Is Retained Earnings An Asset? | The Impact On Your Business

Jasmine Black
5 min read
Is Retained Earnings An Asset? | The Impact On Your Business

Whether you’re a business owner, financial manager, or investor, understanding financial and income statements can be challenging due to their complexity, unfamiliar terms, or specialized language. This can be especially true when it comes to retained earnings.

Typically found under the equity section of your balance sheet, retained earnings are, essentially, the earnings your company didn’t distribute as dividends. Instead, the company reinvested these earnings in the business or kept them as a buffer against unexpected financial changes. But is retained earnings an asset?

This uncertainty can cause confusion. Misinterpreting what this number represents or thinking of it as a conventional asset means you’re missing out on a critical assessment of your business’s financial stability. This could lead to serious financial blunders like overlooking an investment opportunity, miscalculating equity dividends, or incorrectly estimating your company’s worth.

A good understanding of retained earnings will help you make sense of your balance sheet and enable informed decision-making and sustained growth for your business. Keep reading for a detailed look at retained earnings, including how they differ from assets, their role in your company’s financial health, and how to invest your retained earnings to make the most of them.

What Are Retained Earnings?

Retained earnings are part of your company’s net profits. They’re the portion you choose not to distribute as dividends to shareholders. Instead, you put them back into the business by reinvesting or retaining these earnings for future use as a sort of “rainy day” fund.

Retained earnings evolve throughout an accounting period as profits roll in and you pay business expenses. Each time you close an accounting period, you add the net income from that period to your existing retained earnings balance. Any dividends you’ve paid to shareholders come out of this balance.

What’s left over is the total of your retained earnings. You’ll then record this on your balance sheet and your statement of retained earnings. This is like taking a financial snapshot of your profits and where you allocated them.

Retained Earnings Vs. Assets: Main Differences

Although both reflect one company’s financial health, retained earnings and assets differ from one another. Business assets, whether tangible like buildings and equipment or intangible like patents or trademarks, represent the resources your business owns. These contribute to your company’s productivity, profitability, and overall value.

Retained earnings are not assets but a category of shareholder’s equity. They’re the portion of the company’s net income your business kept or “retained” rather than paid out as dividends. These are earnings you reinvest into the business to help fuel future growth or reserve in the face of opportunities or downturns. Unlike assets, retained earnings are the capital that successful business operations generate and keep for the company’s long-term strength.

Let’s consider a retained earnings example:

Start with your initial total, in this case, $100,000. Add the net income for the year, which is $60,000. Then, subtract any dividends you gave out this year, or $20,000 in this scenario. Your retained earnings figure for the year would be $140,000.

So, the formula is:

Initial Retained Earnings ($100,000) + Net Income ($60,000) - Dividends ($20,000) = Updated Retained Earnings ($140,000).

The Role Of Retained Earnings In Financial Health

Retained earnings serve as an indicator of your business’s financial well-being. They’re not just a record of the money flowing in and out but a look at your company’s strategic financial decisions and long-term economic resilience.

Your retained earnings balance sheet is a record of accumulated earnings. It provides a glimpse into your company’s strategic reinvestment history. Is positive cash flow being funneled back into your business effectively for future growth? Or is your company distributing most of its income as dividend payouts?

A high level of retained earnings typically suggests a potentially high value for shareholders. It shows the business owners have maintained a robust growth strategy.

How Retained Earnings Reflect Company Performance

When a company’s balance sheet shows high retained earnings at the end of an accounting cycle, it’s often a sign of solid financial management and successful reinvestment strategies. It suggests that you put surplus income back into the company wisely, contributing to its sustainable stability and creating opportunities for future growth.

Factors Influencing Retained Earnings

Several factors can influence retained earnings, with profitability and dividend policy being two key drivers.

