UK Accounting Glossary
Accumulated past profits, not distributed in dividends, available to finance investment in assets.
In accounting, retained earnings are profits that were not paid to a company’s shareholders as dividends.
They are reported in the ownership equity section of a firm’s balance sheet. The decision of whether a firm should retain profits or disburse them as dividends depends on at least two things: the firm’s judgement of its own investment opportunities relative to those available in the market and any difference in tax treatment of dividends paid now and capital gains expected to result from investing retained earnings.
Retained earnings are accumulated earnings that have not been distributed to shareholders but rather reinvested in the business. Put simply, the net income a company earns, less the dividends it pays, is the net addition to retained earnings for the accounting period. A company’s retained earnings are disclosed at or near the bottom of the shareholder’s equity section of the balance sheet. Accountants may prepare a separate “statement of retained earnings” that shows the change in retained earnings during the accounting period; however, the statement of retained earnings is often combined with the income statement. Retained earnings may be appropriated for specific purposes (like bond payments) or unappropriated; only unappropriated retained earnings are available to be distributed as dividends. An appropriation of retained earnings may be disclosed on the balance sheet or in the footnotes to the financial statements. Note, however, that an appropriation of retained earnings does not imply that the amount is held and segregated as cash.
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This glossary post was last updated: 23rd December 2018.