What is net income? Everything you need to know about net income

Net income denotes how much money a company has made after subtracting all business expenses required to make that money. Net income is useful for investors to determine how profitable a company is. Keep reading to learn more about net income and how it affects company share price.

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How to determine net income

Net income is the total income of a business after accounting for all costs, fees, and taxes. Costs and fees include money spent on operating costs, interest on debts and loans, administrative expenses, income taxes, and depreciation of things like company equipment. Not all of those costs may be applicable for every business, but any that are detract from the net income.

Investors look at net income to determine a company’s profitability. Net income can rise either through an increase in sales or a decrease in operating costs.

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What is the difference between gross income and net income?

Gross income is the money a company has made after only subtracting production cost from their revenue. By contrast, net income considers production cost along with other costs and fees such as taxes and payroll.

Production or operating costs that subtract from gross income include the cost of buying materials and equipment, paying for labor, utility costs, and shipping expenses. An easy way to determine which costs are subtracted from gross income is to look at whether they are fixed costs.

Fixed costs usually stay the same each earnings period. This includes things like staff salaries, rent, and insurance. Both gross income and net income are found on a company’s income statement.

Gross income, also referred to as gross profit, is found towards the top of the statement; net income is found towards the bottom. This placement makes it easy for readers to track the expenses and costs as they are subtracted from the gross income and total the net income.

Is net income the same as profit?

Net income is often seen as synonymous to profit because net income represents the ultimate measure of a company’s profitability. However, profit is a widely-used term that can refer to a company’s income at any point on the income statement.

If interchanging the two terms, it’s best to clarify when speaking about profit by specifying at which point in the income statement one is referring to.

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Can net income be negative?

Yes, net income can be negative. If a company’s expenses cost more than the revenue they made in that period, their net income would be negative. Gross income on the other hand can never be negative because it represents the amount of money the company brought in before considering most of the company’s expenses.

Can a company be profitable with negative net income?

Yes, a company can report a negative net income and still be considered profitable. In fact, negative net income is not always a bad sign. 

Companies may have negative net incomes if their revenue operates on a cyclical schedule, meaning they make their profits during one but not all of their quarterly periods. A travel agency may report a negative net income during one or two quarters when fewer customers are looking to travel at that time of year.

However, they can still have a positive yearly net income if they make enough money during the other two quarters to overcompensate for their losses. A growing company may also intentionally operate with a negative net income.

Start-ups often operate with a negative net income when beginning as they concentrate on collecting investments as opposed to focusing solely on profitability. Some start-ups don’t aim for positive net incomes until years later.

How is net income calculated?

Net income is totaled after subtracting costs and fees such as taxes from gross income. Sometimes this is specified as Net Income After Taxes (NIAT) on a company’s annual or quarterly financial report. Often net income and NIAT are used interchangeably, so it is most important to mention taxes when talking about net income before taxes. Looking at pretax net income can help compare two similar companies who are subject to different taxation. This can occur if two companies in the same industry are in different states or countries.

How to find a company's net income on a balance sheet

Net income is not shown outright on a company’s balance sheet. A simple but powerful formula is used to find a company’s net income from their balance sheet:

Revenue – Expenses = Net Income

Net income can be located outright on a company’s income statement. This is a similar document that shows a company’s financial picture over a past period of time like a fiscal quarter or year. Net income is often referred to as the “bottom line” because it is located at the bottom of a company’s income statement.

How does net income affect stock price?

A positive net income does have the ability to affect a company’s share price, but it is not always the main indicator for the company’s stock price. A company’s performance is one of many factors affecting stock price. A rise in net income can indicate both a financially healthy business or positive economic conditions.

Either of these factors can raise share prices. However, a company can report positive growth in net income and still have their stock price drop. This often happens when traders determine external factors, such as regulatory actions, are more important than the company’s current positive net income.

Do dividends affect a company's net income?

Neither stock nor cash dividends are listed as company expenses and do not affect net income. Instead dividends are paid from a company’s retained earnings accounts.

When cash dividends are paid out from a retained earnings account, the change is shown as a reduction to shareholder equity. This reduction in equity occurs because paying cash dividends reduces a company’s liquid assets.

Stock dividends are awarded to shareholders in the form of more shares. Unlike cash dividends, these do not appear on a company’s balance sheet. Instead these dividends reallocate retained earnings to common stock. These dividend payments are done after calculating net income, once that money has been added to the company’s retained earnings.

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