Retained Earnings


  • What is Retained Earnings? 
  • Components of Retained Earnings 
  • How to Calculate Retained Earnings
  • Significance of Retained Earnings in Business Growth  
  • Retained Earnings on the Balance Sheet
  • Retained Earnings Policy  

What is Retained Earnings? 

The concept of retained earnings revolves around the idea of the profits an entity decides to keep and reinvest into its own operations rather than distributing them to its shareholders as dividends. These earnings accumulate over time, reflecting the net income the entity has generated since its establishment, minus any dividends paid out. 

Retained earnings serve as a flexible pool of funds that the entity can utilise for various purposes, depending on its needs and strategic goals. These purposes may include financing expansion initiatives, supporting research and development efforts, reducing debt obligations, or establishing a financial buffer to weather unforeseen challenges. 

Under the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) framework, particularly AASB 101, retained earnings are a key component of an entity’s equity, reflecting profits that have been reinvested in the entity rather than distributed as dividends 

It’s crucial to understand that a positive balance in retained earnings signifies that the entity has been consistently profitable over its operational history. Conversely, a negative balance, often termed as an accumulated deficit, indicates that the entity has experienced more losses than profits over time. 

However, it’s essential to recognise that a sizable retained earnings balance alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a financially sound entity. While it may suggest profitability, the entity could be holding onto excess cash instead of using it to pursue growth opportunities or address existing debts.  

Therefore, while retained earnings are a vital measure of an entity’s financial performance, they must be assessed in conjunction with other financial indicators to gauge the entity’s overall health and sustainability. 

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Components of Retained Earnings 

Retained earnings, for an entity, consist of four main components: 

Last years reserves

These are the accumulated profits from previous years that have not been distributed to shareholders. They are carried forward and form the base for calculating the current year’s retained earnings.

Profit after tax (PAT)

Retained earnings tend to increase when an entity generates high profits after tax. This portion of the profit is retained within the entity for various uses. 


After paying taxes, entities often distribute a portion of their profits to shareholders as dividends. The remaining amount, after setting aside dividends, contributes to retained earnings and is available for reinvestment within the entity. 


While depreciation is a non-cash expense, it impacts the entity’s profitability. Although it doesn’t directly affect cash flow, it’s accounted for in the profit and loss statement, ultimately influencing the retained earnings.

AASB 108 plays a crucial role in how entities adjust retained earnings for prior period errors and changes in accounting policies.  

Similarly, AASB 112 Income Taxes affects retained earnings through its guidance on accounting for income taxes, which directly impacts the Profit After Tax (PAT) component 

It is the responsibility of the entity to utilise retained earnings wisely and effectively. Here are several ways in which the entity may choose to invest these earnings: 

Reducing debt

By using retained earnings to pay off debts, the entity decreases its liabilities. This makes the entity more attractive to investors, as lower liabilities imply reduced financial risk.

Purchasing fixed assets

Investing in fixed assets, such as equipment or property, enables the entity to expand its operations and potentially increase profits in the long run. 

Making investments

Entities can use retained earnings to invest in various financial instruments like bonds, stocks, or mutual funds. Additionally, they may consider funding start-ups or real estate ventures. Another option is buying back its own stock, which can increase the value of existing shares.

Maintaining liquidity

Retained earnings can also be kept as liquid cash reserves. This ensures that the entity is prepared to seize investment opportunities or handle unexpected expenses that may arise throughout the year.

By carefully considering these investment options, the entity can strategically utilise its retained earnings to foster growth, increase shareholder value, and strengthen its financial position. 

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How to Calculate Retained Earnings 

The calculation of retained earnings follows a simple formula, tracking changes over a specific period for the entity. It begins with the retained earnings balance at the start of that period. Then, it adds the net income (or loss) generated during that time and subtracts any dividends distributed to shareholders. 

Mathematically, it appears as: 

Retained Earnings = Beginning Retained Earnings + Net Income/Loss – Dividends 

This formula provides a snapshot of how the entity’s retained earnings have evolved during the specified timeframe. It’s important to note that net income represents the amount left after deducting expenses from revenues, while dividends signify the portion of earnings paid out to shareholders. 

Thus, this calculation offers insight into how much of the entity’s earnings have been retained and reinvested into its operations versus distributed to shareholders as dividends over the period. 

Significance of Retained Earnings in Business Growth 

Calculating retained earnings is a valuable method for forecasting cash flow and establishing an annual budget for an entity. Any fluctuations in net income directly impact the retained earnings balance. This includes both increases and decreases in net income, providing insight into the entity’s profitability and its ability to reinvest in itself. Reinvestments funded by retained earnings contribute to future profit growth. 

When an entity has negative retained earnings, indicating an accumulated deficit, it signifies that the entity has accumulated more debt than earned profits. This situation may raise concerns about the entity’s financial stability. 

Investors are typically attracted to financially stable entities that demonstrate consistent profitability and offer steady dividends. Such evidence not only attracts more investors but also contributes to the growth and accumulation of wealth over time. The effective utilisation of retained earnings further demonstrates how the entity is expanding its operations and potential for future success. 

For publicly traded entities, maintaining shareholder confidence and investment is crucial. A balanced approach of distributing dividends and reinvesting retained earnings helps retain shareholder interest and confidence in the entity’s performance. 

For small or new entities, retained earnings play a pivotal role in attracting new investors. The ability to provide dividends, even for a new entity, can pleasantly surprise investors and enhance their confidence in the entity’s potential for growth and profitability. 

Reinvestment Policy

Retained Earnings on the Balance Sheet 

On the balance sheet of an entity, retained earnings are categorised under the shareholders’ equity section. They are presented in accordance with AASB 101, which requires a statement of changes in equity to disclose movements in retained earnings among other equity components 

Essentially, it represents what shareholders would hypothetically receive if all assets were sold off and all debts were settled. Retained earnings, alongside common stock and additional paid in capital, constitute the primary components of shareholders’ equity. 

The balance sheet offers a snapshot of the entity’s financial position at a specific moment, displaying its assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity. The figure for retained earnings on the balance sheet reflects the entity’s accumulated net income, after accounting for dividends, since its inception.  

This figure is a pivotal indicator of the entity’s capacity to generate profits and enhance value for shareholders over time. 

To interpret the retained earnings figure on the balance sheet effectively, one must grasp its context. A substantial retained earnings balance might suggest an entity that has consistently generated profits and chosen to reinvest them back into the business, hinting at robust growth potential.  

Conversely, a low or negative retained earnings balance could imply an entity that has struggled to turn a profit or one that has distributed a significant portion of its profits as dividends. 

Nevertheless, it’s crucial not to analyse the retained earnings figure in isolation. Other financial indicators and the entity’s overall financial performance must also be taken into account. For instance, an entity with high retained earnings but substantial debt levels may not be as financially robust as it appears.  

Similarly, an entity with modest retained earnings but strong cash flow could still present a promising investment opportunity. 

Impact on Financial Ratios

Retained earnings exert a significant influence on various financial ratios used to assess an entity’s financial health. These ratios enable comparisons between entities or track an entity’s performance over time.  

Notably, retained earnings affect the return on equity (ROE) ratio, which measures net income against shareholders’ equity. An increase in retained earnings boosts shareholders’ equity, potentially enhancing the ROE ratio and making the entity more appealing to investors. 

Impact on Credit Rating

Retained earnings also play a pivotal role in determining an entity’s credit rating, which gauges its ability to repay debts. Entities with substantial retained earnings typically possess a stronger financial foundation, increasing their capacity for debt repayment.  

Consequently, a high level of retained earnings may lead to a higher credit rating, facilitating easier access to financing and potentially lower interest rates on loans. This underscores the profound impact of retained earnings on an entity’s financial position and its potential for growth and expansion. 

Retained Earnings Policy 

An entity’s retained earnings policy is a fundamental component of its financial strategy, dictating the allocation of its net income between retention within the business and distribution to shareholders as dividends. This policy significantly influences the entity’s financial well-being and growth potential. 

Strategic Decision Making

Deciding whether to retain earnings or distribute them as dividends is a strategic choice influenced by several factors. These factors include the entity’s financial position, growth prospects, and shareholder preferences.  

For instance, an entity with robust growth opportunities might opt to retain a substantial portion of earnings to fund future expansion. Conversely, an entity with limited growth prospects may lean towards distributing a higher proportion of earnings as dividends to provide immediate returns to shareholders. 

Dividend Policy

A pivotal aspect of the retained earnings policy is the dividend policy, which determines the portion of net income allocated to shareholders as dividends. This policy is crucial for shareholders as dividends offer an immediate return on their investment. However, it’s essential to recognise that dividends aren’t the sole means of providing returns to shareholders.  

Retained earnings can also enhance shareholder value by increasing the entity’s share price. Hence, the dividend policy must strike a balance between distributing dividends and retaining earnings for future growth. 

Reinvestment Policy

Another significant facet of the retained earnings policy is the reinvestment policy, which governs the proportion of net income reinvested back into the business. This decision is pivotal for management as reinvestment fuels future growth and profit enhancement. Nevertheless, reinvestment entails risk, as there’s no guarantee of generating returns on the reinvested earnings.  

Therefore, the reinvestment policy must be carefully balanced with the objective of providing returns to shareholders through dividends. 

This article is general information only and does not provide advice to address your personal circumstances. To make an informed decision you should contact an appropriately qualified professional.