Impact Of Profitability And Net Income

Profitability and net income are significant factors impacting retained earnings. Net income represents all of your revenue minus your total expenses. And your total expenses include both direct costs like the price of raw materials or labor and indirect costs like overhead, along with any capital expenditures like equipment upgrades or infrastructure improvements.

The more positive cash flow your company has and the higher its net income in the current period, the more resources it will have to either reinvest in the business or distribute as cash dividends. Both of these, of course, affect the volume of its retained earnings.

Dividend Policies And Their Effect On Retained Earnings

The way your company management sets dividend policies impacts the retained earnings. Dividend policies dictate how your company distributes earnings back to its investors. Though some shareholders may prefer larger dividend payouts, paying high dividends may not be the best way to deliver value. Long-term "buy and hold" investors may wish to see that money reinvested in the company.

Companies with large cash outflows that distribute a large portion of their earnings to keep shareholders happy leave less for the company's growth. But those that opt for low or no dividend payments and no share buybacks of common stock keep more earnings within the business.

As a result, these businesses typically show higher retained earnings. This approach allows them to reinvest retained earnings into their company or keep them as a buffer for future market uncertainties or unexpected growth opportunities.

How To Use Retained Earnings For Strategic Investments

Retained earnings offer a flexible financial resource you can harness for various strategic decisions. You can use them to fund reinvestments in your business, such as upgrading networks or production plants, investing in research and development, or exploring potential mergers and acquisitions.

Beyond reinvestment, you can also distribute retained earnings as equity dividends, rewarding your shareholders and helping retain them. You can finance growth initiatives and cover operating expenses without having to turn to external funding like loans. This reduces your dependency on outside sources and helps avoid interest expenses.

How To Assess The Impact Of Retained Earnings On Your Business

Evaluating the impact of retained earnings on your business is a matter of careful observation and analysis and should always play a critical role in your financial reporting. By tracking changes in your retained earnings balance from one accounting period to the next, you can get a snapshot of how effectively your company uses its earnings and how the business is evolving.

A consistent increase in retained earnings could indicate that your business is managing its finances well and is capable of making healthy profits. On the other hand, a downward trend might show a potential issue, such as heavy dividend payouts or difficulties in maintaining profitability. By examining these trends, you can get a clearer picture of your business’s financial health and adjust accordingly.

The Relationship Between Retained Earnings And Shareholder Value

Your retained earnings and shareholder value are closely linked. You can reinvest your retained earnings into your business to drive growth or distribute them to your shareholders as dividends. Each approach boosts shareholder value differently.

By reinvesting earnings, you’re fueling business growth and potential future profitability. This move could boost your company’s stock price, rewarding your shareholders with long-term appreciation. On the other hand, distributing earnings as dividends offers shareholders an immediate, tangible return on their investment, which may increase their perceived value.

Consider how to use retained earnings according to your specific situation. Each business is different. Let your company’s financial health and strategic goals guide your decisions. Only this way, you can strike a balance and sustainably uphold your stakeholders’ interests.

Leverage Retained Earnings For Business Success

You can use retained earnings to reward shareholders with dividends, inject capital into the growth of your business, or hang on to them to act as a safety net against financial downturns. Whatever you choose, retained earnings will serve as a key barometer of your company’s financial health.

Knowledge about the dynamics and details of retained earnings can be a powerful tool for strategic decision-making. But, like most components of financial statements, you shouldn’t analyze retained earnings on their own. They’re a piece of a larger financial puzzle that provides a comprehensive picture of your company’s financial well-being.

By understanding the context and trends surrounding retained earnings and how they interact with other aspects of your financial statements, you’ll be better able to navigate your business toward continued success and sustainability.

Experience the power of AI Accounting & Bookkeeping for
your business in our interactive demo!
Start Exploring Zeni
Let's Get Your 2024 Budget Right!
Schedule Your Free Consultation
Hire A Fractional CFO
Not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed? Just want someone to take this off your plate?

Secure a free 1:1 session with Zeni’s Fractional CFO
Schedule a Free Call