Negative Shareholders Equity | Examples | Buyback | Losses

Updated on April 4, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Negative Shareholders Equity refers to the negative balance of the shareholder’s equity of the company, which arises when the total liabilities of the company are more than value of its total assets during a particular point of time and the reasons for such negative balance includes accumulated losses, large dividend payments, large borrowing for covering accumulated losses etc.

Negative Shareholders Equity

Have a look at Colgate’s Shareholders EquityShareholders EquityShareholder’s equity is the residual interest of the shareholders in the company and is calculated as the difference between Assets and Liabilities. The Shareholders' Equity Statement on the balance sheet details the change in the value of shareholder's equity from the beginning to the end of an accounting more. Its Shareholders’ Equity is Negative.

Is Negative Shareholder’ equity a danger sign, implying investors to stay away from this stock? Negative Shareholder’ equity is, in most cases, due to losses accumulated over the years by the company.

negative shareholders equity

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In this article, we look at negative shareholder’s equity in detail –

What is Negative Shareholder’s Equity?

Let us first go back to the basic accounting equationBasic Accounting EquationAccounting Equation is the primary accounting principle stating that a business's total assets are equivalent to the sum of its liabilities & owner’s capital. This is also known as the Balance Sheet Equation & it forms the basis of the double-entry accounting system. read more. Shareholder’s equity is simply the difference between Assets and Liabilities.

In other words, the amount of capital the proprietor brings in when the business is started. In the case of a company, it is the amount of capital the shareholders subscribe to.

negative shareholders equity - Balance Sheet

As shown above, equity is the portion of the difference between the assets and liabilities. It also includes reserves that are accumulated over some time through profits.

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On the other hand, Negative equity refers to the negative balance of equity share capitalShare CapitalShare capital refers to the funds raised by an organization by issuing the company's initial public offerings, common shares or preference stocks to the public. It appears as the owner's or shareholders' equity on the corporate balance sheet's liability more in the balance sheet. This situation usually happens when the company has incurred losses over a continuous period such that they offset the reserves and equity capital appearing on the balance sheet.

It can happen because of a number of other reasons too. However, the following are the major reasons for negative equityNegative EquityA negative equity balance is one in which the liabilities in shareholder's equity exceed the assets for reasons such as accumulated losses over years, high dividend payments, borrowing money instead of issuing new shares to cover accumulated losses, and amortization of more.

Also, note that negative retained earnings do not necessarily mean that the shareholders have to give money to the company. Under the company laws, shareholders are liable only to the extent of the money they invested in the business.

In the case of negative equity companies, if they liquidate or dissolve, shareholders probably receive nothing in exchange for their initial investment. However, if the company realized more by selling its assets, it may pay shareholders even though there is negative equity.

Negative Shareholders Equity Video


How Does Negative Shareholder’s Equity Occur?

Let me explain this concept to you with the help of an example.

Mr.X wants to start the business of steel coils. He bought $1,00,000 from the bank as a loan and $50,000 as his contribution. Now he purchased assets for establishing the business US$ 25,000 for buying a building and godown and $5,000 for furniture, US$ 60,000 for purchasing steel stocks (inventory). Rest US$ is in Cash. Now, all set, so he went to start the business. His opening balance sheet appears as follows.

Negative Shareholders equity - example 1

So, he eventually started the business, started selling steel. Due to the difficult business environment, the steel prices started to fall, and he could sell his inventory of $60,000 at $35,000, incurring a $25,000.

Additionally, he took an additional loan of $40,000 and bought a stock of $80,000.

Cash Balance = $60,000 (opening) + $35,000 (sale of steel inventory) – $80,000 (new stock) = $55,000

The closing balance sheet is as follows.

Negative Shareholders equity - example 2a

In the above case, Assets- Liabilities is 1,65,000-1,40,000 which is US$ 25,000 whereas Shareholders Equity is 25,000

Now let’s move on.

In the next year 2017, the prices fell further. The stock of US$ 60,000 is sold for only US$ 25,000, at a loss of US$ 35,000.

Reserves and SurplusReserves And SurplusReserves and Surplus is the amount kept aside from the profits that are to be used either for the business or for the shareholders to pay out dividends. Reserves and surplus is reflected under shareholders funds in the balance more = -$25000 – $35000 = -$60000

Total assets, in this case, is US$ 1,30,000, whereas liabilities are US$ 1,40,000, making shareholders equity negative.

