In accounting and finance, equity is the residual claim or interest of the most junior class of investors in assets, after all liabilities are paid. If valuations placed on assets do not exceed liabilities, negative equity exists. In an accounting context, Shareholders’ equity (or stockholders’ equity, shareholders’ funds, shareholders’ capital or similar terms) represents the remaining interest in assets of a company, spread among individual shareholders of common or preferred stock.
At the start of a business, owners put some funding into the business to finance operations. This creates a liability on the business in the shape of capital as the business is a separate entity from its owners. Businesses can be considered to be, for accounting purposes, sums of liabilities and assets; this is the accounting equation. After liabilities have been accounted for, the positive remainder is deemed the owner’s interest in the business.
This definition is helpful in understanding the liquidation process in case of bankruptcy. At first, all the secured creditors are paid against proceeds from assets. Afterward, a series of creditors, ranked in priority sequence, have the next claim/right on the residual proceeds. Ownership equity is the last or residual claim against assets, paid only after all other creditors are paid. In such cases where even creditors could not get enough money to pay their bills, nothing is left over to reimburse owners’ equity. Thus owners’ equity is reduced to zero. Ownership equity is also known as risk capital, liable capital or simply, equity.
An equity investment generally refers to the buying and holding of shares of stock on a stock market by individuals and firms in anticipation of income from dividends and capital gains, as the value of the stock rises. It may also refer to the acquisition of equity (ownership) participation in a private (unlisted) company or a startup company. When the investment is in infant companies, it is referred to as venture capital investing and is generally understood to be higher risk than investment in listed going-concern situations.
The equities held by private individuals are often held via mutual funds or other forms of collective investment scheme, many of which have quoted prices that are listed in financial newspapers or magazines; the mutual funds are typically managed by prominent fund management firms, such as Schroders, Fidelity Investments or The Vanguard Group. Such holdings allow individual investors to obtain the diversification of the fund(s) and to obtain the skill of the professional fund managers in charge of the fund(s). An alternative, which is usually employed by large private investors and pension funds, is to hold shares directly; in the institutional environment many clients who own portfolios have what are called segregated funds, as opposed to or in addition to the pooled mutual fund alternatives.
A calculation can be made to assess whether an equity is over or underpriced, compared with a long-term government bond. This is called the Yield Gap or Yield Ratio. It is the ratio of the dividend yield of an equity and that of the long-term bond.
When the owners are shareholders, the interest can be called shareholders’ equity; the accounting remains the same, and it is ownership equity spread out among shareholders. If all shareholders are in one and the same class, they share equally in ownership equity from all perspectives. However, shareholders may allow different priority ranking among themselves by the use of share classes and options. This complicates both analysis for stock valuation and accounting.
The individual investor is interested not only in the total changes to equity, but also in the increase / decrease in the value of his own personal share of the equity.
Real estate equity
Individuals can also use market valuations to calculate equity in real estate. An owner refers to his or her equity in a property as the difference between the market price of a property and the liability attached to the property (mortgage or home equity loan).