$1.6 million to speed up its growth.

“Owners could not take out \$500,000 in dividends from the company and then turn around and go to a bank and ask for \$1 million,” Lemay says. “If you need a loan for a project, you have to leave money in the business in order to reduce the risk for the bank. As an entrepreneur, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!”