Negative Shareholders equity - example 3a

Negative Shareholder’s Equity – Revlon

See the following balance sheet of American Multinational cosmetics company, Revlon incorporation 2013.

Revlon - Negative Shareholders Equity 1

source: Revlon SEC Filings

As you see in the above snapshot, there is a huge amount of negative retained earnings (accumulated deficit) in the Revlon balance sheet, leading to negative total equity. The negative retained earnings are mainly because of consistent losses from its operations, especially the slowdown in its Chinese market.

Revlon’s total assetsTotal AssetsTotal Assets is the sum of a company's current and noncurrent assets. Total assets also equals to the sum of total liabilities and total shareholder funds. Total Assets = Liabilities + Shareholder Equityread more were US$3023 mn, whereas its liabilities were around US$ 3,638 mn resulting in Shareholder’s equity deficit of US$ 614.8 mn.

Negative Shareholder’s Equity – Colgate

Let us now look at Colgate’s Shareholder’s Equity section. First, please note that Colgate is a profitable company with retained earnings of $19.9 billion in 2016.

Yet, its shareholder’s equity is negative due to two reasons –

  1. Treasury Stock – As per its share repurchase plan, Colgate buybacks its shares each year. We note that Colgate has bought $19.13 bn of common stock until 2016.
  2. Accumulated other comprehensive income – This is another reason Colgate’s shareholder’s equity is negative. Each year, other comprehensive losses increase the losses even further. (For details, look at Accumulated other comprehensive income)
Colgate - Treasury Stock - negative shareholders Equity

Consolidated Statement of Changes in Shareholder’s equity provides us with comprehensive details of the Shareholders Equity section. Please see below Colgate’s Consolidated Statement of Changes in EquityStatement Of Changes In EquityStatement of changes in equity is the adjustment of opening and closing balances of equity during a particular reporting period. It explains the connection between a company’s income statement and balance sheet. It also includes all those transactions not captured in these two financial more.

In 2016, Colgate repurchased $1.55 billion worth of common stocks. Also, other comprehensive losses net of taxesNet Of TaxesThe term "net of taxes" refers to the amount remaining after deducting taxes. Net of taxes = Gross amount – Tax amountread more was -$230 million in 2016.

Colgate - negative shareholders Equity

source: Colgate SEC Filings

Negative Shareholder’s Equity – HP

Let us now have a look at the shareholder’s equity section of HP. First, we note that in 2015, HP’s shareholder’s equity was $27.76 billion; in 2016, it turned negative to -$3.88 billion. Why?

HP - Negative Shareholders Equity

source: HP 10K filings

The primary reason HP’s Shareholder’s Equity went negative was changes in Retained Earnings. Please note that HP’s changes in retained earningsRetained EarningsRetained Earnings are defined as the cumulative earnings earned by the company till the date after adjusting for the distribution of the dividend or the other distributions to the investors of the company. It is shown as the part of owner’s equity in the liability side of the balance sheet of the more were not because of losses as HP. HP is profitable and reported Net earnings of $2.49 billion in 2016.

HP’s Shareholder’s Equity turned negative due to its Separation of HP Enterprise that led to the reduction of shareholder’s equity of -$37.2 billion. Additionally, negative shareholders’ equity was further compounded by the cash dividends of $858 million.

HP - Negative Shareholders Equity - reasons

Implications of Negative Shareholders equity

Does Negative Shareholders Equity Imply Zero Market Value?

Just because the equity in the company books is negative, that doesn’t mean that the company share price in the market is zero or available for free. On the contrary, the market price is always positive. This is because they may be well operating in share prices, and shareholders may be purchasing them very well. It is because the market price of equities is not solely dependent on the book values of the company, it depends on the number of factors like company outlook, operating cashOperating CashCash flow from Operations is the first of the three parts of the cash flow statement that shows the cash inflows and outflows from core operating business in an accounting year. Operating Activities includes cash received from Sales, cash expenses paid for direct costs as well as payment is done for funding working more flows, the realizable value of assets, and a past company record.


Since the company’s net worthNet Worth Of The CompanyThe company's net worth can be calculated using two methods: the first is to subtract total liabilities from total assets, and the second is to add the company's share capital (both equity and preference) as well as reserves and more represents its financial health, it may be a warning signal for the investor to exit the investment in case of negative net worth. However, this is not the only factor that should be considered while evaluating buy or sell decisions.

Reader Interactions


  1. Nahid says

    Your writings are really helpful. Thank you.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      thanks Nahid!

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