The Components of Total Return on Investment

By Eric Tyson

To figure out exactly how much money you’ve made (or lost) on your investment, you need to calculate the total return. To come up with this figure, you need to determine how much money you originally invested and then factor in the other components, such as interest, dividends, and appreciation (or depreciation).

If you’ve ever had money in a bank account that pays interest, you know that the bank pays you a small amount of interest when you allow it to keep your money. The bank then turns around and lends your money to some other person or organization at a much higher rate of interest. The rate of interest is also known as the yield. So if a bank tells you that its savings account pays 2 percent interest, the bank may also say that the account yields 2 percent. Banks usually quote interest rates or yields on an annual basis. Interest that you receive is one component of the return you receive on your investment.

If a bank pays monthly interest, the bank also likely quotes a compounded effective annual yield. After the first month’s interest is credited to your account, that interest starts earning interest as well. So the bank may say that the account pays 2 percent, which compounds to an effective annual yield of 2.04 percent.

When you lend your money directly to a company — which is what you do when you invest in a bond that a corporation issues — you also receive interest. Bonds, as well as stocks (which are shares of ownership in a company), fluctuate in value after they’re issued.

When you invest in a company’s stock, you hope that the stock increases (appreciates) in value. Of course, a stock can also decline, or depreciate, in value. This change in market value is part of your return from a stock or bond investment:


For example, if one year ago you invested $10,000 in a stock (you bought 1,000 shares at $10 per share) and the investment is now worth $11,000 (each share is worth $11), your investment’s appreciation looks like this:


Stocks can also pay dividends, which are the company’s sharing of some of its profits with you as a stockholder. Some companies, particularly those that are small or growing rapidly, choose to reinvest all their profits back into the company. (Of course, some companies don’t turn a profit, so they don’t have anything to pay out!) You need to factor any dividends into your return as well.

Suppose that in the previous example, in addition to your stock appreciating from $10,000 to $11,000, it paid you a dividend of $100 ($1 per share). Here’s how you calculate your total return:


You can apply this formula to the example like so: