Return on Equity ROE Formula, Examples and Guide to ROE

However, it can also mean that a business is in the ramp-up stage, and has used a large amount of funds to create products and infrastructure that will later yield profits. In that case, investors should regard negative returns on shareholders’ equity as a warning sign that the company is not as healthy. For many companies, something as simple as increased competition can eat into returns on equity. If that happens, investors should take notice because the company is facing a problem that’s core to its business.

In addition, the formula is not useful in circumstances where net income or equity is negative. This is because a business with a negative ROE cannot be effectively compared to other businesses in the same industry that have positive ROEs. The image below from CFI’s Financial Analysis Course shows how leverage increases equity returns.

Basics of Return on Equity

If both net income and equity are negative the resulting ratio might be artificially inflated and misleading. This is why the general rule of thumb is to not rely on ROE when net income or equity are applicable. Analyzing ROE further helps to assess whether a very high or low ROE is good or bad. It stands to reason that a high ROE is best, but that might not be the case. Referring to the formula, holding net income equal the lower equity goes the higher the resulting percentage.

Significance of Negative Return on Shareholders Equity

As you can see in the diagram below, the return on equity formula is also a function of a firm’s return on assets (ROA) and the amount of financial leverage it has. While a negative return is rarely desired, it’s sometimes important to determine the causes of a negative return if possible. Most companies actually post a negative return in their early years, due mainly to the significant costs of start-ups, including capital expenditures – investments in equipment and other major assets.


Companies that report losses are more difficult to value than those reporting consistent profits. Any metric that uses net income is nullified as an input when a company reports negative profits. ROE is equal to a fiscal year net income (after preferred stock dividends, before common stock dividends), divided by total equity (excluding preferred shares), expressed as a percentage. Understanding Significance of Negative Return on Shareholders Equity what ROE means and how to use it when comparing companies can help you craft a smart investment strategy. Be mindful of how companies are working to achieve their positive ROE and aim to compare companies within the same industry and sector before deciding where to invest your money. With a little research, you’ll be able to make smart money moves and invest in a company with a good ROE.

  • Finally, the ratio includes some variations on its composition, and there may be some disagreements between analysts.
  • If total liabilities are greater than total assets, the company will have a negative shareholders’ equity.
  • A riskier firm will have a higher cost of capital and a higher cost of equity.