Retained earnings represent a company's cumulative profits or earnings that have not been paid out as cash dividends to shareholders. Retained earnings can be reinvested back into the company. However, there's an opportunity cost with retained earnings, particularly if not utilized properly or if it sits unused, which can limit a company's growth.

Retained earnings belong to the shareholders since they're effectively owners of the company. If put back into the company, the retained earnings serve as a further investment in the firm on behalf of the shareholders.

Companies typically calculate the opportunity cost of retained earnings by averaging the results of three separate calculations. The cost of those retained earnings equals the return shareholders should expect on their investment. It is called an opportunity cost because the shareholders sacrifice an opportunity to invest that money for a return elsewhere and instead allow the firm to build capital.

Companies have four possible direct sources of capital for a business firm. They consist of retained earnings, debt capital, preferred stock, and new common stock.

Estimating the cost of retained earnings requires a bit more work than calculating the cost of debt or the cost of preferred stock. Debt and preferred stock are contractual obligations, making their costs easy to determine. Three common methods exist to approximate the opportunity cost of retained earnings.

### Key Takeaways

- Retained earnings represent a company's cumulative profits that have not been paid out as cash dividends to shareholders.
- There's an opportunity cost with retained earnings if not utilized properly or if it sits unused, which can limit a company's growth.
- Companies typically calculate the opportunity cost of retained earnings by averaging the results of three separate calculations.

## Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Method

You can calculate the cost of retained earnings using the discounted cash flow (DCF) method. Investors who buy stocks expect to receive two types of returns from those stocks—dividends and capital gains. Firms pay out profits in the form of dividends to their investors quarterly. Capital gains, usually the preferred return for most investors, consist of the difference between what investors pay for a stock and the price for which they can sell it.

To calculate the cost of retained earnings, we can use the price of the stock, the dividend paid by the stock, and the capital gain also called the growth rate of the dividends paid by the stock. The growth rate equates to the average year-to-year growth of the dividend amount.

These inputs can be inserted in the following formula. This method is also known as the "dividend yield plus growth" method.

**Cost of Retained Earnings = (Upcoming year's dividend / stock price) + growth**

For example, if your projected annual dividend is $1.08, the growth rate is 8%, and the cost of the stock is $30, your formula would be as follows:

Cost of Retained Earnings = ($1.08 / $30) + 0.08 = .116, or 11.6%.

### Note

By holding onto retained earnings, companies are depriving shareholders of cash dividends paid from those funds. The shareholders could have invested those dividends in the market, earning them income.

## Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) Method

The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) can be used to calculate the cost of retained earnings. The CAPM financial model requires three pieces of information to determine the required rate of return on a stock or how much a stock should earn to justify its risk. The formula requires the following inputs:

**The Risk-Free Rate Currently in the Economy:**The return you would expect on investment with zero risks. You can use the rate on a 3-month U.S. Treasury bill.**The Return on the Market:**What you expect from the market as a whole. To determine this return, use the return on a market index such as the Wilshire 5000 or the Standard and Poor's 500.**The Stock's Beta:**This measurement represents a stock's risk, with 1.0 representing the beta of the market as a whole. A stock 10% riskier than the market would have a beta of 1.1, for example. Safer stocks will have betas of less than 1.0. Many investment sites such as Bloomberg calculate and list betas for stocks.

Use the formula for the required rate of return as follows:

**Required Rate of Return = Risk-free rate + Beta x (Market rate of return - Risk-free rate)**

For example, if you have a risk-free rate of 2%, a beta of 1.5, and an expected rate of return on the market of 8%, your formula would be as follows:

Required Rate of Return = .02 + 1.5 x (.08 - .02) = .11, or 11%

As a result, the cost of retained earnings in this example is 11%.

### Note

Shareholders should monitor a company's management team to ensure they're using the company's retained earnings effectively. For example, if a company fails to reinvest its earnings into upgrading its technology or equipment, the company could fall behind its competitors.

## Bond Yield Plus Risk Premium Method

The cost of retained earnings can also be calculated using the bond yield plus risk premium method, which provides a "quick and dirty" estimate. The calculation includes taking the interest rate on the firm's bonds and adding on a risk premium. The risk premium would usually range from 3% to 5%, based on a judgment of the firm's riskiness.

For example, if the bond's interest rate is 6% and you assign a risk premium of 4%, add these together to get an estimate of 10% for the cost of retained earnings.

## Average the Three Methods

When calculating the cost of retained earnings, any of the three above-mentioned methods can provide an approximation. However, the most comprehensive approach is to calculate all three methods and use the average.

For example, the earlier calculations resulted in answers of 11.6%, 11%, and 10%. Those three figures average out to 10.86%. As a result, we now have a more thorough approximation of the cost of retained earnings by averaging the results of the calculations provided in the examples.

## Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

## How do you find the cost of retained earnings?

There are three ways to calculate the cost of retained earnings, which include:

- Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method uses the stock's price, the dividend paid, and the average year-to-year growth rate in the dividend amount.
- The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) uses the risk-free rate of return (such as a Treasury), the overall market's return, and the stock's beta or riskiness to determine the required rate of return on a stock needed to justify its risk.
- The Bond Yield Plus Risk Premium method uses the interest rate on the company's bonds and adds on a risk premium, which can range from 3% to 5%, depending on the firm's riskiness.

## Why cost of retained earnings is not zero?

The cost of retained earnings is not equal to zero because it represents the return shareholders should expect on their investment. There's an opportunity cost since the earnings could be invested in the market instead of building on the company's balance sheet.